Scorpion Macehead

A highly fragmentary macehead bearing the name of a king 'Scorpion' was found during the archaeological survey of Hierakonpolis in 1897/98, along with the Narmer Palette and other objects dated to the very beginning of the Early Dynastic Period. It is now on display at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

Restored to full size, the limestone macehead is about 25 centimetres high. Its size and weight alone indicate that the purpose of this macehead was ceremonial rather than practical. Its finely carved decoration has played an important role in the debate surrounding the supposed unification of Upper and Lower Egypt.

Macehead of king ‘Scorpion’
Ceremonial Macehead of king 'Scorpion'
Source: Baines-Malek, Atlas van het Oude Egypte, Elsevier 1981, p. 79.


King 'Scorpion'

The beautifully sculpted central figure is king 'Scorpion', identified by the floral element and the scorpion in front of him. He wears the White Crown, traditionally associated with Upper-Egypt, a tunic and an animal's tail extending from the back of his tunic. He holds a hoe in his hands, ready to cut open the ground.
Before him stands a man, facing the king and pouring sand on the ground. This type of scene is known throughout the Pharaonic history: it shows the king while preparing the foundations of some kind of building.
Below the king, a strip of water is represented, which could indicate that 'Scorpion' is laying the foundations of a dam or dike. There is no indication where such a dam may have been constructed.

Behind the king, two men are shown bearing large fans to protect him from the heat, and behind them, two registers of marsh plants are shown. On the lowest register, the plants are followed by some women clapping their hands and dancing. The level above represents a seated person.

Before the king at least two men were standing carrying a standard pole, representing the monarchy or the territories belonging to that monarchy.

Above the entire scene, at least seven standards are shown. On each of them, a bird, perhaps representing the word "people", is hanged by the neck. These standards are often interpreted as a representation of the territories and the peoples conquered by 'Scorpion', suggesting that he was a warrior-king.

Hypothetical reconstruction of the Scorpion Macehead

Reconstruction drawing of the Scorpion Macehead
Source: Adams-Cialowicz, Protodynastic Egypt, Shire Egyptology 1997, p. 8.


It has sometimes been suggested that the king might have been represented wearing the Red Crown, normally associated with Lower-Egypt, on the missing part of the mace head. A tentative reconstruction made by Krzysztof M. Cialowicz shows the king indeed wearing the Red Crown (see drawing above: the lighter part is reconstruction). This reconstruction is based on the assumption that a large figure was standing facing the two standard bearers to the right of 'Scorpion's name. A small part of a foot and an even smaller part of a leg of such a figure may perhaps be recognised on the remaining parts of the mace. Because of the size of this figure, it must have represented the king. Two other, very small fragments each contain two leaves of a floral element and a small stroke to the right. In his reconstruction, Cialowicz interprets these two small strokes as part of the Red Crown.

If this reconstruction is correct, then the Red Crown may indeed have been worn by a king prior to the reign of the Horus Narmer. If the Red Crown was associated with Lower-Egypt before Narmer's reign, then Cialowicz's reconstruction would show that Upper- and Lower-Egypt may already have been united before Narmer came to power.
However, Cialowicz' reconstruction is solely based on a few scanty traces on the remaining fragments of the mace head. In Cialowicz's reconstruction, the two traces of a Red Crown are located on two small, individual fragments. Each fragment contains part of a sign representing a flower, a sign that we can find combined with 'Scorpion's symbol elsewhere on the mace head. In Cialowicz's reconstruction, however, the lower flower is placed where we would expect to find the symbol of the scorpion, making it very doubtful that the lower fragment is to be placed directly underneath the higher one. As a result, it is also unlikely that the two fragments can be connected directly and that they contained the representation of the Red Crown.

A stylistic comparison of the Scorpion Macehead with both the palette and the macehead of Horus Narmer, has revealed that at the very least, all three artefacts are very likely to have been produced at the same atelier.
This, and the absence of any other known sources to mention king 'Scorpion' has led some Egyptologists to propose that 'Scorpion' and Horus Narmer were actually the same. Throughout Ancient Egypt's recorded history, it was not unusual for a king to change part of his titulary to reflect a change in policy or to reflect a particular event that occurred during his reign. Until more sources are found that would confirm 'Scorpion' as a different king, the hypothesis that he and Narmer were the same, cannot be discarted.


© Jacques Kinnaer 1997 - 2014