Toward the end of the Predynastic period, (about 3300 BC), regional rulers began competing to increase their power and territory. This conflict ultimately led to the unification of Egypt under one king at about 3100 BC. To obtain the blessings of the gods, the regional rulers donated decorated ceremonial palettes to the temples for use in preparing cosmetics used to dress and revitalize the god’s statues. The carving on this large palette shows the efforts being made on behalf of the gods to protect the world from chaos and disorder, as they saw it.

The front of this palette has the remnants of the bowl where the cosmetics were mixed. It shows the aftermath of gruesome battle. Vultures and cows prey upon the twisted bodies of fallen men, while a lion mauls another man. This large lion probably represents an early ruler defeating his enemies. At this time, the early kings often took the form of various wild animals to symbolize their power and strength.

Above, only partly preserved a figure in a long fringed robe marches a prisoner with a weight around his neck toward the cosmetic dish for the gods to see. On the other side, poles holding images of the falcon god Horus and the ibis god Thoth are animated with arms that hold bound captive. Whether these poles represent troops of warriors who have taken part in the battle or the help of the gods themselves remains unknown.

The bloody battle on the front of the palette contrasts with the reverse side, where the harmonious outcome is shown. Here two giraffes calmly nibble on a date palm. Behind them, is a helmeted guinea fowl, later known as the hieroglyph for the word ‘eternity’. Some see the palm tree as a symbol of the king’s productive (rather than destructive) qualities, acting as the meeting point for completing ideas. Others interpret the motif as reaffirming world order in a different way. They see the giraffes and palm tree, but virtue of their height, as holding up the life-giving sun, and keeping it and the world in their proper place.


  • Title: Battlefield Palette
  • Date Created: -3150
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 19.60cm (This fragment); Width: 28.70cm; Height: 32.80cm (With Oxford fragment); Depth: 1.00cm; Weight: 1.40kg (Both pieces)
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Registration number: 1888,0512.64
  • Place: Found/Acquired Abydos. Found/Acquired Amarna, el-
  • Period/culture: Naqada III
  • Material: mudstone
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Purchased through Budge, Ernest Alfred Thompson Wallis

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