The Great Fatted Bull
Tablet #36
Sumerian Images
Sumerian History
The Royal Tombs of Ur
The "Standard" of Ur?
Standard of Ur narratives
Vulture Stele Translation
Sumerian War Chariots
War Chariot Deconstructed
Gudea Translation
The Face of Gudea
The Face of Ur-Ningirsu
The Face of Lugal-agrig-zi
Ur-Namma Translation
The Face of Ur-Namma
Face of Ur-Namma, part II
I am Ur-Namma
The Face of Shulgi
Who Were the Sumerians?
Other Sumerian Kings
The Princess Wife
The Great Fatted Jackass
Sargon's Victory Stele
Helmet: the King of Kish
The Standard of Mari?
The Invention of Writing
Adventures in Cuneiform
The Sumerian Scribe
A Masterpiece
The Gebel el-Arak Knife
Hierakonpolis Tomb 100
Queen Ku-Baba
Copy of the Std of Ur?
Site Map

Hierakonpolis is the Greek name for the ancient Egyptian city of Nekhen. Hierakon means "falcon”, polis means “city”. Hierakonpolis is the City of the Falcon. It was the first large settlement in Egypt. At the time, Egypt was not yet a nation, it was still just a collection of warring tribes.

Tomb 100 is dated to the Predynastic Period of Egyptian history (circa 3400 BC) before the unification of Egypt in 3100 BC by king Narmer (Hierakonpolis was his capital city). The tomb is more than 1,000 years older than the Great Pyramid. It dates to the very beginning of Egyptian civilization.

The mural of Tomb 100 decorated the burial chamber of a local Egyptian lord. His name
is not known (I call him Lord Hierakon). The tomb was discovered in 1899, but it had been
looted by robbers a few years previously, so no valuable artifacts were found. The painting
covered one wall of the tomb (see the layout of the tomb). There were other paintings
on the walls that were too badly deteriorated for preservation. The painting was removed
and transported to the Cairo Museum. Tomb 100 of Hierakonpolis was later destroyed
when the land was returned to cultivation.

The mural is very confusing. For more than a century, scholars tried to make some sense
of this painting. It is described as “jumbled” and “chaotic”, with hunting scenes interspersed with battle scenes, plus a random selection of vignettes portraying priests, dancing women, animal sacrifice, funerary rites − you name it. The painting is most often described as a “catalog of themes and motifs”, a variety of unrelated images without any coherent meaning.

Click on the above image to enlarge it in a separate window. You may want to reference it during the following discussion. I recommend that you take a few minutes to study the painting. See if you can figure out what is happening in this enigmatic picture.

The first time I saw the Hierakonpolis mural, my attention was immediately drawn to the Sumerian “Master of Animals”. His heroic stance between two animals symbolizes his dominance over the natural world.

Because there are so many boats in the painting, I briefly considered the possibility that it depicted a seaborne invasion of Egypt by the Sumerians, but I quickly discarded this theory for a couple of reasons. First, I knew it was impossible for the Sumerians to conduct an invasion of Egypt, which is almost 4,000 miles away by sea; and second, all of the boats are definitely Egyptian, not Sumerian.

This was seven years ago. Occasionally I would see the painting in my Pictures File. I
would study it for a while, but I couldn’t make any sense of it, so I eventually gave up trying and I didn’t pay much attention to the painting after that. Basically, if it’s not Sumerian,
then I’m not interested.

A few days ago, I was idly looking through my Pictures File when once again I came across the Hierakonpolis painting. I took one look at the “Master of Animals” and I instantly knew what this painting is all about.

The big difference between then and now is that I recently identified the Gebel el-Arak knife
as being a clear and unequivocal portrayal of a Sumerian seaborne invasion of Egypt. The Gebel el-Arak knife dates to 3400 BC, making it contemporary with the Hierakonpolis mural.
Now the idea of a Sumerian attack on Egypt no longer seemed so farfetched.

The Master of Animals on the Hierakonpolis mural. He stands between two lions.

The Master of Animals, between two lions, on the Gebel el-Arak knife.

See a drawing of both sides of the knife. Also see the page about the Gebel el-Arak knife
on this website.

Scholars have identified the Master of Animals as “Mesopotamian”, but it is specifically Sumerian. Although Mesopotamia (and other civilizations) later adopted the motif of the
Master of Animals, at this early point in history, it was used exclusively by the Sumerians.

The first time I saw the Master of Animals on the Hierakonpolis painting, I assumed (like everyone else) that it was merely an item from the “catalog of motifs” that is unrelated to the rest of the picture. I figured that the artist added it to the mural simply because it is a very compelling image (especially for the Egyptians, as will be later explained).

This time, when I looked at the Hierakonpolis painting, I studied it more carefully.

I started with the Sumerian Master of Animals. He is colored in red. I noticed that other men
in the painting are likewise colored red, so these are the Sumerians. Some men are colored
in white. They are the Egyptians.

Then I noticed that the red Sumerians are definitely the aggressors in this attack. They are “the bad guys” in this story.

Next, I noticed that the red men arrived on boats.

A red Sumerian helmsman is sitting on the back of the boat.

So... the Master of Animals is quintessentially Sumerian, the invaders are his men, and they arrive in Egypt by boat.

I therefore categorically state, in no uncertain terms, the Hierakonpolis mural, like the
Gebel el-Arak knife, depicts a seaborne invasion of Egypt by the Sumerians.

You may be thinking, “Didn’t he just say it can’t be a Sumerian invasion because the boats
are definitely Egyptian?  How can it be a Sumerian invasion without Sumerian boats?”

Funny you should mention that.  

The boats

There are six boats in the painting. This is the invasion fleet. All of them face in the same direction. All of them have the same palm leaf “standard” on the front of the boats.

Palm standards (insignia) on the prows of all the boats depicted on the Hierakonpolis mural,
in the order of their appearance, from left to right.

I was surprised when I first noticed that there aren't any people on the boats, except for the helmsman shown above. Then I realized the Sumerians had disembarked from their boats
and all of them were on the shore, wreaking havoc on the Egyptians.

The Sumerian helmsman is on a white boat. There are four other white boats. They are similar in design and construction (with steep hulls and twin cabins) and they have the same color scheme (white hulls with red cabins). This means all of the white boats are Sumerian.

One boat is very different than the others.

The sinister Black Ship. It belongs to the Sumerian commander of the invasion fleet.
The cabin is richly decorated, suggesting royalty.

A Sumerian boat

The Black Ship is the only ship on the mural that looks like it might possibly be Sumerian,
but it could just as easily be Egyptian, as shown in a picture of Egyptian rock paintings.

Since the Black Ship is so different than the others, it's tempting to say that it is Egyptian,
under the assumption that at least one Egyptian boat is involved in the conflict. However,
the Black Ship is Sumerian because it is facing in the same direction as the other ships
and it has the same palm leaf standard.

The precise rendering of the Sumerian ships on the Gebel el-Arak knife proves that it depicts a Sumerian seaborne invasion. The same cannot be said about the Hierakonpolis painting.

As mentioned earlier, the boats on the mural are truly Egyptian. That's because the artist
was drawing what he knew best − Egyptian boats, boats he had been drawing his entire life. Except for the Black Ship, he made little pretense that he was trying to duplicate the complicated architecture of Sumerian ships. Besides, as can be seen below, artists are not always accurate in their illustrations of foreign ships:


A Japanese painting of a Portuguese ship that looks like a Chinese junk.

It is the Egyptian boats on the Hierakonpolis mural that prevented the scholars (and me)
from recognizing the Sumerian context of the painting in the first place, so we need to
forget about the boats. They are only important in showing that this is a seaborne invasion
by foreigners, and not just some backwater dispute among neighboring tribes in the region.

In other words, the boats may look Egyptian, but they belong to the Sumerians.

On an entirely unrelated subject…

There is never a good time to bring up such an indelicate matter, but as a warning to the younger members of the reading audience, it should be noted that many of the men in the painting (Sumerians and Egyptians alike) wear penis sheathes. On the Gebel el-Arak knife,
all of the men wear penis sheathes. 

Again with the Egyptians and their penis sheathes!  For the record, the Sumerians never
wore this ridiculous apparatus. It was much too primitive and barbaric for the Sumerians.
In my opinion, it proves that the Sumerians were far more civilized than the Egyptians
during this period of history. There, I said it. Someone had to say it.

But I digress…


This image on the Hierakonpolis painting has baffled scholars for 100 years.

What is it? The first time I saw it, I thought it was a carousel. The more times I looked at it, the more it looked like a carousel. I finally realized that it is actually a corral. The animals are standing in it.

This is an important clue to the painting. You cannot understand the Hierakonpolis mural until you understand the meaning of this corral.

Notice that the animals in the corral are not the usual forms of domesticated livestock
(horses, cattle, sheep, pigs, etc.). They are essentially wild animals (antelopes, gazelles, impalas, and the like).

You never see antelopes and gazelles in a corral. They are animals of the open plain and
they cannot be domesticated. Some animals refuse to reconcile themselves to captivity.
They will never stop trying to escape from confinement. They will refuse to eat, and they eventually sicken and die if held in captivity for too long.

Nevertheless, the attempted control and domestication of wild animals continued to be an important part of Egyptian culture for quite some time. It was part of the Egyptian world view.
It defined their proper place in the cosmos as the intermediaries between animals and gods.
The Egyptians kept trying to tame and control wild animals long after everyone else had
given up on the idea (at 3400 BC, this mural is proof of it).

This is why the Master of Animals was such a compelling figure for the ancient Egyptians.
He is someone the Egyptians could identify with, someone they could admire, even worship.
To the ancient Egyptians, the Master of Animals seemed god-like and superhuman.

Although the wild animals in the corral are not truly domesticated, they are essentially “livestock”. The same is true for the wild animals in the field.

Because of their long horns, ibexes are highly-prized game animals for hunters. That is why everyone thought the mural had hunting scenes, but in the overall context of the painting,
the ibexes are just livestock, like their cousins in the corral. Basically, all hooved animals
on the Hierakonpolis mural are livestock.

Within the context of livestock, the animals are not being hunted, they are being “rustled”. When looking at the Hierakonpolis mural, think in terms of “tribal warfare”. Think in terms of “cattle raid”.


In an article published in The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology (Dec. 1962), the authors, Humphrey Case and Joan Crowfoot Payne, claim that “Most writers have seen an element of narrative [i.e., storytelling] in the painting, but some have exaggerated the role of warfare.”

I suggest there is not just an element of narrative in the painting, it is all narrative,
and it's all about warfare.

The Hierakonpolis mural is not just a collection of unrelated themes and motifs, it is a
complex and cohesive narrative. It is a story of high drama and subtle nuances, with some surprising twists in the plot, and it even has a bit of humor.

Where before the Hierakonpolis painting seemed so confusing, now, within the context of a Sumerian invasion, it suddenly makes perfect sense.

A narrative of the events portrayed on the Hierakonpolis mural.

The narrative begins with a Sumerian attack. They arrive in a flotilla of ships, seemingly from out of nowhere. This is a surprise attack, like the one shown on the Gebel el-Arak knife. The Sumerians beach their boats on the shore. They quickly disembark from the boats and
fan out across the countryside, wreaking havoc on the Egyptians and stealing their livestock.


The lower right corner of the painting is completely damaged except for a single Sumerian attacker. There would have been others, which are now missing due to damage. Presumably, some Egyptians were facing the Sumerians and fending off the attack.

The remaining narrative starts in the upper right corner and moves counterclockwise around the mural.

Livestock raid 

A Sumerian lassoes a horse. The Sumerians will capture as many animals as they can.
This kind of tribal raid on livestock had happened all along the Nile for thousands of years, and the raids would continue until well after the unification of Egypt in 3100 BC.

After the Sumerians capture as many animals as they can, they run off the rest. In this case, it is a herd of ibexes. The Sumerian is shouting and waving his arms, like people always do when they want to scare away animals.

As in any livestock raid, the herds are scattered to deny them to the villagers. Also, the Egyptians will go chasing after their scattered herds instead of chasing after the Sumerians, giving the invaders enough time to load up their stolen livestock and escape in their boats.

This picture indicates that the Sumerians came to Egypt as "cattle raiders" and not as conquerors. They would not run off the livestock if they intended to settle in the region.


This scene looks as if three Sumerians in long white skirts are waving their arms to scare off another herd of ibexes (one female and thee males), but this isn’t what’s really happening.

The animals are already running away, far off in the distance. They’re long gone, so the Sumerians aren’t interested in the animals anymore. They’re focused on what’s happening right in their midst.

Notice the man beneath the awning (canopy). It looks as if he is sitting in a wheelhouse on top of the cabin. However, there are several problems with this assumption:

1)  None of the other boats have a wheelhouse.

2)  He is an Egyptian on a Sumerian boat.

3)  The man is seriously out of scale with the big red helmsman on the back of the boat
     (not that the artist was overly concerned with the subtleties of perspective), and

4)  The man is sitting on top of the oars.

I suggest the oars were inserted through the double loops on top of the cabins for storage
during the attack (I’ve always wondered about these double loops seen on so many
Egyptian ships). Four of the ships in the painting have their oars stowed away like this.

The man under the awning is actually on land, in the background behind the ship.
He is sitting in a royal pavilion.

King Narmer sits on his throne in a royal pavilion. Detail from a ceremonial macehead.
See the entire drawing.

This man is obviously very important. He sits in a pavilion, beneath a white plume standard with black tips. He is drawn much larger than the man standing in front of him, symbolizing his greater importance. He is an Egyptian lord, and the Sumerians have him surrounded.

The captured lord

That is why the Sumerians have their arms outstretched. They are surrounding him, closing in on him and preventing his escape. A Sumerian stands before the Egyptian lord. This is the moment when the lord is captured. He bends his knees and bows down in submission.

Clearly, this is not Lord Hierakon. He would not forever immortalize his ignominious capture
by depicting it on his burial tomb for all of eternity. This is a neighboring Egyptian lord, perhaps a friend of Lord Hierakon, perhaps an enemy.

The battle is not going well for the Egyptians, and it’s about to get worse. The Egyptians are surprised and overwhelmed, like on the Gebel el-Arak knife. Meanwhile, we keep looking for some sign of the inevitable Egyptian victory.

And where is Lord Hierakon?

The lions

The Sumerian rampage continues. A huge Sumerian menacingly raises his war club. The circle on the left is a corral that was busted open and emptied of its livestock. The circle
on the right is a ruined village hut, reduced to its timbers. Beside it, a tiny forlorn Egyptian
picks up the pieces.

What’s really interesting is what’s happening with the two lions. Case and Payne and other scholars consider this to be a “Confrontation with the Lions”. This raises a couple of intriguing possibilities:

1)  The Sumerian is going to kill the lions. Normally, in a fight between a man and a lion,
I'd bet on the lion, even if the man has a stick − but look at the size of that man, look at the size of that stick. The Sumerian doesn’t seem the least bit afraid of the lions. In fact, he seems to be reaching out to grab a lion by the throat before bashing its head with a club.
This could symbolize the Sumerian’s total mastery of the animal world. Not even the lions scare him.

2)  But there are two lions. Perhaps the lions are going to kill the Sumerian. This could symbolize the turning tide of battle as the lions begin to attack the Sumerians. This would be the supreme irony, a “master of the animals” getting killed and eaten by his own two lions.
You have to admit, it’s rather funny, in a morbid kind of way.

I suggest the scene is not a "confrontation with the lions". The Sumerians and the lions
have no intention of attacking each other. The scene has a different, unexpected meaning.
It is something very mythological, something eerie and supernatural.

The Sumerian and the lions are not enemies, they are friends and allies. The raised club of
the Sumerian refers to the destruction he is inflicting on the Egyptians by demolishing their homes and corrals. It has nothing to do with the lions. The Sumerian isn't grabbing a lion
by the throat before clubbing it, he is summoning the lion with a wave of his hand. The lions are not in a posture of attack, they're just walking along. They follow the Sumerians around like pets. The lions are the “animal familiars” of the Sumerians, doing their bidding.

Referring back to the dispersal of the ibex herds:

Expanded view

The animal on the left is a female ibex. In front of the Sumerian is a lion, attacking the herd
of ibexes. The Sumerian is not just shouting and waving his arms to scare off the ibexes,
he is siccing his lion on them.
Another lion is shown on the right, tending to a herd of antelopes.

For the ancient Egyptians, the Master of Animals is not just a symbol of human dominance over the natural world. He is literally the controller of animals, directing their actions. He casts his spell upon the lions, making them his minions, controlling them from afar.

In the expanded view, we can see how the lions and the Sumerians work together to rustle
the animals. Whichever direction the animals turn, they are confronted by either a lion or a Sumerian. The lion on the right is acting like a sheep dog, helping to herd the animals so they can be captured by the Sumerians. He drives the antelopes toward a Sumerian while at the same time preventing the horses from escaping. The lead horse comes to a dead stop when he sees the lion.

As in any livestock raid, the Sumerians capture as many animals as they can, and then
they run off the rest, so the lion on the left is helping to disperse (stampede) the ibexes
that haven't already been rustled by the Sumerians.

It's easy to imagine the astonished looks on the ibex faces when they first behold a man
siccing a lion on them.

The story of the Master of Animals controlling the lions is truly extraordinary. It is an original work of fiction that infuses a dark magic into the events of a local cattle raid, making it into a mythic battle of epic proportions. There's nothing else like it anywhere in the ancient world.


This scene has been labeled as “threatening the prisoners”, but it is much worse than that.

The execution of the prisoners. Three Sumerian prisoners are kneeling on the ground,
tied together with a long rope. The Egyptian “guard” grabs one of them by the hair before
cracking his skull with a war club. The other two prisoners cower in fear, while awaiting
the same impending fate.

This scene is the beginning of a long tradition of showing the pharaoh holding his captured enemies by the hair and "smiting the prisoners":

I suggest that when the pharaoh is shown with his weapon on his shoulder, it means he is capturing the prisoners.

When his weapon is raised, it means he is executing them.

On the Hierakonpolis mural, is the execution of the Sumerian prisoners a sign that the Egyptians have finally won the battle?

No, not really. The next scene shows that the battle continues.


This scene is often described as “combat between two men”, but it seems to me that they
are not facing each other. It looks like the Egyptian is running away from the Sumerian.

Both men carry curved weapons. They have been described as “shepherd crooks”, which makes some sense in the context of a livestock raid, but I believe they really are weapons, either adzes or battleaxes. The blades of the weapons were made of copper or stone (there was no bronze at this stage of history). An adze is a construction tool that readily lends itself to warfare. See an example of some Sumerian adzes and battleaxes. The Egyptians had similar weapons.

Meanwhile, it is still a desperate struggle. The Egyptians are losing the battle.

The Sumerian base camp

This corral was captured intact with its livestock by the Sumerians. This is also where they herd their captured animals before loading them onto the ships. At the bottom, a captured gazelle tries to escape, trailing a rope behind him. The white antelope is also trailing a rope.
On the right, a Sumerian “hog ties” an antelope, trussing up its feet so it can’t escape.
The antelope is now ready to be loaded and transported on one of the ships. This is the
only way that a wild antelope can be forced to board a ship.

On the Gebel el-Arak knife, the Master of Animals is a Sumerian king. I don’t believe this is the case on the Hierakonpolis mural. Neither do I believe that the Master of Animals is the Sumerian commander of the invasion. The commander is elsewhere, next to his black ship.

On the Gebel el-Arak knife, the Master of Animals is just a figurehead  He is not involved
in the battle. On the Hierakonpolis mural, he is part of the narrative. He is on the scene,
actively involved in the conflict by controlling the animals. He is a shaman/priest/god/demon
of the Sumerians. He is a supernatural being, radiating his power across the landscape, causing fear and panic throughout the human and animal kingdoms of Egypt. He is the source of the Sumerians' supernatural power over the animals, the lions in particular.

You may be skeptical that the Master of Animals magically controls the lions from afar.
If so, then consider this: All of the Sumerians walk among the lions without any sign of fear.
In this picture, the Sumerian who is tying up the antelope isn’t the least bit concerned that
two big lions are standing right behind him. So, either the Master of Animals is the only one controlling the lions, or all of the Sumerians have this mystical power. In other words,
only one Sumerian controls the lions, or they all do. It is, of course, highly unlikely that every single Sumerian has this godlike power.

Besides, why else would the Master of Animals be on the field, except to control the lions? He’s not there just to strike a pose, he is there to cast his spell. This is the only plausible explanation for the symbiotic relationship between the Sumerians and the lions.

The Master of Animals is supposed to be a positive image. It represents humanity's efforts
to tame the wilderness and to bring forth civilization, but on the mural, the Master of Animals is portrayed as a sinister demon who uses his magical power over the animals for evil
rather than for good.


This scene is often mistaken as combat between two men because it looks like the figure on the left is holding a spotted shield. However, it seems odd that one man is holding a shield with the same markings as the spotted garment worn by the man he is fighting. The red man on the left is obviously Sumerian. Surprisingly, so is the man in front of him. Look at those
red legs.

A Sumerian on the left is holding an item of clothing, probably a leopard skin. It matches the spotted standard of the captive Egyptian lord. The Sumerians have plundered his wardrobe. The Sumerian on the right holds the lord’s royal scepter. He dances around, parading his captured finery, mocking the lord. He’s saying, “Look at me! I’m a great big Egyptian lord!
Bow down before me!”  His buddy comically obliges him. He bows down (notice how his
knees are bent) and says, “Yes, Lord High Almighty! I hear and obey you!” He's cracking up, holding his belly with laughter. It’s an unexpected bit of humor on an otherwise grim tableau.


The Sumerians were perhaps a bit premature in their celebrations. The battle is not yet over.
In the very next scene, a Sumerian bites the dust.

The man on the right is a real Egyptian lord (notice the white legs). He has just killed a
Sumerian soldier. Scholars think the soldier may be holding a pronged weapon, but it's actually a neck stock, the kind used on prisoners of war. It even has a loop of rope on it.

This is a very important scene. The Egyptian is the captured lord himself, who escaped from his neck stock, seized his guard's weapon, and killed him while the guard's companions were busy plundering the wardrobe. This is the lord's revenge.

It would be reasonable for the viewer to assume that the Egyptian lord was somehow transferred to the Sumerian base camp after his capture, but I'm willing to bet that the artist did not carelessly leave this crucial detail to the viewer’s imagination.

In true narrative fashion, to make the story more cohesive, the artist shows the captive lord being escorted to the Sumerian base camp. In other words, the artist moves the captive lord from the top of the painting to the bottom. In this way, it doesn't seem like the lord just magically reappears in the story without any explanation on how and why he got there:

The Sumerian in the middle is carrying a spotted garment with a tail on it. He is one of the looters, probably the one shown below who is holding the garment but not wearing it. The figure on the right is the other looter (there's something going on with the spotting on both figures). There is plenty of room in the brown damaged area to hold two more figures − the guard and the captive lord in a neck stock. I suggest this scene originally showed the four figures seen below: the captive lord, his guard, and the two looters, in transit to the Sumerian base camp at the bottom of the painting.

With the heroic escape of the captive lord, the battle is finally beginning to turn in favor
of the Egyptians.


Three Sumerians in long white skirts.

There are six boats in the painting, and six Sumerians in white skirts. I suggest they are the captains of the ships. Three of the captains were seen capturing the Egyptian lord. The other captains are here. They sit or kneel on the ground, oddly reposed amid the chaos.

They still have their weapons, but they are strangely passive. Are they going to lay down their arms? Are they surrendering? Remember, we are still looking for some clear sign of an Egyptian victory.

Again, where is Lord Hierakon? Shouldn’t he be in the thick of the action, saving the day?

Meanwhile, the three men just calmly sit there, looking to the right, staring into the Void.

The Void is the dark, damaged area in the middle of the painting. This is where we would expect to see Lord Hierakon. It is also where we expect to see the Sumerian commander, next to his Black Ship. I suggest this is where the entire narrative came together. Unfortunately, the ending of the story is lost forever because of damage on the painting.

Then again, it’s not too difficult to imagine how the story ended.


At last, Lord Hierakon arrives on the scene. He is larger than anyone else on the mural to show his great importance. There's no doubt about who’s the Grand Poohbah in this picture.
In front of him is the Sumerian commander, himself a lord. Hierakon either kills him, or captures him, or accepts his surrender. Lord Hierakon is flanked by his men. Captured Sumerians bow down before him. Perhaps a pair of lions kneel before the lord, or lie dead
at his feet, signifying that Hierakon is now the new Master of the Animals.

One more thing. I suggest the captive lord is none other than Hierakon himself. I know I said
he wouldn't portray his capture on his own burial tomb, but he would do it if he had heroically escaped from captivity and turned the tables on his captors. His escape is the last scene before the surrender ceremony. It is the turning point of the battle. In the next scene, Lord Hierakon is reunited with his men and he leads them to victory.

If the captive lord is someone else, it means he has taken up a lot of room in this narrative
(by being surrounded and captured, then escorted to the base camp, and then making his heroic escape) and he has gotten all the glory before Hierakon even shows up. That's not
what this painting is all about. This is Hierakon's burial chamber. The painting shows how he presented himself to the gods for all eternity. He is the hero in this story, not someone else.

This is Lord Hierakon, victorious in combat. He has been there all along.


For 100 years, scholars were unable to piece together the narrative of the events portrayed on the Hierakonpolis mural because they did not know the context of the story.

It all comes down to the Master of the Animals. If he were absent, the mural would be just what it looks like – a picture of Egyptian tribal warfare. If the Master of Animals was present, but painted a different color than the red invaders, it would simply be a selection from the "catalog of motifs”, and it would be meaningless in the context of the picture. However, with the red Sumerian Master of Animals, and the red invaders who arrive by boat, along with the additional subtext of the lions, the Hierakonpolis mural can only be about a Sumerian invasion of Egypt. It cannot be about anything else.

On the Gebel el-Arak knife, the Master of Animals is glorified; on the mural he is demonized.
Although the Master of Animals became a popular motif in many other ancient civilizations,
it never caught on in Egypt. At first, this is somewhat surprising, considering the Egyptians' dedication to the control and domestication of wild animals. The Master of Animals is a god who was tailor-made for the Egyptians, but he never became part of the Egyptian pantheon, perhaps because he became a symbol of foreign invasion. So, on second thought, it is not overly surprising that the Master of Animals was none too popular with the Egyptians, not after he sicced his lions on them.

A few Sumerian artifacts (including pictures of boats and the Master of Animals) had
reached Egypt through intermediary traders via an overland route. It was the first time
that the Egyptians heard about a distant and powerful kingdom called Sumer. Apparently it caused great consternation among the Egyptian nobility. It made them look up from their 
tribal wars long enough to realize that there’s a big bad scary world out there, which could possibly be a threat to their own kingdoms. For the first time, Egyptians considered the possibility of a seaborne invasion by foreigners.

But did it actually happen? Did the Sumerians really invade Egypt?

I doubt it, for the reasons listed on the page about the Gebel el-Arak knife. Sumer is simply too far away, almost 4,000 miles by sea. If you have read stories about the Age of Discovery (1500 - 1700 AD), you know of the incredible hardships involved in long ocean voyages, even in “modern” sailing ships. It’s doubtful that the Sumerians (or their ships) could survive such a long voyage, much less arrive with enough men to mount an invasion, much less survive the return trip. Plus, the Sumerians would have to row all the way there. Although the Sumerians later invented sailboats, there’s no evidence that they had them at this time, and the boats were certainly not seagoing vessels that were large enough to carry troops. Besides, there aren't any sailing ships on either the mural or the Gebel el-Arak knife.

Yet the mural of Tomb 100 clearly shows a Sumerian seaborne attack on Hierakonpolis.

One possible scenario can be seen on the map below. If the Sumerians wanted to attack Hierakonpolis from the western shore of the Red Sea, they would have to beach their boats
on the coast, then travel 70 miles inland, then commandeer some Egyptians boats, and then
cross the Nile to attack Hierakonpolis on the opposite side of the river.

Perhaps the Sumerians did not attack Egypt from the Red Sea, perhaps they somehow commandeered some ships on the Mediterranean Sea and attacked Egypt on the Nile River. This requires a much shorter sea voyage, but as can be seen on the map, this scenario is even more unlikely than the first one.

To attack Hierakonpolis, the Sumerians would have to travel the entire length of the Nile, past every major city-state in Egypt, paddling upstream the entire time, while being attacked by the Egyptians on both sides of the river.

It's entirely possible that Lord Hierakon actually did fight a battle, with events similar to the ones illustrated on the painting (including the escape), but he was mistaken if he thought it was a battle against the Sumerians.

I personally would love it the Sumerians were intrepid enough to mount a seaborne invasion
of Egypt at such an early stage in history (not that I have anything against the Egyptians)
but I don’t see how it is even remotely possible.

This begs the question: why are Sumerian seaborne invasions clearly depicted on both the Gebel el-Arak knife and the Hierakonpolis mural?

I believe the importation of some Sumerian artifacts (along with coincidental raids on the
Egyptian coastline by nomadic tribesmen that the Egyptians thought were Sumerians),
galvanized the Egyptians into thinking about Homeland Defense. I suggest Lord Hierakon
and other lords appointed themselves to be "The Defenders Against Foreign Invasion".
They promised to put aside their differences and unite together in common defense if they
were ever invaded by foreigners. I believe the perceived threat of the Sumerians helped to
unite Egypt. For the first time in their history, Egyptian noblemen began to think of Egypt
as an entire country, and not just a collection of warring tribes.

For the Egyptians, their worst fears of a seaborne invasion eventually came true in 1200 BC
when Egypt was overrun by the "Sea Peoples" (long after the end of Sumerian civilization).
For now, the Egyptian fear of a Sumerian invasion was something of a "Red Scare", literally,
but it helped to formulate the idea of a unified Egyptian nation.

There is one more point that needs to be considered:

Twenty years after the tomb at Hierakonpolis was plundered, a private antiquities dealer
offered to sell to the Louvre Museum a flint knife with an elaborately carved handle. The provenance of the knife wasn't known. It was allegedly from Gebel el-Arak, 60 miles north of Hierakonpolis. There aren't any major archaeological sites in Gebel el-Arak, so the curators made an educated guess and assumed that the knife was probably from nearby Abydos.

So... an unknown provenance. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

February 9, 2018