Palermo stone

Palermo stone
The Palermo Stone, the fragment of the Egyptian Royal Annals housed in Palermo, Italy

The Palermo Stone is a large fragment of a stele known as the Royal Annals of the Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt. It contains records of the kings of Egypt from the first dynasty through the fifth dynasty.

The fragment is in the Salinas Regional Archaeological Museum in Palermo, Italy, from which it derives its name. The term "Palermo Stone" is sometimes incorrectly applied to the entire Royal Annals, which also includes other fragments located in museums in Cairo and London that have never been in Palermo.

The stele, made of black basalt, was engraved toward the end of the fifth dynasty, in the 25th century BC. It lists the kings of ancient Egypt following the unification of Lower Egypt (the region of the Nile River Delta in the north of Egypt) and Upper Egypt (extending from the middle of modern Egypt to the southern border with Nubia).

The text begins by listing several thousands of years of rulers — presumed by many to be mythical — predating the rise of the god Horus, who, according to the text, conferred the kingship on Menes, the first human ruler listed. The text credits Menes with the unification of Egypt.[1] (Another name for Menes is thought to be Narmer, but this could be the name of the next ruler.)

The text goes on to list the names of the kings who ruled Egypt up to King Neferirkare Kakai, a ruler of the early fifth dynasty,[2] although the original stela may have recorded events after his reign on portions that have since been lost. Importance is given on the stone to the kings' mothers, like Betrest and Meresankh I.



The stone was inscribed on both sides with the earliest known Egyptian text. The stela was originally about 2.1 metres tall by 60 centimetres wide. It was broken into a number of pieces, many of which are missing. The original location of the stela is unknown, but a portion of it was found at an archaeological site in Memphis.

The Palermo Stone fragment first entered the collection of the Palermo Archaeological Museum in 1866.[3]

A fragment of the Royal Annals, on display at the Petrie Museum, London, which is inscribed with part of the Khasekhemwy register and at the top with a sign from the Snefru register

Other pieces of the stela are in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and the Petrie Museum in London.[4] Most of the information on the stone concerning the first and second dynasties has not survived.

The ancient historian Manetho may have used the complete stela to construct his chronology of the dynasties of Egypt, written in the third century BC.

Archaeological history

This largest fragment of the stela has been in Palermo since 1866, although its importance was not recognized immediately. It was noticed there by a visiting French archaeologist in 1895. Its contents were first published in 1902 by Heinrich Schäfer. It is currently in the collection of the Palermo Archaeological Museum in Sicily. There are other sizeable pieces in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, one discovered in 1910 and another purchased on the antiquities market in 1963, and in the museum of University College London, given by Sir Flinders Petrie.

The original engraved stela must have been about 2.2 m long, 0.61 m wide and 6.5 cm thick, but most of it now is missing. There is no surviving information about its provenance, although another fragment of the stela was excavated at Memphis.[5]


The stela is a hieroglyphic list—formatted as a table, or outline, of the kings of ancient Egypt before and after Menes, with regnal years and notations of events up until the time it was created, likely sometime during, or up until, the fifth dynasty since that is when its chronology ends. It also tabulates such information as the height of the Nile flood, the Inundation for some pharaohs (see Nilometer), and information on the festivals (such as Sed festivals), taxation, sculpture, buildings, and warfare for some.[6]

Later lists, namely the Turin Canon (13th century BC) and the Karnak king list, identify Menes (c. 3100 or 3000) as the first king of the first dynasty and credit him with unifying Egypt. However, the Palermo stone, which is substantially older, lists rulers who predate Menes. This may indicate that the unification of Egypt occurred earlier than Menes's reign and that he simply reunited the nation after a period of fragmentation. However, scholars are divided on the implications of the stela. Some believe the earlier pharaohs existed historically, while others believe that their inclusion in the list has only ideological value (i.e., there must have been disorder before order).

See also


  1. ^ Shaw, Ian and Nicholson, Paul. The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. p.218. Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1995. ISBN 0-8109-9096-2
  2. ^ O'Neill, John P. Egyptian Art in the Age of the Pyramids. p.349. Yale University Press. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1999. ISBN 0-87099-907-9
  3. ^ Shaw, Ian and Nicholson, Paul. The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. p.218. Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1995. ISBN 0-8109-9096-2
  4. ^ Ian Shaw, The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, Oxford University Press 2003, ISBN 0-19-280458-8, p.4
  5. ^ Brass, Mikey. The Antiquity of Man: Palermo Stone.
  6. ^ Ian Shaw, The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, Oxford University Press 2003, ISBN 0-19-280458-8, p.5


  • Partial and dated English translation of the text in J.H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, vol. I sections 76-167.
  • St. John, Michael. 2003. The Palermo Stone : An Arithmetical View. London: University Museum London.
  • Wilkinson, Tony A. H. 2000. Royal Annals of Ancient Egypt. New York: Columbia University Press). ISBN 0-7103-0667-9

External links

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