King Den's sandal label
From Abydos, Egypt, Early Dynastic period, mid-1st Dynasty, around 2985 BC
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Most ivory plaques dating to the First Dynasty were made as labels. The pair of sandals incised on the back of this one indicates that it was a label for sandals, which were extremely prestigious items.
Labels such as these were usually decorated with representations of important events and this example shows Den, the fifth king of the First Dynasty, about to bring his mace down on the head of his vanquished enemy.
The name of the king is written in the rectangular frame in front of his face, with the figure of a falcon, a symbol of royalty, above. The hieroglyphs behind the king give the name of one of his high officials, Inka.
This label is one of the few sources for information about activity inside or outside Egypt in the Early Dynastic period.
The hieroglyphs on the right-hand side of the label read 'first occasion of smiting the East'. That the enemy is an Easterner is indicated by his long locks and pointed beard. The gravel-spotted desert which serves as a ground-line rises to a hill on the right, suggestive of Egyptian depictions of foreign lands.
Such illustrations are a standard way of depicting kings and do not necessarily mean that any such campaign ever took place. Kings are shown, over a period of 2,000 years, smiting Libyan chiefs - some with the same name! However, all standard motifs must have a prototype, and, being one of the earliest known, this example might refer to a real historical event.
Early kings of Egypt
Most of the evidence for the early kings of Egypt comes from the royal cemeteries at Abydos and Saqqara.