King Den's sandal label

From Abydos, Egypt, Early Dynastic period, mid-1st Dynasty, around 2985 BC

King Den's sandal label

Download this video to watch in your favourite media player, or to view this video online please enable javascript.

Using this on a mobile device? Tap the image to watch.
On desktop, requires Flash player or click image to download.

Watch more BSL video descriptions

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.

Ancient Egypt


Towards the end of the fourth millennium BC independent city-states unified to begin of over 3,000 years of pharaonic civilisation in the Nile Valley.

Ancient Egypt world culture

Early dynastic period



Early kings of Egypt

Most of the evidence for the early kings of Egypt comes from the royal cemeteries at Abydos and Saqqara.

Read the full article


Language and writing in Ancient Egypt

Although its a dead language, Egyptian is preserved in texts written over a period of more than four thousand years.

Read the full article

King Den's sandal label


King Den's
sandal label

Listen now

Related products


A History of the World in 100 objects

By Neil MacGregor

Accompanies the BBC Radio 4 series

Object details

Height: 4.500 cm
Width: 5.400 cm
Thickness: 0.200 cm


EA 55586

Ancient Egypt and Sudan


    Acquired in 1922 at the sale of the MacGregor Collection


    E.R. Russmann, Eternal Egypt: masterworks of (University of California Press, 2001)

    R. Parkinson, Cracking codes: the Rosetta St (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)

    A.J. Spencer, Catalogue of Egyptian antiqu-4 (London, The British Museum Press, 1980)

    A.J. Spencer, Early Egypt, The rise of civil (London, The British Museum Press, 1993)

    S. Quirke and A.J. Spencer, The British Museum book of anc (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)

    See this object in our Collection database online

    Further reading

    B. Kemp, Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilization (London, 2005)

    J. Spencer, Early Egypt: The Rise of Civilization in the Nile Valley (London, 1993)

    D. Wengrow, The Archaeology of Early Egypt: Social Transformations in North-East Africa, 10,000-2,650 BC (Cambridge, 2006)

    R. Wenke, The Ancient Egyptian State: The Origins of Egyptian Culture (c. 8000-2000 BC) (Cambridge, 2009)

    T. Wilkinson, Early Dynastic Egypt (London, 2001)

    N. Yoffee, Myths of the Archaic State: Evolution of the Earliest Cities, States, and Civilization (Cambridge, 2005)