On 08 June 2013 at 10:00

Symbolique du lion, des premiers chefs aux premiers rois d’Egypte

Mr. Luc Watrin

During the historical periods of ancient Egypt, the lion was associated with a multitude of deities, more than thirty, some of them protective for the king, like Mafdet. One of the most ancient cosmogonies, the creation myth in Heliopolis tells us about a lion descent that is caused by the Creator of the universe: at first, the solar god Atum begot a couple of lions, Shu and Tefnut.

It seems the lion was a symbol connected with the first chiefs and rulers of Egypt. It appears as one of the oldest “paraphernalia” of Egyptian kingship.

The first occurrence in Egypt of a lion representation consists of a fine amulet in a green stone (greywacke), depicting a young leaping lion. The quality and the scarcity of this type of ornament are significant of the probably high social status of its owner. A suspension hole shows that the piece was worn as a pendant. This exceptional representation can be dated around 3700 B.C. (Naqada Ic-IIa period).

A bit later, around 3350 B.C. (Naqada IId-early IIIa period), it is probable that one of the first kings of Egypt identifies himself with a lion and is called after a lion. Glyptic material from Mahasna shows indeed a lion preceded by the determinative for nesut, “king”.

The Towns Palette might also refer to the lion as a royal symbol. The direction of reading of the Towns Palette, which we think to be from the bottom up -such as on war scenes on knives with ivory handles of Gebel el-Arak type- shows a lion preceding other animals.

On this fragmentary document, every animal is equipped with a hoe and is destroying the crenellated walls of the fortress on which they are standing.

We assume that, like on royal lists found later such as the Palermo Stone (Old Kingdom, c. 2500 B.C.), the succession and repetition of animal entities within the same register and under the same form might correspond to a list of chiefs or rulers.

Each representation might symbolize a single or several rulers under different animal forms (lion, scorpion, falcon).

The oldest known Egyptian rulers originated from Abydos. They bear the name of a vigorous animal, a spirit-animal to which they seem to be identified. Among them, the lion seems to be one of the most ancient. Associations of the lion with the warlords exists among numerous populations, because of the hunting, power and predation qualities of the animal.

In Egypt, the reign of ruler or king Lion, identified as such by documents, should be placed some 250 years before king Catfish/Narmer. Narmer (c. 3100 B.C.) is considered as the one who united the different Egyptian chiefdoms, but he is surely not the first to have made attempts of conquest in order to establish the hegemony of the South towards the north.

King Lion might be placed just before a King Scorpion (the owner of tomb U-j in Abydos), during the Naqada IId-early Naqada IIIa period, himself being a predecessor of a King Double Falcon and a King Falcon, a group of rulers that reigned before Narmer.

The image of the lion as an invincible fighter remains unchanged on the Battlefield Palette, where it embodies a king destroying his enemies. But from Naqada IIIb onwards, around 3150 B.C., the image of the lion as the embodiment of a mighty and strong ruler seems to gradually disappear (one even sees him hunted on a palette) to be replaced by another strong animal that will incarnate the pharaoh’s power, a bird entity flying higher than any other, the falcon.



Cercle de Lorraine


On 08 June 2013 at 10:00

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Mr. Luc Watrin

Mr. Luc Watrin

Archaeologist and Egyptologist


An archaeologist and  an Egyptologist, Luc Watrin is a specialist of recent prehistory, Chalcolithic period and the Bronze Age. He  has dedicated his career to the early times of the Egyptian civilization and its contacts with the Levant during this formative period (4th millenium B.C.).

He has conducted excavations in Egypt with the Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale, the University of Cairo,  the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in the United Arab Emirates, the Ecole Française d’Athènes in Cyprus, the Délégation Archéologique Française in Iraq and the Ecole Biblique Française de Jérusalem.

In 1977, he founded GREPAL (Groupe de Recherche Européen Pour l’Archéologie du Levant).

His most recent expeditions feature lesser known regions of the Nile Delta, the Libyan Desert and the Gilf Kebir region, at the border between Egypt, Sudan and Libya. They are related to protohistory, the first Egyptian dynasties and their connections with the Middle East.