Back To CourseAncient Egypt Study Guide
9 chapters | 107 lessons
Molly has ten years of middle school teaching experience and two master's degrees in teaching.
When we think of Egypt, we might think of pyramids, mummies, hieroglyphs, and maybe even King Tut or Cleopatra. These are all things and people that make Egypt memorable and fascinating. But did you know that Egypt would not have existed without their incredible abundance of food, made possible by agricultural techniques that helped them harness the cycles of the Nile River? Yes, food is what made Egypt wealthy, long before fancy tombs and cool drawings. But how do you grow food in the desert heat with a flooding river?
The Egyptians built their powerful and successful empire along the banks of the Nile River. The Nile flows approximately 4,000 miles from Lake Victoria in East Africa and empties into the Mediterranean Sea. It is the longest river in the world and provides much needed water and vegetation across the Northern part of Africa through the Sahara Desert. Three rivers flow together to create the Nile which flows South to North and empties into a delta, or a triangle shaped piece of land where a river splits and flows into an ocean.
Although the area surrounding the Nile is fertile, ancient farmers had to learn certain techniques to make the land useful and abundant. The annual flooding of the Nile left rich sediment along the banks of the river, which, when properly irrigated, allowed farmers to plant crops. This abundant food supply allowed early nomads, or people who followed food sources, to settle in one place. These early villages became two strong kingdoms, Lower Egypt to the North and Upper Egypt to the South. In 3100 BCE, King Menes united Lower and Upper Egypt into one empire. Under King Menes, Egypt began creating a strong society and economy. The early economy was based on food production, specifically wheat, barley and grain.
The Egyptian year was divided into three seasons based on the flooding and receding of the Nile River.
Very predictably, the Nile River flooded every year. This was called inundation and occurred from June until September. During this time, the river would flood the land surrounding the banks of the river. Though this sounds like it would be terrible, Egyptians learned to build their houses away from the banks of the river. The flooding also left a rich black soil, called silt. This silt was so important to Egyptian agriculture that they called it 'The Gift of the Nile.'
Living in the desert with a flooding river meant that the Egyptians had a surplus of water at certain times and none at all during others. They needed to create a way to harness the water from the flooding so they could use it during the rest of the year to water their crops. They did this through the creation of an irrigation and canal system. They dug canals parallel to the river which filled with water during the flooding. They could open and close these canals to then use this water for crops later in the year. A shaduf was used to help move water from the canal to the fields. The shaduf was a long tool on a seesaw type of bottom, with a weight on one end and a bucket on the other. The bucket could be lowered into the canal and filled with water. Then the bucket could be rotated around to the area in need of water.
Remember 'The Gift of the Nile' mentioned earlier? When the flood waters began to recede in October, it left behind that rich black soil which was rich in nutrients and ideal for farming. Egyptians would spend October through February ploughing the soil either by hand or by using a light plow tied to the horns of cattle. Seeds for grain, wheat, barley, corn and other vegetables and fruit would be sown and then watered and cared for until the harvest.
Again, with the predictability of the Nile River, the Egyptians knew just when to harvest their crops. From March to May, the Egyptians would harvest the wheat, barley and other crops they grew. They used a hand tool called a sickle that had a semicircular blade for cutting the crops. The farmers harvested the crops and had enough time to then fix the canals and reservoirs before flooding season began again.
The amount of food harvested on a plot of land was how Egypt initially measured wealth. As crops were harvested, tax collectors came and collected their share before the rest could be sold at markets. Wheat was used to make bread, barely to brew beer, and leftover corn fed the animals that helped with farming. Farming was so successful that the empire found itself with plenty of food. This helped the population of Egypt grow, which created a strong society with class systems, jobs, religious customs, writing, and education. Thus, Egypt became a very powerful empire.
The Egyptian Empire grew along the banks of the Nile River which provided three predictable seasonal cycles for crops. Akhet or flooding season lasted from June to September. This flooding not only provided a nutrient rich black soil called silt, but is also allowed farmers to harness the extra water through an intricate canal and reservoir system. October to February was the growing season, or Peret, during which time farmers were busy plowing the land and planting crops such as wheat and barley. The rich, fertile silt provided excellent ground for growing crops. The Egyptians used the irrigation system of reserved flood water to help keep the farmland wet during the very dry months with special equipment such as a shaduf. Finally, from March until May, farmers were hard at work harvesting grain during Shemu. They used animals and tools such as a sickle to harvest. This extensive agricultural system allowed them to create a strong food supply that created wealth and power for the growing Egyptian Empire.
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Back To CourseAncient Egypt Study Guide
9 chapters | 107 lessons