Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught history, and has an MA in Islamic law/finance. He has since founded his own financial advice firm, Newton Analytical.
Egypt had a very unique location in the Ancient World. It was close to the center of the known world, with Greece to the northwest, Mesopotamia and Persia to the northeast, Yemen to the southeast, and Africa to the south. Further, as a river civilization, it had many ports that could not only receive and load goods, but also meant that there were plenty of places to buy or sell goods in Egypt. The river also provided defense, as there could be plenty of warning if an enemy was trying to attack Egypt's ports, since in most cases they were well away from the Mediterranean Sea coast. This meant that Egypt was a perfect place for trade, and the country used this fact to grow very rich by trading.
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What Could Egypt Offer the World?
Egypt also had a very unique environment, as well. On one hand, it was very hot in Egypt, but with the yearly floods, the Nile brought plenty of water and nutrients for the soil. As a result, the farm produce of the Egyptians was incredibly rich, and Egypt was able to produce grain and other foods for much of the Mediterranean region. Since everyone has to eat, this meant that Egypt had a massive market for its food.
However, it was not only food that Egypt was able to sell throughout much of the known world. Egypt was also one of the only places from which papyrus, an early form of paper, could be made. Governments, then, needed an incredibly large amount of paper to keep records, meaning that many other governments throughout the region depended on Egypt to be able to continue to work effectively. Also, gold and jewels mined from Egypt's mines, either further down the Nile or in the desert, were both in great demand.
The Near East
However, Egypt was not able to produce everything that it needed. Perhaps the most important good the Egyptians needed, and in large quantities, was wood. Egypt's trees produce wood that, while useful for some applications, is not able to act as the supports necessary to build the great temples and pyramids. As a result, the Egyptians shipped much of their wood in from Lebanon, to the northeast.
Additionally, the Egyptians had an appetite for both olive oil and wine, especially among the rich. Unfortunately for the Egyptians, neither of these could be easily produced in Egypt, as neither grapes nor olives grow well in the intense Egyptian heat, or in large enough quantities to make it worthwhile to do in the first place. Egypt, therefore, imported these goods from as far away as Greece, but often got them from the Hebrews of Judea or from modern-day Turkey.
Africa and Yemen
Much more exotic goods came from farther away. Egypt was only a short sail away from Yemen, on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. Yemen was one of the only places in the world that could grow incense, which was vital throughout the ancient world for religious worship. Egypt was closest to Yemen, which meant that they could buy it in Yemen and then sell it to the rest of the world for a higher price. In fact, Yemen's incense was so important that the Egyptians tried to build a canal, linking the Nile River with the Red Sea, so that they could cut out an expensive overland journey. Unfortunately for the Egyptians, it took 1,000 years for them to figure out how to make the canal work.
From further south in the African interior, the Egyptians were able to import even more rare goods. Ivory, furs, and even wild animals accompanied more expected gold and jewels from further up the Nile River. Much of this trade was made easier by a large kingdom to the south of Egypt, known as the Kingdom of Kush. Of course, such trade was made incredibly easy by the Nile River, which despite the rapids that kept a ship from sailing the entire distance of the river, meant that much of the route was navigable by boat.
Today, we learned more about the economic power of Egyptian traders in the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as down the Nile Valley into Africa. Egypt was able to export its crops, papyrus, and gold in exchange for wood, olive oil, and wine from throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as gold, jewels, ivory, and other luxury goods from further south, both in the Kingdom of Kush and beyond.
After this lesson ends, you should be able to:
- Identify the regional reasons Egypt became a major trading post for the Mediterranean
- Recognize the products that Egypt obtained through trade
- Describe what goods passed through Egypt heading for other parts of the Mediterranean
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Egyptian Trade in the Eastern Mediterranean & Nile Valley
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