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Egypt's Three Predictable Seasons

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  • 0:03 Egyptian Seasons
  • 1:07 Akhet
  • 2:09 Peret
  • 2:53 Shemu
  • 3:36 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Reliable seasons are very important to agricultural societies. Luckily for ancient Egypt, their three seasons were very consistent. In this lesson, we'll explore those seasons and see what they meant to the Egyptians.

Egyptian Seasons

Many people live in Colorado where, about this time every year, many of them tell the same joke, of which they never seem to tire: What are the four seasons of Colorado? Winter, winter, winter, and construction! Hilarious, right? You can also be pretty sure that they stole that joke from Wyoming. Regardless, having predictable seasons is pretty important to Coloradans, and it was even more important to pre-industrial agricultural societies for whom deviations from the norm could quickly spell famine, drought, disease, and other unpleasantries. So, it's no surprise that most of the first major sedentary, or non-mobile, civilizations in the world developed in areas with reliable seasonal changes. Of this, perhaps none was more successful than ancient Egypt, a society that thrived from roughly 3100-300 BCE. Thanks to the constant supply of fresh water from the ever-important Nile River and three very reliable seasons, ancient Egyptians developed some of the most sustainable agricultural practices in the ancient world.

Ancient Egyptian calendar of the seasons
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Akhet

The ancient Egyptian calendar was divided into 12 months of 30 days each, covering 3 seasons that corresponded to parts of the agricultural growing cycle. Each of these three seasons had within it 4 months, or about 120 days. The first season, the Season of Flooding, was called Akhet, which roughly means inundation. This was the time of the year when the Nile River would flood. The Nile did this every single year at the exact same time, which was really important because the flooding of the Nile replenished the nutrients in the soil. The Nile floodplain - the valley of land near the Nile that actually flooded - was very large and covered most of settled Egypt, so people in this time would rely heavily on fishing and used boats to get around. The annual flooding of the Nile, which falls roughly from mid-July to mid-November in our calendar, was one of the most important and sacred events for the ancient Egyptians, who recognized that this is what made the land fertile for crops. In fact, the start of Akhet, the flooding season, was the beginning of the Egyptian new year.

During Akhet, the Nile River flooded and replenished the nutrients in the soil
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