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C]IIAP'fER

THE GIF'T OF' THE NILE


"Eg_vpt," wrore thc Grcek historian Herodotus in thc fifth centur\ BCE, ,,is so to
speak the

gifi of the Nile." According to the

THE RIVER IN THE SAND


Egypt lies at the norrhern end of the longest river in the world: the Nile, which rises in the Easr African highlands and flows into the Mediterranean more than four rhousand miles (6,500km) away. The rhythm of the

pricsts, he said, Egvpt $ras nothing but marsh before the land was created b1. la1,er

upon laver of silt deposited by the great river. N{odern geographers might dilfer in their account of Egvpt's phvsical origins, but the central role of the rir,er in the life of lhe counlr_\ ir as erident todar as it uas in
ancient times.

The River in the Sand l0 The Nurturing Waters


12

river was the mosr important feature of life in ancient Egypt. until this centur\r when huge dams have been built to contror the Nile's flow, monsoon rains in Ethiopia caused it to srvell along its lower reaches and inundate the surrounding countrlrside every year from June to October. Most of Egypt's population were farmers, who stood idle during the inundation, unless they were called up to work on public monuments such as the king's tomb. when the Nile receded, it deposited rich silt, ensuring that
the farmers always planted in fertile soil. Except for those years when the flood was disastrously high or low, Egyptians were secure in their knowledge that the river would guaranree them enough to eat (see pp. IZ_13).

'fhe Great Highway


A Landscape

16

of the Mind

18

The Nile in Egypt has rwo main parts: the Valley ancr the Delta, corresponding to rhe ancient divisions of the country into upper and Lower Egypt. The valley, some 660 miles (1,060km) rong, is a remarkable canvon that is an offshoot of the African Great Rift valley, The floodplain occupies 4,250 square miles (11,000km'z) and ranges in width from just one and a quarter miles (2km) ar Aswan to eleven miles (l7km) at el-Amarna.

At present, the Nile splits near cairo into two branches that flolv into the sea at Rosetra (Rashid) and Damietta (Dumyar). These are all that

of several branches that existed until medieval times (see map, opposite). The silt left by the branches formed a broacl triangle of fertile land that co\rers some 8,500 square miles (22,000km,). 'rhe Greeks callecl
remain

The shaduf, a dexice Jbr lifring ^Ilonr.: tr1tcr0ut of'the .\ile,tnd errtptf ing it into irrigtttion trenclles, dates f.ont pharaonic times ond is

this land the "Delta" because its shape reminded them of the inverted fourth letter of their alphabet (A). The Delta is fifty-seven feet (l7m) above sea level near cairo and is fringed in the coastal regions by lagoons, wetlands, lakes and sand dunes. In parts of the eastern Delta there are conspicuous low hills known as "turtle backs". These sandy ,,islands" in
the surrounding silty plain were rarel,v submerged by the annual inundation and in Predynastic times (to ca. 4000ncr) villages and burial grounds

still in

use toda1, in

parts

of

rural Egypt.

.i.HE RIVER IN THE SAND

11

A map

oJ-

the Nile Deltu in ancient times,

shuning the possible clurse oJ its nwnerlus distributu'ies. Actnrd.ing to Creek tmtl Rontan ltistoriuns, there pere oilce at leasl

jixe

an.d possihl.y as man.)t as

sirteen Nile

branches. Ch.anges in the h),drpgvophi6

Parva!
,,t.,.

regimes 0J'the Nile benpeen the


I

l0th and
Jbr the

2th centuries
sea

CE nere respt)nsible
to

Naukrdtis

L/

/)a li

reduction of the hrunthes

into the
i llustra

jtrst tnn,.flowing ut Rosetto und Damiettu (see


be

THE NILE DELTA IN ANCIENT TIMES

tion,

lotn

).

KEr'
t',':

(|3

a:l
': . :.i

L,,.'1
_ ::::-a I

0..,,,."*d
Prcsent-dar

Leropolis
branch

Helicipolis

\ile

Little Bitter Lqke

\nqent l\re orancn


Ancient outlet of Nile branch Ancient site or citl'

Memphis

orhcr cirr

became established on their slopes. From the Old Kingdom (ca. 2625 2I30ncr.) onward, the apex of the Delta was close to Memphis, the
ancient cirpital.

A cobur-enhanced Lantlsat satellite xien


Eg_1,pt
t

oJ

and the Nile: tke retl aretts rel)resent


o o

It is now fifteen miles (25km) north of Cairo. -Ihe Nile divides the eastern margin of the Sahara into the Western of Egypt,

he

./i

r t i le .fl

dp I ain. Th e

me ttn

tl e r s oJ'

h e

Nile ha.^e drit'ied o'-er time. During the Old Kingdom, the muin channel pas
close both

Desert (also known as the Eastern Sahara and the Libl..'an Desert) and the Eastern Desert. The \Vestern Desert covers about two-thirds and its most striking features are a series

tu .l4cmphis tnJ lu lhe Iimesl,'ne 4ilirrics netrr'I'urtr M the 0pplsite side. Oxer the Iast millennium, the

of rockv desert

plateaux and

riter

hus skiJied eastnurd:

sandy depressions, in which nestle lush oases (see map, p.50). The East-

for

xample, most o.f'the rpest bunk o.f Cuiro

actruett hetpeen thc l1th und

I'lth

centuries.

ern Desert, characterized by thc prominent Red Sea Hills, was important in pharaonic times for its minerals (see map, p.65). The Sinai, essentiallv an extension

of the Eastern Desert across the Gulf of Suez,

was also a

maior source of minerals, especially copper. Wheat, barlel; sheep and goats were domesticated in the Near East at least trvo thousand years bcfore thev appeared in the Nile !'allev. Herders in the deserts of Palestine and the Sinai rvere probably driven to scek refuge in the Delta by
great droughts seven thousand vears ago.

The \Vestern Desert, rvhich \\.as not always as drv as it is todar,; has of humankind in Egypt. Tools at least half a million .years old have been found close to long-vanished rivers and springs, and the first domesticated cattle in Africa may have been tended ca. 9000sCE near ephemeral lakes (pla.1,as) in the southwest of the Western Desert, not far from thc present-dav border lr,ith Sudan. It may w-ell be in these areas that the roots of Egypt's civilization lie: here, herders took the first steps torvard complex social organization and developed fundamental elemcnts of Egvptian society and religion, before the increasing aridity of thc region forced them to drift torvard the Nile Vallev (see pp.106-7).
r

ielded the oldest evidence

12

. TIIE G]FT' oli

TFIF,

MATERIAL RESOURCES Abundant food supplies were supplernented by other irnportant econornic resources. Flax was used to rnake fine linen garments and rope. \rlou rare in Egypt. paplrus grew in
great thickets in the rnarshes and s\r'amps. The stalks were sliced into strips to rnake sheets (a sheet consisted of one layer of horizontal strips placed over a layer of vertical strips). The two layers were then beaten together to rnake the best writing rnaterial available until the arrival of paper in Arab tirnes. Other reeds and grasses were turned into rnats and baskets. Nile rrrud provided clay for pottery and sun-dried bricks. Egyptian sycarnore, fig and acacia were employed in shipbuilding, but better-quality tirnber had to be irrrported. Lebanese cedar was used for ships, fine chests and coffins.

THE NURTURING WATERS


The cirilization of Eglpt and spectacular achievements were based throughout its historv on the prosperit),.of a mainly agrarian econom\-. The country's verdant green fields and bountiful food resources depended on the fertile soil of the Nile floodplain and rhe annual summer flood, which commenced in mid-June and lasted until mid-Ocrober (see p. l0). As soon as the rvaters began to recede, the farmers returned to their sodden fields to sow their seeds. The crops were readt for harvest from February to earlyJune, when the Nile was at its lorvest level. Egyptian agriculture involved the cultivation of a r,vide range of plants, the most common being emmer-rvheat and barley, staples from rvhich Egvptians made bread, cakes and a nutritious type of beer that \\-as frequently flavoured with spices, honev or dates. The predominantlv cereal diet r'vas supplemented by. fava beans, lentils and peas (good sources of
protein); and other vegetables grown included lettuces, cucumbers, leeks, onions and radishes. Among the most popular fruits, grown in orchards,
were melons) dates, s\-camore figs and pomegranates. Grapes lvere also cultivated and r,vere used to make both red and r,vhite rvines. oils were extracted from flax and the castor-oil plant (Ricinus clmnlunis), as $,ell as

The Nile at Beni Ilasan in Lrpper abour /-i miles (25km) norrh
o./'e

Eg.1,pt,

l-A4in1,a.

from sesame in Ptolemaic times. The Egvptians also grerv a r,vide \-aricr\' of herbs for medicinal purposes. Poultry and livestock had an important place in the economl. Geese
were a common sight along the canals and villages that lined the Nile, and

The agricuhural.floodpluin c0ntrosts

nith

the desert thtrt hegins abruptly on either side

at the time of the annual inundation, migratory water birds flocked to

::;*!. j:::' .,.;&:

t#q?x

:.1",1-;;,1,rrr;.,

:*"i9

'

:*a&.#

THII NURTURI\G \\iATERS . 1]

Egl.pt lrom afar. Pintail ducks, in particularj \vere caught in nets and snared in traps. Farmers also kept sheep, goats, cattle and pigs. Donke.vs 1vs1s [,sl-pt]s main beasts of burden and chief mode of transport on land. Horses r,ere introduced onlv during the Nerv Kingdom (after ca. l-539uc.1); camels and buffaloes did not appear in the Eg1-ptian landscape until a thousand vears later, during the Persian occupation. The Nile itself was a source of an abundance of fish such as tilapia and catirsh, both of rvhich rvere found close to the banks of the river in the mudd1. waters betu,een the reeds. Nilc perch (Lates nilotica) was a favoured catch in the irrigation ditches that rvere dug to channel rvater from the \ile to the fielcls.

O\l,lRl.lr.\!':

he .-ien, south acrr.tss the Nile

ton.,urd the heights oJ- Beni Hustm (compttre

illusrrttrion, opposire ptge). The clilJ'Jace ttt Beni Husun contains around

l0 .Ilitldle

Kirylont rock
goternors)
o.f

t'Lrt

nmhs, intluling secenr.l


I

helorying to locul nomarchs (protincial the

lth und l2t.h tlj,n.usties.

ry ffi

i;jffiffii;'ff m{ ffi,ffir;1,ry ffi '; ffi m L: ry,:ffi3"Lffi mi; '*'ff ffi


periods r'vhen
a111,,

THE UNPREDICTABLE NILE

t-Flh. flo,rd dischlrge lrom the Nile vlriecl enormouslr I frn- \ e:rr to \ car. When floocls \\:ere \:erv iorr, there
might be setere fb.x1 shortrgScs. but crccssirclr'high l1oods uoulcl s'reak catastrophic destruction in villag-cs and fields. Nloreover, the floods sometimes arrired too late or too

lor

floods and high floods alternated annu-

causing major disruption to planting and harr-csting

schedules. Repeated lorv floocls rlso led

to the silting of

major transport canals and the disappearance Delta branches of the Nile (see p.l1).

of

manr,,

elrlr., ancl thc floodr,r,aters might not retreat until altcr plrrnting ntrs supposed to har.e started. A brief inundation coulcl mean that the \\aters receded quicklr., making it difllcult to get
enougJh \vater to the fielcls befbrc

Ancient records are scant\:) but those of the Nilometer (Nile flood gauge) at Rhoda near Cairo, over the last thirteen hundred 1'ears, reveal that from the earh tenth centurv

phnting time.

Conclitions become prrticularh. difficult nhen "bad" floods recurred over several succcssive tears. There I'ere

to the late fburteenth centurv cE the floods were still highl-v variable, r'r'ith the periods 930 to 1070 and 1180 to
ctE

1350 markeil bv serere droughts. Times

of clrought rvere accompanied br outbreaks of pestilence and cii.il disorder, and it is


knorvn that some people resorted cannibalism.
tcr

It

is not known I'r,hether

such effects occurred

in

pharaonic

times, but according to one theor\.,


poor floods confributed to the clemise

of the Olcl Kingdom.

The Nile Delta in untient tines, shonriry,


the urett suhjactetl
t tt
t

to
b i

.floolin.g. The
/i t.1, o./'
L

o.t'ien

ustro p h ic t' o.riu

he N t le

itrrrtt,l,tli,'tt tr,t.; lltc , hit.l iltillt,0ltiltt


hchind the tttnsh'tLction this centurl, of' the ..7sntttn Dnm nntl, espeLid//.1, th(
..1spun. High Ddm,

tantpletcl in 19/ l.

reffi';,ffi'ffi i;Vry ffiL u"ry ffi ';;ry ffit;rrW ffi.'u iff.ffiru,ffi ry*oi..t* ry, i "

',1

I6 . 'fHE GIF'I

OT.

THII, NILE

CANALS Extinct branches of the Nile in the eastern Delta once played a key role in the irnport of goods into Egypt frorn the Near East. When the
branches began to silt up, they were re-excavated as artificial canals. A rnajor canal east of the Delta is depicted in reliefs showing King Sety I (ca. 1290-7279ec:F.) crossing the border into Asia. Later, Necho II (ca. 610-595ncr) dug a canal to connect the Nile with the Red Sea (see map, opposite). This waterway was maintained and deepened by the Persians and the Ptolernies. The Greek historian Herodotus rernarked that t$,'o large ships could navigate the canal side by side. As early as the

THE GREAT HIGHWAY


The Nile was at once Egvpt's richest source of sustenance and its main communications artery. It flowed from south to north at an ayerage speecl of fbur knots (7.4kph) during rhe season of inundation, which meanr thar thc vovage from Thebes to A4emphis, a distance of around 5-50 miles (885km), would ha'e raken approximatelv two weeks. Navigation * as faster during the inundation because the \vater \\ras on average about tr'vcnty--five to thirtv-three feer (7.5-l0m) deep. In conrrasr) during the season of drought, when the water level was lo!'', the speerl of the current \'vas much slower, about one knot (1.Bkph), and the same trip uould hare taken at least two months. At the Nile's lclwest point, in June, the *.ater was no more than seven feet (2m) at Asr,lan comparccl with iust uncler
eighteen feet (5.5m) near Memphis.

Sirth Dynasty (ca. 2350-2l70ncn'),


the Egvptians also dug a canal at the First Cataract to ease the rnovement of boats through the rapids. Howeveq during low watcr, boats had to be hauled out of the river and dragged on land past the cataract. Another canal at the cataract was

III

excavated in the reign of Senwosret (ca. 1836-18l8nco).

The trip from north to south would har,e been ertremell. slorv before the invention of sails (probabll.crr. 3350ucn or a little later) to take ad'antage of the northerly and northwesterly r,vinds blorving off the Mediterranean. At all times of the year the great bencl near e:na, rvhere the Nile flou's from west to east and then back from east to west, slows clorvn rir er travel considerabll'. Night sailing \\ras generalry avoicled because of the
danger of running aground on one of the man' sandbanks ancl lor,v sandr. islands (see illustration, p.12).

,Mourners with a mrntm.), tbourd a mootlen rn',,/cl hual uJ ilnknutDil ptt,i.(n,tn,.,. il n)r.r

plarcd in a tornh ctr. l900nc:o to 1yntboli.ze '00.)/oge t0 the snnctuur.y oJ'Osirts at Abytlos.

In the late Predl'nastic or Naqada II period (ca. 3500-3l00ec'), Egt ptian boats developed from craft macle of reecr bundles into big ships constructed from wood planks. Early rock art suggests that some boats rvere o'er fiftv feet (15m) long and could carrv a cre\\ of thirtr-trvo. N,,Iultioared boars eristed before this time, in the early fourth millennium scn. clay models of boats found at Merimde Beni salama in thc Delta date back to the fifth millennium scr1. Bv the Early Dl,nastic Period, Egvptian boatbuilding had attained high standards. At Abvdos, boat F" pits (see p.I12) associared r,vith a FirstDrnasrl funerarv compler of ca. 3000scn 6 hlve revealed a fleet of tr.velve boats fu- "., betu.cen fifty and sixtv feet (15_ ryF ' 18m) long. But perhaps the greatest o*,r discoverv fiom this period is that of a barque of the pharaoh Khufu, builder of the Greirt Pyramid (see p. 158). Buried in pieces next to the pvramid, it lvas recently reassembled and
measured an impressive 144 f-ect (43.8m) in length.

Fiom the earliest times, boats rvere usecl to transport people

fll!l CililiAT lIIGll\\ir\Y .

17

i?4,::it-:t:?:;.:i:lt::tj:t:.:Jit:j:.;j;:r::i::t1::::::::,i,

,,,:.,_

,jj.r,,.,

Itrr,ro*oir,tili

Su

.f:+

:ft iff.

,ll
vrF riI ;--! ntrn Tf;:i
.l!**

Pcr-Temu 'l-jeL

g1

f:r r..tr

^r

rfi'l

.i,- fi t

* {
l[*

1l; ri

&

$n

I stene.fi'on the Book of- tha De tul o.f'the


priest Chensu.ntose shouting hirn stLilittg ott

resemltltng

t smtl/

Ni/e

sklf riggel to tutth

UPPDR LGYP']

tltt' nuters o.f'th.e wulernor'/tl itt

xessal

the Ni/e's prettriling northtr/1, ni.nls. Tnenty FirsL D1,n671, (cu. 1075 915rtt:t)

betu,een villages during the inunclations,

to f-crrv them across the river,

ancl

to trirnsport cattle, grain and other commodities. They' were also deploved in militarv campaigns. From the Filih Dy'nast.v onu,ard, Egl.pt ian shipwrights r,ere making sailing boats capable of ocean navigirtion.
'logether u,ith thc donkev the principal or,erland transport boats nrade possible thc economic and political integration of the countr\'. The capitals of the nomes, or pror,inccs (see p.27)) \vere linkecl with the national capital br boats ancl barges that carried local ro,enues to thc roval storehouscs. 'I'hc cmergence of a roval state in Eg-,-pt mav have been linked lvith the coordination of grain collection and other relief actir-ities tlereloped as part of a strateg-v to deal u,ith unexpected crop failures in a particular district. In pharaonic times, gririn from several districts stored in a central granary rvould be sent br, river to an area hit b1' famine. Artificial harbours and ports to ;rccommodate l;rrge cargo boats Nere an essential feature of the rivcrinc landscirpe. Torvns toclk aclvantage of the rleeper side of thc Nile channel close to the shore to cstablish ports. They llso built rock jetties that extcnded a short rvav into the rir-cr, perh:rps in response to chirnges in the course of the Nile. The site of a huge harbour at ,\ledinet Habu in Western Thebes, built during the reign of Amenhotep
';rtecl

EGYP'I'AND THF-, NII,E


KE'I

,"u,""ii,.n"
Thehcs
!-,

Jl l

+t8'

f
I,

.L
,::

a (lit,y ;jl::.: rl:i


Fcrtilc lrea Nile-Red Sen crnal

t-dttrict
\\iadi Turnilat Former Nile chlnlel

,l

\ First Cdtortct tj l,{ t+


!

'1 #

l--+ 0
r.;:t.:1:,.:.' .:1.:
i..

too
50

r''

n,ilcs

III

(ca. 1390-13,53ecu), is markecl br. huge elongatcd mouncls cre-

br, the earth from the harbour's excavation.

Othcr largc harbours are knorvn from \"Iemphis and the Delta city of The port at Tanis rvas used bv Thutmose III (ca. 1179 1425r:c.r.) to conncct N{emphis lvith the castern Delta.
-fanis.

r,I}

. I'HE \\

\I,TH Ol- TiIL L.\NL)

LIVING OFF'THE LAND


Ancient Egl,pt was known as a land of abundance, and kings sonetimes boasted of the good harvests during their reigns. For example, it was said of Amenemhet III (ca. 1818-1772nc;r.) that "He makes the Tu,o Lands yerdant green more than a great Nile ... He is Life ... The King is food

In an inscription at the temple of Abu Simbel, Ramesses II put the follolving words into the mouth of the god Ptah: "I girre to you fRamesses II] constant harvests... the sheates are like sand,
and his mouth is plenty-."

the granaries approach hea\,en, and the grain heaps are like mountains."

,1 Ronun Periotl Nilonteter at Elef htmtine.

A Nihnteter
stc?s 0n the

consiste d httsicalll ot''u flight ot' bntk oJ the ricer, und nu,s usetl t0 gauge the rise in paler /ez;el. The rate o.f'

rise enttbled the e.rtent o.f'tlte inundation

within a gi'oen periotl to


tl'I e u stu' e rn
e

be estimaLetl.
0

s n e r e r e c o r tI e d

t er

tn

LtTr

lt

centuries or plen.ty.

(see

p.13), untl to sorne

tLegree

helped.firrmers to

pretlit

periods oI scarcity

This agricultural prosperity relied on the river Nile, on good land management and, above all, on hard lr,ork. The rich silt from the Nile's annual flood regularly renerved the fertility of Egyptian farmland (see pp.10-11). The floodwater irrigated the fields and the depth of the inundation deter mined horv much land could be cultiyated. To measure horv much the river rose, the Egvptians built flood gauges known as "Nilometers" at various places along the Nile (see illustration, left). The Egyptians built embankments and dykes in order to protect buildings and land during the inundation and to control the flow of water into the fields. Thev took advantage of natural depressions in the floodplain, which formed flood basins. \Vater was allowed to flow from one basin to another following the slope of the land, lr,hile artificial channels carried water to the farthest areas if the flood $'as lo$.. No tools \\rere used for irrigation until the New Kingdom, when a method for lifting water \\'as devised, known in Arabic as a shakrf (see illustration, p. l0). A post acted as a pivot for a cross-pole, which could swing in all directions and had a container attached to one end and a counterweight on the other. The container rvas filled bv dipping it into the channel, and the counterrveight then raised it to the appropriate level so that the water could be emptied out. In post*pharaonic times the shaduf'- which is still in use today i1 some parts of Eg1,pt was supplemented b.v the r,r,ater-rvheel and the
Archimedean \ir-ater-scre\v.

After the floodr.vaters receded, much work \\ras required to repair dvkes and canals, to re-establish land-markers and to prepare the soil for sor,ving. Lightrveight rvooden ploughs rvere oftcn all that u,as needed to turn the earth, but sometimes a hoe \vas used to break up heavv soil. Ploughs u,ere pulled by' teams of cou,s or pcople, and seed rvas ofien scatterecl in front of the plough. Crops ripened and rvere harvested before the nert flood. In some cases) the use of irrigation extended the cultir,able area and enabled two crops per -vear to be gror'r,n. The harvest \\'as another time of great actir,itl-. Cereal crops - barlev and wheat - were harvested using tvooden sickles rvith flint teeth, and the

LI\ Il\(; OIiF

'f

I]lr T.\Nl) . 6l

-:'.rin \\ irs tirken to the villagc in larg'e blskets. \'[cn used lbrks to break up .:. stalks on thc threshing floor and thcn donkevs or oxcn lr,ere drilen .-ir111{ the floor to trirmple the gririn (see illustrirtion, p.-59). After

uinT,AND USE
Tl-re

,u

ing (scc illustration, belou,) the hlrr,est $,as taken to a granar\-, u'here
productivity'of the various parts of the lloodplain depended on the

. ',r.rs sttired. A scribc recorded the amount of the harvcst.

of r,cgctables in irrigated plots (see p. 12), ',rr the staples of thcir diet - bread irnd beer u,ere madc from cercals. - :rc qrain u,as first crushed in lirrge mortilrs, and then grouncl to obtain j ].rr usiltg'grinding-stones and a quern (hand-mill). Loar,es u'ere birkecl : iriln\ diflerent shapes over an open fire, oftcn in conical mclulds. Pecl--c ,rlso m:rde cakes flar,oured rvith hclner from r.ild or domesticirted becs. Lrcl \1 as as ntuch a nutritious lood as a drink, being proc'lucecl frttm ferrrrrte(l barler'-bread ancl oftcn su,eetened u-ith honcr, dates or spiecs. : ri: urs thc L,grptians'principal ber,crage, but u-ine was also prclduced. ',.:lcrarcl n,orkers picked grapes bv hancl; ther ucre then trampled in -.rc \ rrts bl up to sir men. Thc juicc undernent primarr-fcrmentation in ..,t rc. Llnco\-ered potterv jars, ancl lvas then lefi to fcrmcnt a second time
1-he Egr-ptians glew a rangc
:- .iopperecl jars on racks. These r,oulcl bc labelled

proxirnitl,of thc fielcis to water.


Land close to thc Nile rvirs genernllrtoo r.r,aterloggcd to be suitable for
grorving cereals. The uplands, adj:rcent to thc desert, u'ere ttftcn verr-dr1., :rnd could be cultivated

onll' during

--vears

of high flood

disch:rrge or b1- artificial irrigation. The best land rvas in the central area of the floodplain. Follou'ing a long pcriod of cultivation, the fields of

this f-ertile rnidland rvere

occasionalll-leli to lic fallou,.


\ninrrrls uere irlloucd to grrze irr the ficlds after the harvest.

q'ith information such

- thc vear, the place ol origin ancl the u'inemaker. it;rlmirrg also inclucled the rearing of animirls, most commonlv cattle. - .,:.rc herds grazed on the rich grass of the Delta. Egrptians generallr ate -rJ. onl\ on special occirsions or if thev bclongccl to the 6lite; hotter,er, . .:.lc uere also kept firr their dair_, producc and as beasts of burclen. Tl-re .r,-ic of'an estate lirs calculirted everr-couple of r-ears accorcling to the ' 'r r)t its hercl. Pcople also raisecl sheep, gorts rrnd pigs for mcat, \\,hilc -,Jiu irncl clucks u,ere often rearecl at home fbr meat and eggs.

7.ftcr thrashing, thc

grtin

nus n,innt,n,erl

lilietl up in

n,outlt'n strtops

ttnl

lossel into

lht

tir

so

thtrt tht thtr-f/' bleu unrul, in the


Lo the

ninl

nhilc the n.heut lell

grounl. This

n,innon.in! sttne ,ontes.fi'oru the tonh of

l8rh

Ntkht in ILcstern Thcbas; Nenl Kingtlotn, D1,na511,, cu. l]00nt:2.

66

. 'I'HE \\TE.\L'I'H

OF THE

I,A\D

MANAGING THE ECONOMY


The continuitl' and resilience of Egvptian civilization ryas primarilv a result of its agriculturirl econom\. The majoritl, of the population rvere subsistence farmers, and independent local economies,
based on bartering, flourished in the villages. However,

the economv u'as also organized at a national level


by the pharaonic government and at a regional level
b1' the administrators of Egvpt's fort1.-tu,o nomes (provinccs). The nome cirpitals were the key centres for the management of the agrarian sy-stem, responsi-

./unior o.//icials, such

ns striltes, soldiers

nntl

tut rollectors,

were

re

sponsihle.fir tha

dn.1,-

to-day collection, recording, stortge und tlelixerl, 0.t''the nnntnl reoenue s. In tltis
mooden nod.c/ a.f'n grtrnar.l,

Ji.on a tomh

ut Beni Husttn, o scrilte retortls the unnunts 'tJ Srrttr


morkers.

hin!

stnr,,l

,llitllle

bt tht Ji,rrr <r,rn,tr.t Kingdom, I2th D1'na64,,

ca. l8-i0nr:r.

ble in particular for the collection of taxes - in the fbrm of grain, meat, leather, textiles and minerals on behalf of the central govcrnment. The Eg.vptian taxation serr,ice came under the supervision of a ro1-al r,izier. Agricultural y'ield in anv one vear depended on thc extent of the Nile flood, rvhich determined the lancl available for cultivation. It u'as in the government's interest to keep the irrigation svstems in good condition, and responsibility, for this u'as clelegated to thc nome authorities, rvhich kept a register of landorvners and tenants. Au'ay from the countrvside, economic activitr u,as largerv generated bv an urban 6lite that supported and benefited from the ideologr. of divine kingship (see pp.112-13). This ideologv rvas manifestccr in rhe consrruction of great roval mortuar\ monuments such as pvramids or temples. These were a major economic undertaking, and a proportion of the roval revenues was earmarked to par-fbr the required rvorklorce of skilled artisans and unskilled labourers. The lattcr consisted largely of rural *,orkers

In this.fiugnnt
tonb
o.f

o.f'

u na// painting.t'|on the


u

Nehtrmut in I,I.estern Thebes.


scene

:hh$;\Eghge,:r,.* l

scribe presents the dcceusel

(nho n;oultl htrae

uppeuratl to the le-fi of' the


re
g o

) nith tht
h.1,
t

cords of' his goose.f/ock. nhich is tentled.


o se

r d s. E i g h

teen

t lt D.1, n

rt s

t1,, re i g

t
.

.lnenhotef

III (ct. I 390 I 3.;3 BCE )

f'

\IA\AGING THE ECONO\IY .

67

.onscripted for a feu, months at a time rvhen they \vere not otheru'ise engaged in farming (for example during the inundation). The-r were paid

in grain and other staples. In one case, the pay of an o\rerseer is recorded :s being ttvent]'-eight times that of his lol'est-paid underling. The population of Egypt u'as small, probabll-no more than two million dunng the Old Kingdom and three million during the Nerv Kingdom. The urban population was a fraction of this, perhaps no more than five rercent. A rise in the urban population, greater demands b1' the 6lite, or :n increased need for defence, put greater pressure on Egypt's farmers. For erample, during the Nerv Kingdom, rvhen Eg1'pt possessed a large .'mpire, food producers had to help maintain an almost permanent impe:-i,rl arm,v of up to forty thousand troops, man,v of them drawn from the iural rvorkforce. The problem rvas partlv solved through agricultural :eclamation projects in the Delta and the use of slaves for labour. In the Late Period, costl)' rvars and the use of Greek mercenaries - who r'vere

:rrd in gold at a time r,hen the gold mines were almost erhausted - con:ributed to Eg.vpt's economic decline.

THE ECONOMY OF EGYPTIAN TEMPLES

St

t'. tt

o thousand or so temples o'n'ned large estates

l--,t and constitnted

an important sector of the economli


;:,'I:

The richest and most pot'erful rvere those in the roval caprtals. such as \,{emphis and Thebes (see pp.208-9). Tem-

ildr.lg:i61b{.--raiil1i4,!'*lk,a,q *--I6t!,ar*bMtB ! !il*dur-\".p- $"rrTu-d*-i, 1.. : +lti.$51Alt*


=

rles reccived endog,ments from the king and also generated

i- lJiIl Jkj"c:4-: 1'ill e dn$j.ir$:t5$sis:\sGt\+ '-r"q*\!Dir.srn:!U:: a\r^ .\rir'i"-:1,r-. t:r!)*n\r":l

lilr(tiJt=bln rlDi1i:;a{tDiLlEtia,ry{ii(ttrqs
rli :iid$irEdtu<Bf g-c{1.v,r[J!1tlii!t41ishttra6L,

:1[84b.

:n

independent incomc from their sirbsta,rtial land and

*4t t";*,.'k-11]

.irestock holdings, as rvell as from donations

bl

pritate

_.inl:bjr.,it*lirlit1r.t1littr:ruii$Eai[?.]FE.i;d]rl{sr1\:iG

rndiliduals. In the Late Period, King Aplies (589 570ncr;)


presented the temple of Ptah at Nlemphis rvith a perpetual,

'j*Gif-.4d$f tiL;{tq&t5ric\.arr $.ttgr..;!!d'b!'-{i:aae i,4{hJiE'"if i-rr*dr4"i:& ar-lh1!,r$airilba+'uela$l$i;a


il!ib_.;ll4i:Ut,1lrp+lEt:Je,r.Il*;,i,9'la,rgr,iF3 rr;ra$-*1+,titr
. .]r..$\r&t
.

of a district lith all its alable land. rnhabitants and cattle. According to the Great Harris Prpr rus, lvhich records the temple benefirctions of Ramesses III (see illustration, right) about a third of all cul:.rr-fl'ee endol'ment
,rr able lancl

ri\\$EIflHutuGt._]rtl-+*F+d*-

in Eg1'pt belonged to the temples.


from ro1'al patronage, the\' b-v legitimating

Part of the Grett Harrts

Pap.1.'rus,

-Just as the temples benefited

tenple donatiorts b.), Rdrnesses

III

l recortl in hiertttic script (cu. 1187-l 1.l6ncr).

of

:n turn benellted the king

his dii.ine
end

:uthoritr during his liletime and perpetuating his cult alter jeath. Thel.also served as an occasional source of revenuc
:,rr the roval coffers. The economic and political indepen.lencc of the temples dependcd on that of the central gov-

of the Nerv Kingdom, the porver of the high

priests

increased proportionatelri Sometimes thel' rvere even able

to challenge the roral authorit)', as \l'as the casc with the high priests of Amun at Thebcs in the latter -vears of the
Tr,entieth Dvnastv
(see

:rnment. \\rhen the rot.al authoritv

rvas tt'eak, as to$,ard the

pp.36 7).

I lFs'4@@j:,:

Alexandria

FAlYU

CAPITAL CITIES OF

ANCIENT EGYPT
KEY

O r o 0

Capital city (site uncertain) Capital city (known site) Other cities Hierakonpolis

$.:1::,:j Fertile area

lr |-l0

150 50

km

miles

The principal capitals of the pharaonic period. Excluded.from this map are the

chid
0J-

I\wns 0f the

7n0re 0bscure 0r

sh7rt-liretl

Eg.ypt's d:ynasties.