Egypt's Golden Empire
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Painting of farmer

Egypt could never have sustained its massive empire unless it enjoyed the security brought by self-sufficiency in the basic essentials of life. The most important of these was food.

Living on fertile ground

Fortunately for the pharaohs, ancient Egypt was located on the banks of the Nile, the longest river in the world. From June to October each year, the Nile flooded the surrounding countryside, before receding again over the winter.

Every time the Nile waters ebbed away, they left rich silt on the previously flooded plains. This made the soil along the Nile extremely fertile, enabling the farmers to enjoy good harvests year in, year out. They planted their crops every February, after the Nile had receded back to the river bed, and harvested them each June, shortly before the floods came.

Bread and beer

The fertile soil meant that Egypt's farmers could grow a huge variety of crops. The most basic of these were emmer wheat and barley. These were used to make bread, the staple of the Egyptian diet, as well as cakes and beer, which were often flavored with spices, honey or dates. The bread was often supplemented by lentils, garlic, peas and fava beans.

Fruit and veg

Egyptians also ate a wide variety of vegetables and fruit. Lettuces, cucumbers, leeks, onions and radishes could all be grown in the fertile floodplains. There were also plenty of orchards, in which pomegranates, dates, melons and figs were grown.

Many estates by the Nile had vineyards (the Egyptians liked their wine), while the floodplains also provided fertile ground for flax and the castor-oil plant, both of which contained oils used for cooking and medicine.

Lunch that walks

Although meat and poultry were too expensive for most Egyptians to eat everyday, they were a common sight in the countryside. Ducks and geese lived along the banks of the Nile, and farmers would keep sheep, goats, cattle and pigs, as well as donkeys, the basic working animal in ancient Egypt.

Of course, the Nile itself was a fantastic source of fresh fish, including perch, catfish and tilapia. What's more, during the summer flood, huge numbers of water birds would flock to the Nile. These were often trapped or snared to provide a little seasonal variety on the dinner table.

Ancient flood technology

The Egyptians made the most of the flood season in other ways too. They built embankments and dykes along the Nile to control the flow of water, so that the flooding would give maximum benefit to the farming areas without threatening nearby buildings and villages.

The dykes helped Egyptian farmers to take advantage of natural depressions in the floodplain, called flood basins. Water was allowed to flow downhill from one basin to another, and artificial channels were built to take water to far-flung areas if the floodwater was low in any given year.

The post is here

During the New Kingdom, farmers invented a new way of lifting floodwater, known as shaduf. A cross-pole was attached to a post in the ground: one end had a container attached; the other had a counter-weight. The container was filled with water from a channel before being raised up by the counterweight and swung to where the farmer wanted the water to go.

Although this may not seem much today, over 3,000 years ago it was the height of farming technology. The shaduf helped Egyptian farmers to spread the water around, fertilizing dry areas and so extracting the maximum benefit from seasonal flooding, keeping Egypt fed and fit for action.

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Day in the Life - Farmer

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Egypt's Golden Empire