Remember our lesson on Ancient Egypt-river valley civilization from the magnificent pyramids to the awesome mummification of the Egyptians kings? Intrigued by the extensive history of this great civilization and its rich culture, our group decided to dive deeper into the heart of the Egyptian culture - more specifically - the River Nile.
The agriculture of Ancient Egypt was indebted to the River Nile. With its seasonal flooding and fertile soil, it allowed the Ancient Egyptians to build a river valley civilisation based on its abundant agricultural wealth. Due to the occurrence of frequent flooding, the river eventually became an increasingly essential natural source, to which the Ancient Egyptians took advantage of. Building a civilisation from scratch, they utilized a series of tools, engaged the use of animals, and developed systems of irrigation.
In order to facilitate the agriculture process, like ploughing and seeding, agricultural tools such as the hoe were invented. As seen from the picture above, the hoe consisted of a wooden handle not much longer than the lower arm. Another wooden blade was connected to it, but could not be set immovably, unlike the ones we are accustomed to nowadays. With the invention of hoes, ancient Egyptians were able to shape the soil to enable irrigation (as we will touch on later), control weeds and ultimately harvest root crops.
Beside static and inanimate tools, living animals were also used for agricultural purposes to reduce manual labour and effort. Some examples would be donkeys and oxen, which were responsible for plowing the fields and trampling seed into the soil as shown below.
TYPES AND USES OF CROPS
Barley and grapes are some of the main types of crops the ancient Egyptians consumed. Another interesting fact is that Egyptians use the agricultural food they harvest to ferment alcohol! The illustration below comes from an image engraved on the tombs of Egyptians, depicting scenes of the ancient Egyptian brewery and the process of alcohol production.
Just like in present day, the ancient Egyptians also used alcohol in their celebrations - they even have a Festival of Drunkedness - a festival in reverence and fear to the Egyptian lion goddess, Hathor. In these festivals, they would excessively binge on alcohol till they pass out in their rituals to their deities; what started out as a festival for Hathor eventually spilled over into a festival for the ancient Egyptians to ask for well-being and protection. What made these rituals so widespread was that anyone could engage in them anywhere - be in in temples, to homes, and even in shrines out in the desert! They also did not need any religious priests or leader to intercede with the gods on behalf of them, and they could directly address their needs that way. However, these festivals would usually be frowned upon by many in society, possibly because of the lack of control these followers went into after overdosing, and that chaos would ensue shortly. Did we also mention that sex was rampant during these celebrations?
In order to fully utilised the River nile and increase agricultural yield, basin irrigation was created by the Ancient Egyptians. Basin irrigation consisted of a system of dikes to retain the flood and encourage infiltration in the soil. Canals help led the water to areas that were impossible to inundate and was contained for more than a month. Its surplus is further drained to a lower level, returned to canals and emptied into the Nile. In conclusion, the River Nile played a major role in contributing to the success of ancient Egypt. Its geographical location and characteristics brought about great agricultural wealth, which in turn set the foundation of which an empire was built upon. However, none of these would have been possible if the Egyptians failed to innovate and appropriately utilise their natural resources, so kudos to them and their wisdom! :D
Further Readings: Ancient Egypt's Agriculture - https://hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/pdfs/actahort582-2002.pdf
Produced by: James Chia Kenneth Chan Ainsley Chew