Farming in Ancient Egypt
Much of the Egyptian’s wealth was based on their ability to consistently produce large amounts of crops. Their main crops were emmer, a type of wheat, and flax. Emmer provided the main staple of the Egyptian diet. Flax was used to make linen and provided material for clothing for the Egyptians.
In theory, all the land of Egypt was owned by the pharaoh, with a large portion of it directly controlled by him. The pharaoh used the crops to pay workers and craftsmen who worked for the government. Large tracts of farmland were set aside and given to the temples in Egypt. The workers and the activities of the temples were supported by crops grown on those large tracts of land.. For example, “during the 18 th Dynasty, the Temple of Amun at Thebes owned about ten percent of the farmland in Egypt” (Grant, pg. 13). Other government officials and even individual citizens were able to own land in ancient Egypt. All farmland was evaluated by government officials to determine the amount of taxes that needed to be paid when the harvest was collected.
The annual flooding of the Nile River allowed the Egyptians to develop a very consistent production of food. The Nile Valley averaged ten to twelve miles wide and would flood for three months out of the year. Not only did the flood bring silt, it made the soil soft and easy to plow. Floods were unpredictable at times and the level of flooding was very important to the Egyptians. If too much flooding occurred, the crops would be planted late, which would negatively affect them. Too little flooding meant that not enough land would be fertilized with the silt, which would mean poor crops in those areas, if they could be planted at all. Because of the irregularity of flooding, the Egyptians needed an organized government to institute large-scale dikes and irrigation systems that could support their large civilization. The Pharaoh Menes was the first to do so in 3400 B.C. The system of controlling the water paid off for the Egyptians. They developed a strong and enduring civilization.
The land was plowed with forked sticks usually pulled by oxen The seeds for emmer and other grains would be scattered on the ground, and animals were used to trample the seeds into the ground.
After the crops grew and ripened, farmers used wooden sickles inlaid with sharp edges of flint to cut the crops. The harvested grains were then walked on by oxen or donkeys and then tossed into the air to separate the grain from the chaff. This process was known as threshing. The grain was then divided into portions to pay government taxes, a portion to pay the labors, and the rest went to the owner of the land. The government took their portion and stored it in large silos and grain bins for distribution throughout the year.
The Egyptians invented the water wheel and use of it doubled their annual output of crops. They also developed the shaduf, The Shaduf allowed them to transfer water from the river into irrigation canals. The resulting large surplus of crops enabled the Egyptians to develop many different specialized occupations that led to their complex society.
Two additional crops grown by the Egyptians were grapes and flax. Grapes were used to make wine. The Egyptians trampled the fruit with their feet and then poured the juice into jars where the juice would ferment into wine. Flax was grown and then made into linen. The linen provided the majority of the needed materials for the clothing in Ancient Egypt.
Miscellaneous Page on Ancient Egypt