Egyptian Farming - Feeding an Entire Kingdom

Records of ancient Egyptian farming come from the paintings on tomb walls of the elite. Little is known about the working class of ancient Egypt sadly, although they were the majority.

In fact, not only were the farmers the majority, they were also essential for the survival of the whole kingdom!

Before the dam, the Nile flooded once a year and provided the earth around it with rich black silt that was a great fertilizer. This is why ancient Egypt was called "kemet" or the black land.

This annual flooding was due to monsoon rains that took place in the Ethiopian plateau and was essential for survival - any changes in it were disastrous. There are records of famine and death due to low flooding. Too much flooding would ruin the fields and even the villages.

This is why the ancient Egyptians prayed to Hapi, God of the Nile - it was a question of survival...

Before the First Intermediate Period, ancient Egyptian farming had no need for artificial irrigation systems as the flooding was quite reliable and regular. It was after a period of drought that caused famine and chaos that the ancient Egyptians decided to find ways of ensuring the land was productive without fail. And so they started building canals and dykes.

Today we don't have this problem as there is a dam now that regulates the water level of the Nile, and also keeps our all the crocodiles!

The Tools of their Trade

The farmers were the most overworked and least paid workers. They had to rent the farm land from the state (like the temple farm grounds) and paid a third of the harvest to the land owner as rent. They also had to pay taxes, and so what was left for them was very little, poor things!

What the state took as rent and tax was used for paying other workers and also for trade. As I'm sure you can tell... the country's position is ideal for trade.

Ancient Egyptian Farming

This annual flood lasted for 3 months each year, and for those 3 months the farmers were out of work. Many of them were hired to do manual labor for the building of temples and pyramids. They were given quarters and food, and they were also paid.

All in all, the life of ancient Egyptian farmers was tough; hard work, rough conditions, and hardly any pay or vacation. They were raised to be farmers like their parents, children as young as 5 went to work on the land. The women also helped during the harvest. And the part that breaks my heart is that with all of that, if they didn't produce the required quota, they were beaten.

Nowadays the state of farmers is not that much better off, although they don't go around building pyramids anymore. Until now most Egyptian farmers are using the same simple tools they did thousands of years ago:

    The hoe used to loosen the soil
  • The plough also used to loosen the soil by using the strength of farm animals to pull it
  • The sickle used to cut the corn
  • Axes to cut wood
  • Shovels for tossing the grain
  • Rakes and pitchforks for collecting
  • Sacks and bags to carry the grain

Harvesting the Staples

The ancient Egyptians rotated their plantings each year, and the crops include wheat (emmer and einkorn), barley, sesame, castor, flax and spelt. They also grew a variety of vegetables like garlic, beans, onions, lentils, peas, cucumbers, lettuce, cabbages and radishes.

Trees and dates were also grown for food and material. Farmers also produced wine. Beer was a household product however.

Ancient Egyptian Farming

The process of farming started after the flood waters receded. Once the soil was firm again to be walked on, the farmers would start to hoe and plough it. It was then ready for sowing.

The grains used to sow the land were kept in granaries. There was a scribe in charge of each granary who kept a record of the quantities taken by each farmer. He would measure out the allotted quantity and give it to them.

The farmer would walk through his fields with a bag or basket of grain and throw handfuls over the ploughed land. A herdsman would then bring his herd and walk all over these grounds so that the grain wouldn't stay on the surface open to the pecking of hungry birds!

When it came time to harvest the crops, there were ceremonies and rituals that took place to commence this important occasion. Anyone who was able helped, women and children included. They would all work in straight lines, singing a harvest song and moving up at a steady pace.

They usually split the job into two parts, one group would cut the harvest and throw it on the ground – the other would come up behind them to pick it up.

The harvested goods were then distributed in storage spaces like granaries.

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