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Facts About Ancient Egyptian Agriculture

By Yona Williams    4/30/10

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From using cattle to plow their land to the majestic tombs they built for their dead, it's always interesting to see how the ancient Egyptians lived thousands of years ago. In this article, you will encounter facts about their agriculture and using the Nile to grow their crops.

Full-time farmers were members of the lower class, and were illiterate. This meant that they did not possess the level of education or financial means to record their personal histories. Although farmers led a hard life, they were secure in their profession.

The majority of farming was done by hand, but occasionally, cattle were used to pull plows.

When living on a small, private farm, most of the members of a family joined in to make sure all of the agricultural activities were completed. In some tomb paintings, women were depicted as working the fields when harvest season arrived. There were also the large number of farmers that chose to work on estates owned by others. In return, they were given clothing and food as payment for their services. Some farmers also rented land from wealthy residents, and when the harvest was complete, repaid the landowner by giving them a portion.

Common ancient Egyptian crops include wheat, barley, vegetables, figs, melons, pomegranates and vines, but the most important crop was grain. The ancient Egyptians used grain to make bread, porridge and beer. After flooding season, grain was the first crop to grow. Following the harvest of the grain, vegetables were then cultivated. Some of the vegetables that the Egyptians planted included onions, leeks, cabbages, beans, cucumbers and lettuce. Flax was also grown, which was turned into linen.

Farmers also planted fruit trees, which gave the community shade, as well as produced fruit that was eaten.

In the kitchen, the majority of families had a clay stove that was used for cooking. A wheel was used to create pottery that the household used to store food. A basic piece of cooking equipment was a pottery saucepan that had two handles.

Farmers divided their year into three seasons, which was based on the cycles of the Nile River. From June and September, Akhet was known as the inundation or The Flooding Season. No farming was done at this time because all the fields were flooded. This was the time that many farmers worked for the pharaoh – building pyramids or temples. Farmers also spent time fixing their tools and tending to the needs of animals. From October to February, Peret (the Growing Season) takes place. The floodwaters have receded by the time October rolls around. What's left behind is a layer of rich, black soil. The fertile soil is then ploughed and seeded. From March to May, Shemu (the Harvesting Season) takes over. This is when crops are fully grown. They need to be harvested and removed before the Nile becomes flooded once again. The canals are also ready for repairs to prepare for the next flood.

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