The Ancient Economy of Egypt | Land Management Lessons from Antiquity

Land management was of chief importance to the ancient Egyptians because taxes were assessed based on the amount of land a person owned.

It was a combination of natural and manmade factors that contributed to the success of ancient Egyptian culture. The first factor was undoubtedly the fertility of the Nile River; and the second factor was large-scale and long-term economic planning.

For the ancient Egyptians, the most important time of the year was the annual inundation of the Nile. Farming in Egypt was dependent on the cycle of the Nile River. The Egyptians saw the water cycle as having three seasons: Akhet flooding, Peret planting and Shemu harvesting.

The flooding season lasted for a quarter of the year: from June to September. During Akhet, the river’s banks would be deposited with a layer of mineral-rich silt ideal for growing crops.

Once the floodwaters had receded, the growing season would take place from October to February. Farmers plowed and planted seeds in the fields, which were irrigated with ditches and canals. Since Egypt received little rainfall, farmers relied on the Nile to water their crops.

From March to May, farmers used sickles to harvest their crops, which were then threshed with a flail to separate the straw from the grain. Winnowing removed the chaff from the grain; and the grain was then ground into flour, brewed to make beer or stored for later use.

It was economic planning, hard work and favourable natural conditions that allowed the ancient Egyptians to produce an abundance of food.

The ancient Egyptians cultivated emmer and barley and several other cereal grains: all of which were used to make the two main food staples of bread and beer.

Flax plants–which were uprooted before they started flowering–were grown for the fibres of their stems. These fibres were split along their length and spun into thread, which was used to weave sheets of linen and make clothing.

Papyrus that grew on the banks of the Nile was used to make paper. Vegetables and fruits were grown in garden plots, close to habitations and on higher ground and had to be watered by hand. Vegetables harvested included: leeks, garlic, melons, squashes, pulses and lettuce.

The Egyptians maintained a largely vegetarian diet. Meat was expensive and it did not last long as refrigerators had not yet been invented. Meat was primarily reserved for the nobility, for festivals and special occasions.

Animals used for meat included: cattle, lamb, sheep, goat, poultry and sometimes antelope. Pork was eaten in Lower Egypt but shunned in Upper Egypt during certain periods. Fish was the most common food of the lower classes but considered ‘unclean’ by many upper-class Egyptians. Priests, for example, did not eat fish.

For the ancient Egyptians, it was surplus grain that led to the establishment of one of the most successful economies of the ancient world.

5 thoughts on “The Ancient Economy of Egypt | Land Management Lessons from Antiquity

  1. It is a nice topic to tap into! The ancient Egyptian culture is very rich and their management system back that time was successful. It is true that their land was abundant in its resources but they knew how to benefit from it. They were practising agriculture on a large scale and they were innovative in this domain. When you discussed their tax system in the first sentence, I was thinking that it is pretty much similar to the current one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s actually quite fascinating. They were early economists and excellent at planning and putting down seeds for the future.

      😂 you know, whenever I’ve studied ancient civilizations, I’ve always wondered… ‘How much have we really changed…?’

      Liked by 1 person

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