|In green, the most fertile spots in Ancient Egypt|
Though ancient Egypt was a diverse land, rich of science, art and religion; agriculture played the biggest role in the country, probably like most other ancient communities since back then food was the main reason why people migrated or even waged wars.
Ancient Egyptian themselves started as farmers settling on the banks of the Nile c.5000 BC. Agriculture is by no means an inevitable way of life beside the nile - there are many Nilotic peoples in equatorial Sudan with pastoral economics - but it has been the foundation of Egyptian society since its beginning. Exploiting the inundation effectively demanded that communities work together to fashion and basins, irrigation canals and terracing which held the flood-water over the fields until it deposited its full weight of silt. The farmers could then cultivate a widw variety of crops including emmer and barely, flax, lentils and chickpeas, lettuce, onions, figs and pomegranates. The infrastructure required was massive and labour-intensive, but still vulnerable to nelect or chance; a year's crops could be lost to a community following the failure of any single component. The inudation itself, though generally reliable, was another source of anxiety: too large an inudation could burst dykes and flood villages; too little flood-water would redue the land available for planting.
The demands of agriculture of ancient Egypt have obvious implications for social organization because it was beyond the capacity of an individual working alone to exploit the inundation effectively, and so success was based on large-scale co-ordination of work. It was perhaps this fundamental feature of life which promoted increasing uniformity in the material culture of prehistoric Egypt, as administrative and commercial structures emerged which ecompassed large areas of ancient Egypt.
The Nile and the Ancient Egyptian Agricultural Environment
The river Nile cuts a course through the desert in north east Africa. For much of its length it is fringed by a thin strip of cultivable land, before sweeping out across a low-lying, marshy delta. Near Cusae, a single branch of the river feeds the board, wet Faiyum region. Elsewhere the land is arid and hostile, with only a string of oases in the western desert able to support a settled community. Rainfall is rare, and occassionally destructive - reducing homes and granaries to mud and unleashing flash-floods from the desert. Nevertheless, becuse of the river, ancient Egypt was an exceptionally fertile land, where agriculture has been the basis of society since the beginning of history.
The Nile is formed by the confluence of the White Nile, the Blue Nile and the Atbara. The Blue Nile and the Atbara are filled with water, silt and vegetation by summer rains in Ethiopia and Sudan. Consequently - until the building of major dams in our own century - the Nile in ancient Egypt began to rise and by August had burst its banks and inundated the flood-plain. When the water receded, it left a silty soil, which was the literal basis for Herodotus' celebtrated remark that Egypt is given as a gift of the river. The crumbly silt also gave the ancient Egyptians a name for their country: Kemet, "black land"; anywhere not touched by the inundation was desert, "red Land". The seasons of the year were phases of the river: akhet (inundation), peret (emergence) and shemu (dry time). The Nile was also a calm and undermanding highway, converying traffic north with the stream, or south with the prevailing winds. Only in certain areas, known as cataracts, has the river not cut a true course; the first cataract, at Elephantine, marks the traditional bounary between ancient Egypt and Nubia, her closest relation eographically and culturally.
Most ancient Egyptians lived at a subsistence level, but not usually in harship. The constancy of agriculture afforded the nation a self-sufficiency which was enhanced by the region's mineral wealth.
|Animals were often used for farming in ancient Egypt|