10 things to know about food in ancient Egypt:
(From the book Egyptian Medicine, by Carole Reeves)
|Wall painting of a man vomiting at a banquet,|
18th Dynasty. (Courtesy of the Musees
Royaex d'Art et d'Histoire, Brussels, 2877.)
1: The estimated daily intake of food during the Dynastic Period was between 480 and 576 grams.
2: The main crops grown in ancient Egypt were cereals: emmer wheat (Triticum dicocum Shrank) for bread, and barley (Hodrewn vulare L.) for beer. Bread was also made from the heads of the white lotus.
3: There were pulses such as lentils and chickpeas; vegetables such as lettuces, onions, cucumbers, leeks, radishes and garlic; fruit, particularly dates, figs, grapes and melons; plants grown for oil, such as sesame; grapes for wine; pomergranate and palm wine were also made (the latter being used in embalming for rinsing out the abdominal cavity and washing the extracted organs); papyrus and flax for writing materials, clothing, sails and ropes. Honey, dates, raisins, 'tiger nuts' (Cyperus esculentus L.) and carob pods were available as sweeteners.
4: Meat was a rare luxory for most people, herds being grazed on marginal land, especially in the marshes of the Delta. Cattle, sheep, goats and pigs were eaten. Meat, fish and fowl were dried and probably salted. Geese, ducks, quail and other game birds were fairly plentiful, and hunting these was a favorite pastime of the rich. Domestic fowl may have been a rare import during the New Kingdom but became popular in the Roman Period.
5: Eggs, cheese, milk and perhaps yoghurt were available. Whether milk was drunk in large quantities is uncertain. Nor is it known weather the ancient Egyptians suffered the lactose intolerance seen in Middle Eastern and Africa population today.
6: Most people in ancient Egypt ate three times a day even if the meal was simply bread and beer. The upper classes ate more 'richly' if not more frequently. Basic payment for workers and their families at Deir el-Medina was in grain, fish, vegetables and water (there was not monetary system in ancient Egypt until the Greek Period). They also received pottery and wood for fuel. Less regular deliveries were made of cakes, beer and dates but on festive occasions bonuses were paid in salt, natron, sesame oil and meat. Clothes were occasionally supplied to supplement those woven and made in the village.
7: Whilst the wages were regular the community lived well but a major strike occurred in the 29th year of the reign of Ramesses III when supplies were twenty days late. The workers' protests outline the problem: 'We have come because we are hungry and thirsty. We have no clothes, we have no ointments, we have no greens.'
8: Vegetables containing a high silica content, easily abraded querns for grinding corn and ill-cleansed foods are explanations common to all cultures but the ancient Egyptians had the additional hazard of the contamination of their cereals, flour and consequently their bread by fragments of sand and by grit which may have been introduced during the milling process to act as a cutting agent.
9: Since almost every single house in ancient Egypt was invaded by rats, so to protect the food in the house, ancient Egyptians kept cats at home, and in case there was absence of cats, cat's grease was recommended as a deterrent. Discovered by sir Williams Fliders Petrie, the British Egyptologist who excavated Kahun. 1888:1890.
Oops, the book ran out of ideas, if you know something about food in ancient Egypt that you can add as the 10th point, go ahead and add a comment.