River Nile makes possible life in Egypt because it provides water for humans and to grow plants since the rest of the country is surrounded by deserts. Two regions could be distinguished: The Upper Egypt or river Nile valley and Lower Egypt or delta region.

Map of Ancient Egypt

Every summer the river floods due to rain in the upland region. This covers the river banks with fertile slit which is the base for farming land.

Around 5000 BC, Neolithic peoples reached the area and controlled the floods by making drainages and canals. Therefore, agricultural production rose and population increased. Many independent cities ruled by nomarchs or local governors were founded until king Menes unified the river valley and the delta region. That’s how Egyptian civilization started.


The main periods in ancient Egypt history are:

  • Old Kingdom (3100-2181 BC) with capital in Memphis famous for the pyramids (Cheops, Chephren and Mykerinos)
  • Middle Kingdom (2055-1795 BC) when capital was moved to Thebes and Nubia was conquered.
  • New Kingdom (1150 -1069 BC) maintained Thebes as capital city and the empire expanded through Syria and Palestine.
  • Ptolemaic Kingdom (715 – 31 BC) was the decline of Egypt and the country was dominated by the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians and the Greeks.
  • Roman conquest took place in the year 31 BC.

Ancient egypt timeline


The pharaoh was the political leader of the Egyptians. They were considered as living gods and had absolute power to make laws, to act as a judge and to control taxes. Pharaohs also were military leaders controlling the army as well as religious leaders.


Egyptian society was divided into several groups:


The upper group was formed by the pharaoh and his family, the nobles and the priests. All of them owned large areas of land.

  • The nobles had the better position in the state administration serving as ministers, provincial governors, army generals, etc.
  • Priests were responsible for religious ceremonies and temple maintenance. They controlled also the temple properties.


This is a very diverse group. The intermediate group included the wealthy merchants, specialized craftsmen and scribes. The scribes were trained from the age of 5 and were almost the only people who could read and write. They were in charge of the official documents and keeping accounts.


The lower group consisted of free people (peasants, artisans, soldiers and servants) and slaves. Peasants farmed the lands belonging to the pharaoh, nobles and temples. They paid high taxes.

Slaves had a miserable condition and mainly were foreigners and war prisoners.


The base of the Egyptian economy can be found on irrigated agriculture. The sowing season was in winter as the floods took place in summer (from June to September) while the harvest season was in spring during the dry season. All the lands were irrigated using canals and dykes.

Farming land belonged to the pharaoh who gave a part to the temples and the nobles. Peasants had to pay taxes and give part of their crops to the pharaoh, the temple or the nobles. Peasants also had to work in construction of irrigation systems or the pyramids.

The main crops cultivated were wheat for bread, barley for beer, linen, papyrus, cotton, vines, olives, fruit trees, vegetables, etc. To farm they used simple tools such as the plough, the sickle the hoe and the shadoof to pump water.

Appart from farming, the Egyptians practiced livestock breeding. They used cows and donkeys for transport and farm as well as they bred sheep, poultry. Fish from the Nile completed the Egyptian diet.

Painted grain and livestock growing together in ancient Egypt. 

There was a big surplus which benefited the division of labor. Stone masons, carpenters, potters, silversmiths, weavers were the most important artisans. Besides local and long distance trade played an important role in the Egyptian economy.





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