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A Popular Account Of The Ancient Egyptians: Volumes 1&2 -Sir J. Gardner Wilkinson F.R.S.

THE high estimation in which the priestly and military professions were held in Egypt placed them far above the rest of the community; but the other classes had also their degrees of consequence, and individuals enjoyed a position and importance in proportion to their respectability, their talents, or their wealth.

According to Herodotus, the whole Egyptian community was divided into seven tribes, one of which was the sacerdotal, another of the soldiers, and the remaining five of the herdsmen, swineherds, shopkeepers, interpreters, and boatmen. Diodorus states that, like the Athenians, they were distributed into three classes—the priests; the peasants or husbandmen, from whom the soldiers were levied; and the artizans, who were employed in handicraft and other similar occupations, and in common offices among the people—but in another place he extends the number to five, and reckons the pastors, husbandmen, and artificers, independent of the soldiers and priests. Strabo limits them to three, the military, husbandmen, and priests; and Plato divides them into six bodies, the priests, artificers, shepherds, huntsmen, husbandmen, and soldiers; each peculiar art or occupation, he observes, being confined to a certain subdivision of the caste, and every one being engaged in his own branch without interfering with the occupation of another. Hence it appears that the first class consisted of the priests; the second of the soldiers; the third of the husbandmen, gardeners, huntsmen, boatmen of the Nile, and others; the fourth of artificers, tradesmen and shopkeepers, carpenters, boatbuilders, masons, and probably potters, public weighers, and notaries; and in the fifth may be reckoned pastors, poulterers, fowlers, fishermen, labourers, and, generally speaking, the common people. Many of these were again subdivided, as the artificers and tradesmen, according to their peculiar trade or occupation; and as the pastors, into oxherds, shepherds, goatherds, and swineherds; which last were, according to Herodotus, the lowest grade, not only of the class, but of the whole community, since no one would either marry their daughters or establish any family connexion with them. So degrading was the occupation of tending swine, that they were looked upon as impure, and were even forbidden to enter a temple without previously undergoing a purification; and the prejudices of the Indians against this class of persons almost justify our belief in the statement of the historian.

Without stopping to inquire into the relative rank of the different subdivisions of the third class, the importance of agriculture in a country like Egypt, where the richness and productiveness of the soil have always been proverbial, suffices to claim the first place for the husbandmen.

The abundant supply of grain and other produce gave to Egypt advantages which no other country possessed. Not only was her dense population supplied with a profusion of the necessaries of life, but the sale of the surplus conferred considerable benefits on the peasant, in addition to the profits which thence accrued to the state; for Egypt was a granary where, from the earliest times, all people felt sure of finding a plenteous store of corn; and some idea may be formed of the immense quantity produced there, from the circumstance of “seven plenteous years” affording, from the superabundance of the crops, a sufficiency of corn to supply the whole population during seven years of dearth, as well as “all countries” which sent to Egypt “to buy” it, when Pharaoh by the advice of Joseph laid up the annual surplus for that purpose.

The right of exportation, and the sale of superfluous produce to foreigners, belonged exclusively to the government, as is distinctly shown by the sale of corn to the Israelites from the royal stores, and the collection having been made by Pharaoh only; and it is probable that even the rich landowners were in the habit of selling to government whatever quantity remained on hand at the approach of each successive harvest; while the agricultural labourers, from their frugal mode of living, required very little wheat and barley, and were generally contented, as at the present day, with bread made of the Doora flour; children and even grown persons, according to Diodorus, often living on roots and esculent herbs, as the papyrus, lotus, and others, either raw, toasted, or boiled.

The Government did not interfere directly with the peasants respecting the nature of the produce they intended to cultivate; and the vexations of later times were unknown under the Pharaohs. They were thought to have the best opportunities of obtaining, from actual observation, an accurate knowledge on all subjects connected with husbandry; and, as Diodorus observes, “being from their infancy brought up to agricultural pursuits, they far excelled the husbandmen of other countries, and had become acquainted with the capabilities of the land, the mode of irrigation, the exact season for sowing and reaping, as well as all the most useful secrets connected with the harvest, which they had derived from their ancestors, and had improved by their own experience.” “They rented,” says the same historian, “the arable lands belonging to the kings, the priests, and the military class, for a small sum, and employed their whole time in the tillage of their farms;” and the labourers who cultivated land for the rich peasant, or other landed proprietors, were superintended by the steward or owner of the estate, who had authority over them, and the power of condemning delinquents to the bastinado. This is shown by the paintings of the tombs; which frequently represent a person of consequence inspecting the tillage of the field, either seated in a chariot, walking, or leaning on his staff, accompanied by a favourite dog.

Their mode of irrigation was the same in the field of the peasant as in the garden of the villa; and the principal difference in the mode of tilling the former consisted in the use of the plough.


356.              Shadóof for watering the lands. Thebes.

The usual contrivance for raising water from the Nile for watering the crops was the shadóof, or pole and bucket, so common still in Egypt; and even the water-wheel appears to have been employed in more recent times.

The sculptures of the tombs frequently represent canals conveying the water of the inundation into the fields; and the proprietor of the estate is seen, as described by Virgil, plying in a light painted skiff or papyrus punt, and superintending the maintenance of the dykes, or other important matters connected with the land. Boats carry the grain to the granary, or remove the flocks from the lowlands; as the water subsides, the husbandman ploughs the soft earth with a pair of oxen; and the same subjects introduce the offering of first-fruits to the gods, in acknowledgment of the benefits conferred by “a favourable Nile.” The main canal was usually carried to the upper or southern side of the land, and small branches, leading from it at intervals, traversed the fields in straight or curving lines, according to the nature or elevation of the soil.

The inundation began about the end of May, sometimes rather later: but about the middle of June the gradual rise of the river was generally perceived; and the comparatively clear stream assumed a red and turbid appearance, caused by the floods of the rainy season in Abyssinia: the annual cause of the inundation. It next assumed a green appearance, and being unwholesome during that short period, care was taken to lay up in jars a sufficient supply of the previous turbid but wholesome water, which was used until it reassumed its red colour. This explains the remark of Aristides, “that the Egyptians are the only people who preserve water in jars, and calculate its age as others do that of wine;” and may also be the reason of water-jars being an emblem of the inundation; though the calculation of the “age” of the water is an exaggeration. Perhaps, too, the god Nilus being represented of a blue and a red colour may allude to the two different appearances of the low and high Nile.

In the beginning of August, the canals were opened, and the waters overflowed the plain. That part nearest the desert, being the lowest level, was first inundated; as the bank itself, being the highest, was the last part submerged, except in the Delta, where the levels were more uniform, and where, during the high inundations, the whole land, with the exception of its isolated villages, was under water. As the Nile rose, the peasants were careful to remove the flocks and herds from the lowlands; and when a sudden irruption of the water, owing to the bursting of a dyke, or an unexpected and unusual increase of the river, overflowed the fields and pastures, they were seen hurrying to the spot, on foot, or in boats, to rescue the animals, and to remove them to the high grounds above the reach of the inundation. Some, tying their clothes upon their heads, dragged the sheep and goats from the water, and put them into boats; others swam the oxen to the nearest high ground; and if any corn or other produce could be cut or torn up by the roots, in time to save it from the flood, it was conveyed on rafts or boats to the next village. And though some suppose the inundation does not now attain the same height as of old, those who have lived in the country have frequently seen the villages of the Delta standing, as Herodotus describes them, like islands in the Ægean Sea, with the same scenes of rescuing the cattle from the water.


357.              Cattle rescued from the inundation. Beni Hassan.

Part 1. Figs. 1 and 3. Men calling to others to drive the cattle towards the boat. 2. Rower. 4. Pulling a cow by a noose to the boat.

Part 2. Fig. 5. Driving the cattle towards the boat. 6. Throwing a noose, in order to drag them after the boat (the end of it is effaced).

7. The rowers. 8. A man on the bank fishing. (See the Vignette at the head of Chap. VIII.)

Guards were placed to watch the dykes, which protected the lowlands, and the utmost care was taken to prevent any sudden influx of water, which might endanger the produce still growing there, the cattle, or the villages. And of such importance was the preservation of the dykes, that a strong guard of cavalry and infantry was always in attendance for their protection; certain officers of responsibility were appointed to superintend them, being furnished with large sums of money for their maintenance and repairs; and in the time of the Romans, any person found destroying a dyke was condemned to hard labour in the public works or in the mines, or was branded and transported to the Oasis. According to Strabo, the system was so admirably managed, “that art contrived sometimes to supply what nature denied, and, by means of canals and embankments, there was little difference in the quantity of land irrigated, whether the inundation was deficient or abundant.” “If,” continues the geographer, “it rose only to the height of eight cubits, the usual idea was that a famine would ensue; fourteen being required for a plentiful harvest: but when Petronius was præfect of Egypt, twelve cubits gave the same abundance, nor did they suffer from want even at eight:” and it may be supposed that long experience had taught the ancient Egyptians to obtain similar results from the same means, which, neglected at a subsequent period, were revived, rather than, as Strabo thinks, first introduced, by the Romans.

In some parts of Egypt, the villages were liable to be overflowed, when the Nile rose to a more than ordinary height; by which the lives and property of the inhabitants were endangered; and when their crude brick houses had been long exposed to the damp, the foundations gave way, and the fallen walls, saturated with water, were once more mixed with the mud from which they had been extracted. On these occasions, the blessings of the Nile entailed heavy losses on the inhabitants; for, according to Pliny, “if the rise of the water exceeded sixteen cubits, a famine was the result, as when it only reached the height of twelve.” In another place he says, “a proper inundation is of sixteen cubits … in twelve cubits, the country suffers from famine, and feels a deficiency even in thirteen; fourteen cause joy, fifteen security, sixteen delight; the greatest rise of the river to this period being of eighteen cubits, in the reign of Claudius; the least during the Pharsalic war.”

From all that can be learnt respecting the rise of the Nile, it is evident that the actual height of the inundation is the same now as in former times, and maintains the same proportion with the land it irrigates; and that, in order to arrive at great accuracy in its measurement, the scales of the Nilometers ought, after certain periods, to be raised in an equal ratio; as may be seen by any one who visits those of Cairo and Elephantine. For the bed of the river gradually rises from time to time; and the level of the land, which always keeps pace with that of the river, increases in a ratio of six inches in a hundred years in some places (as about Elephantine), and in others less—varying according to the distance down the stream. The consequence, and indeed the proof, of which is, that the highest scale in the Nilometer at the island of Elephantine, which served to measure the inundation in the reigns of the early Roman emperors, is now far below the level of the ordinary high Nile; and the obelisk of Matareeh or Heliopolis, the Colossi of the Theban plain, and other similarly situated monuments, are flooded to a certain height by the waters of the inundation, and imbedded in a stratum of alluvial soil deposited around their base.

The continual increase in the elevation of the bed of the river naturally produced those effects mentioned by Herodotus and other writers, who state that the Egyptians were obliged from time to time to raise their towns and villages, in order to secure them from the effects of the inundation; and that the same change in the levels of the Nile and the land took place in former ages, as at the present day, is shown by the fact of Sabaco having found it necessary to elevate the towns throughout the country, which had been previously protected by similar means in the reign of Sesostris. This was done by the inhabitants of each place, who had been condemned for great crimes to the public works. Bubastis was raised more than any other city; and the lofty mounds of Tel Basta, which mark its site, fully confirm the observation of Herodotus, and show, from the height of those mounds above the present plain, after a lapse of 770 years, that “the Ethiopian monarch elevated the sites of the towns much more than his predecessor Sesostris had done,” when that conqueror employed his captives in making the canals of Egypt. And if its height was in proportion to the number of its criminals, Bubastis could not boast of the morality of its inhabitants.

On a rough calculation, it may be said that the land about Elephantine has been raised about nine feet in 1700 years; at Thebes, about seven; and in a less degree towards the Delta and the sea, where the extensive surface of the land (compared to the narrow valley above Memphis) alters the proportions in its elevation, until at the months of the Nile there is no perceptible rise of the soil from alluvial deposit.

There is another singular fact connected with the inundation in different places: that throughout the valley lying to the S. of the Delta, the actual banks of the Nile are much more elevated than the land of the interior at a distance from the river, and are seldom quite covered with water even during the highest inundations; though the bank then projects very little above the level of the stream; and, in some places, the peasant is obliged to keep out the water by temporary embankments. This difference of level may be accounted for partly by the continued cultivation of the soil by the river side, which, being more conveniently situated for artificial irrigation, has a constant succession of crops; for it is known that tillage has the effect of raising land, from the accumulation of decayed vegetable substances, the addition of dressing, and other causes; and the greater depression of the plain in the interior is owing, in some degree, to the numerous channels in that direction, and to the effect of the currents which pass over it as the water covers the land: though they are not sufficient to account for the great difference between the height of the bank and the land near the edge of the desert, which is often 12 or 15 feet, as may be seen from the comparative height of the same horizontal dyke at those two points.

These elevated roads, the sole mode of communication by land from one village to another during the inundation, commence on a level with the bank of the river, and, as they extend to the interior, are there so much higher than the fields, that room is afforded for the construction of arches to enable the water to pass through them; though the larger bridges are only built on those parts, where ancient or modern canals have caused a still greater depression of the land.

The canals, like the dykes, were the constant care of the magistrates in old times; and they were furnished with sluices and other appliances to regulate the supply of water, and to turn the fisheries to good account.

The water of the inundation was differently managed in various districts. This depended either on the relative levels of the adjacent lands, or on the crops they happened to be cultivating at the time. When a field lay fallow, or the last crop had been gathered, the water was permitted to overflow it as soon as its turn came to receive it from the nearest sluices; or, in those parts where the levels were low and open to the ingress of the rising stream, as soon as the Nile had arrived at a sufficient height; but when the last autumn crop was in the ground, every precaution was taken to keep the field from being inundated; and “as the water rose gradually, they kept it out by small dams, which could be opened if required, and closed again without much trouble.”

As the Nile subsided, the water was retained in the fields by proper embankments; and the mouths of the canals being again closed, it was prevented from returning into the falling stream. By this means the irrigation of the land was prolonged considerably, and the fertilising effects of the inundation continued until the water was absorbed. And so rapidly does the hot sun of Egypt, even at this late period of the season,—in the months of November and December,—dry the mud when once deprived of its covering of water, that no fevers are generated, and no illness visits those villages which have been entirely surrounded by the inundation.

The land being cleared of the water, and presenting in some places a surface of liquid mud, in others nearly dried by the sun and the strong N.W. winds (that continue at intervals to the end of autumn and the commencement of winter), the husbandman prepared the ground to receive the seed; which was either done by the plough and hoe, or by more simple means, according to the nature of the soil, the quality of the produce they intended to cultivate, or the time the land had remained under water.

When the levels were low, and the water had continued long upon the land, they often dispensed with the plough, and, like their successors, broke up the ground with hoes, or simply dragged the moist mud with bushes after the seed had been thrown upon the surface; and then merely drove a number of cattle, asses, pigs, sheep, or goats into the field to tread in the grain. “In no country,” says Herodotus, “do they gather their seed with so little labour. They are not obliged to trace deep furrows with the plough, and break the clods, nor to partition out their fields into numerous forms, as other people do; but when the river of itself overflows the land, and the water retires again, they sow their fields, driving the pigs over them to tread in the seed; and this being done, every one patiently awaits the harvest.” On other occasions they used the plough, but were contented, as we are told by Diodorus and Columella, with “tracing slight furrows with light ploughs on the surface of the land;” and others followed with wooden hoes to break the clods of the rich and tenacious soil.


358.              Sowing. Tombs near the Pyramids.

Fig. 4. Goats treading in the grain, when sown in the field, after the water has subsided.

6 is sprinkling the seed from the basket he holds in his left hand; the others are driving the goats over the ground.

The hieroglyphic word above, Sk, or Skai, signifies “tillage,” and is followed by the demonstrative sign, a plough.


359.              Ploughing and hoeing. Beni Hassan.

Fig. 1 breaks the clods of earth after the plough has passed.

3. The driver.

4. A barrel, probably containing the seed.

5. An attitude common to the Egyptians.

6. Another ploughman. The ancient Egyptians were evidently as fond of talking while at work as their successors.

The modern Egyptians sometimes substitute for the hoe a machine, called khonfud, “hedgehog,” which consists of a cylinder studded with projecting iron pins, to break the clods after the land has been ploughed; but this is only used when great care is required in the tillage of the land; and they frequently dispense with the hoe; contenting themselves, also, with the same slight furrows as their predecessors, which do not exceed the depth of a few inches, measuring from the lowest part to the summit of the ridge. It is difficult to say if the modern Egyptians derived the hint of the “hedgehog” from their predecessors; but it is a curious fact that a clod-crushing machine, not very unlike that of Egypt, has only lately been invented in England, which was shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851.

The ancient plough was entirely of wood, and of as simple a form as that of modern Egypt. It consisted of a share, two handles, and the pole or beam; which last was inserted into the lower end of the stilt, or the base of the handles, and was strengthened by a rope connecting it with the heel. It had no coulter, nor were wheels applied to any Egyptian plough: but it is probable that the point was shod with a metal sock, either of bronze or iron. It was drawn by two oxen; and the ploughman guided and drove them with a long goad, without the assistance of reins, which are used by the modern Egyptians. He was sometimes accompanied by another man, who drove the animals, while he managed the two handles of the plough; and sometimes the whip was substituted for the more usual goad.

Cows were occasionally put to the plough; and it may not have been unknown to them that the cow ploughs quicker than the ox.

The mode of yoking the beasts was exceedingly simple. Across the extremity of the pole, a wooden yoke or cross-bar, about fifty-five inches or five feet in length, was fastened by a strap lashed backwards and forwards over a prominence projecting from the centre of the yoke, which corresponded to a similar peg, or knob, at the end of the pole; and occasionally, in addition to these, was a ring passing over them as in some Greek chariots. At either end of the yoke was a flat or slightly concave projection, of semi-circular form, which rested on a pad placed upon the withers of the animal; and through a hole on either side of it passed a thong for suspending the shoulder-pieces which formed the collar. These were two wooden bars, forked at about half their length, padded so as to protect the shoulder from friction, and connected at the lower end by a strong broad band passing under the throat.


360.              Yoke of an ancient plough found in a tomb. Collection of S. D’Anastasy.

Figs. 1, 2. The back and front of the yoke.

3. Collar or shoulder pieces attached to the yoke.

4, 4. The pieces of matting for protecting the two shoulders from friction.

Sometimes the draught, instead of being from the withers, was from the head, the yoke being tied to the base of the horns; and in religious ceremonies oxen frequently drew the bier, or the sacred shrine, by a rope fastened to the upper part of the horns, without either yoke or pole.

From a passage in Deuteronomy, “Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together,” it might be inferred that the custom of yoking two different animals to the plough was common in Egypt: but it was evidently not so; and the Hebrew lawgiver had probably in view a practice adopted by some of the people of Syria, whose country the Israelites were about to occupy.


361.              Wooden hoes.

Fig. 1. From the sculptures.

Fig. 2. Found in a tomb.

The hoe was of wood, like the fork, and many other implements of husbandry, and in form was not unlike our letter A, with one limb shorter than the other, and curving inwards. The longer limb, or handle, was of uniform thickness, round and smooth, sometimes with a knob at the end; and the lower extremity of the blade was of increased breadth, and either terminated in a sharp point, or was rounded at the end. The blade was frequently inserted into the handle, and they were bound together, about the centre, with a twisted rope. Being the most common tool, answering for hoe, spade, and pick, it is frequently represented in the sculptures; and several, which have been found in the tombs of Thebes, are preserved in the museums of Europe.


362.              Wooden hoes. Berlin Museum.

The hoe in hieroglyphics stands for the letter M, though the name of this instrument was in Egyptian, as in Arabic, Tóré. It forms the commencement of the word Mai, “beloved,” and enters into numerous other combinations.

There are no instances of hoes with metal blades, except of very late time, nor is there any proof of the ploughshare having been sheathed with metal.


363.              Hoeing and sowing the land, and felling trees. Thebes.

The axe had a metal blade, either bronze or iron; and the peasants are sometimes represented felling trees with this implement; while others are employed in hoeing the field preparatory to its being sown,—confirming what I before observed, that the ancient, as well as the modern, Egyptians frequently dispensed with the use of the plough.

The admission of swine into the fields, mentioned by Herodotus, should rather have been before than after they had sowed the land, since their habits would do little good to the farmer, and other animals would answer as well for “treading in the grain;” but they may have been used before for clearing the fields of the roots and weeds encouraged by the inundation; and this seems to be confirmed by the herd of pigs with water plants represented in the tombs.


364.              Pigs; rarely seen in the sculptures; and never before the 18th dynasty. Thebes.

1. Sows with young pigs. 2. Young pigs. 3. Boars.

a is a whip, knotted like some of our own. b a gayd, or noose, often used as the emblem of a shepherd.

They sometimes used a top dressing of nitrous soil, which was spread over the surface; a custom continued to the present day: but this was confined to certain crops, and principally to those reared late in the year; the fertilising properties of the alluvial deposit answering all the purposes of the richest manure. Its peculiar quality is not merely indicated by its effects, but by the appearance it presents; and when left upon rock, and dried by the sun, it resembles pottery, from its brittleness and consistence. Its component parts, according to the analysis given by Regnault in the “Mémoires sur l’Egypte,” are—

              11              water.

              9              carbon.

              6              oxide of iron.

              4              silica.

              4              carbonate of magnesia.

              18              carbonate of lime.

              48              alumen.



the quantity of silica and alumen varying according to the places whence the mud is taken, which frequently contains a great admixture of sand near the banks, and a larger proportion of argillaceous matter at a distance from the river.

The same quality of soil and alluvial deposit seems to accompany the Nile in its course from Abyssinia to the Mediterranean; and though the White River is the principal stream, being much broader, bringing a larger supply of water, and coming from a greater distance than the Blue (Black) River, or Abyssinian branch, which rises a little beyond the lake Dembea, still this last claims the merit of possessing the real peculiarities of the Nile, and of supplying those fertilising properties which mark its course to the sea. The White River, or western branch, likewise overflows its banks, but no rich mud accompanies its inundation; and though, from the force of its stream (which brings down numbers of large fish and shells at the commencement of its rise, probably from passing through some large lakes), there is evidence of its being supplied by an abundance of heavy rain, we may conclude that the nature of the soil, along the whole of its course, differs considerably from that of the Abyssinian branch.

And here I may mention that the name Bahr el Azrek, opposed to Bahr el Abiad, or “White River,” should be translated Black (not Blue) River; azrek, though signifying “blue,” being also used in the sense of our “jet black;” and hossán azrek is a “black (not a blue) horse.”

Besides the admixture of nitrous earth, the Egyptians made use of other kinds of dressing; and sought for different productions, the soils best suited to them. They even took advantage of the edge of the desert, for growing the vine and some other plants, which, being composed of clay and sand, was peculiarly adapted to such as required a light soil; and the cultivation of this additional tract, which only stood in need of proper irrigation to become highly productive, had the advantage of increasing considerably the extent of the arable land of Egypt. In many places we still find evidence of its having been tilled by the ancient inhabitants, even to the late time of the Roman empire; and in some parts of the Fyoom, the vestiges of beds and channels for irrigation, as well as the roots of vines, are found in sites lying far above the level of the rest of the country.

The occupation of the husbandman depended much on the produce he had determined on rearing. Those who solely cultivated corn had little more to do than to await the time of harvest; but many crops required constant attention, and some stood in need of frequent artificial irrigation.

In order to give a general notion of the quality of the crops, and other peculiarities relating to their agriculture, I shall introduce the principal productions of Egypt in the two following tables; of which the first presents those raised after the retirement of the inundation.—

English Name.

              Botanical Name.




              Triticum sativum. (Arab. Kumh.)

              Sown in November; reaped in beginning of April, a month later than barley. Comp. Exod. 9:32.



              Hordeum vulgare. (Arab. Shayéer.)

              Sown at the same time; reaped, some in 90 days, some in the 4th month.



              Vicia faba. (Arab. Fool.)

              Sown in October or November; cut in about 4 months.



              Pisum arvense. (Arab. Bisilleh.)

              Sown in the middle of November; ripen in 90 or 100 days.



              Ervum lens. (Arab. Ads.)

              Sown in the middle or end of November; ripen in 100 or 110 days.



              (Hommos) Cicer arietinum. (Arab. Hommos.)



              Lupinus Termis. (Arab. Termus.)

              Id. Called θαρμος in Coptic, which is still retained in the modern Arabic name Termus.



              Trifolium Alexandrinum. (Arab. Bersím.)

              Sown in beginning of October; first crop after 60 days, second after 50 more days, third left for seed; if a fourth crop is raised by irrigation, it produces no seed.



              Trigonella fœnum-græcum. (Arab. Helbeh.)

              The Helbeh, or Trigonella fœnum-græcum, sown in November; cut in about 2 months.



              Lathyrus sativus. (Arab. Gilbán.)

              Lathyrus sativus, a substitute for clover, gathered in 60 days; seed ripens in 110.


A sort of French Bean

              Dolichos lubia. (Arab. Loobieh.)

              Sown at same time as wheat in November, ripens in 4 months. A crop raised by the Shadoof in August, gathered in about 3 months; its beans for cooking in 60 days.



              Carthamus tinctorius. (Arab. Kortum.)

              The flowers used for dyeing: the seeds giving an oil. Sown middle of November; seeds ripen in 5 months.



              Lactuca sativa. (Arab. Khus.)

              Cultivated for oil. Sown in middle of November; seeds ripen in 5 months.



              Linum usitatissimum. (Arab. Kettán.)

              Sown middle of November; plucked in 110 days.



              Brassica oleifera. (Arab. Selgam.)

              Yields an oil. Sown middle of November; cut in 110 days.



              Cannabis sativa. (Arab. Hasheésh.)



              Cuminum Cyminum. (Arab. Kammoon.)

              Sown middle of December; cut in 4 months.



              Coriandrum sativum. (Arab. Koosbera.)



              Papaver somniferum. (Arab. Aboonôm.)

              Sown end of November; seeds ripen in April. The Arabic name signifies father (of) sleep.


Water Melon, and several other Cucurbitæ

              Cucurbita citrullus. (Arab. Batéekh.)

              Sown middle of December; cut in 90 days.


Cucumber, and other Cucumis

              Cucumis sativus. (Kheár) &c.

              Cut in 60 days.



              Holcus Sorghum. (Arab. Doora Sayfee.)

              Independent of the crop raised by the Shadoof, and that during the inundation; sown middle of November; ripens in 5½ months.


All these, the ordinary productions of modern Egypt, appear to have been known and cultivated in old times: and according to Dioscorides, from the Helbeh, or Trigonella, was made the ointment, called by Athenæus ‘Telinon.’ The Carthamus tinctorius and the pea are now proved, by the discovery of their seeds in a tomb at Thebes, to have been ancient Egyptian plants; the coleseed appears also to have been an indigenous production; and hemp is supposed to have been used of old for its intoxicating qualities.

The Carthamus was not only cultivated for the dye its flower produced, but for the oil extracted from its seeds. The ancient, as well as the modern Egyptians, also obtained oil from other plants, as the olive, simsim or sesamum, the cici or castor-berry tree, lettuce, flax, and selgam or coleseed. This last, the Brassica oleifera of Linnæus, appears to be the Egyptian raphanus mentioned by Pliny, as “celebrated for the abundance of its oil,” unless he alludes to the seemga, or Raphanus oleifer of Linnæus, which is now only grown in Nubia and the vicinity of the first cataract. The seeds of the simsim also afforded an excellent oil, and they were probably used, as at the present day, in making a peculiar kind of cake, called by the Arabs Koosbeh, which is the name it bears when the oil has been previously extracted. When only bruised in the mill, and still containing the oil, it is called Taheéneh; and the unbruised seeds are strewed upon cakes, or give their name and flavour to a coarse conserve called Haloẃeh simsemeéh. The oil of simsim (called seerig) is considered the best lamp oil of the country; it is also used for cooking, but is reckoned inferior in flavour to that of the lettuce.

The castor-berry tree is called by Herodotus Sillicyprion, and the oil kiki (cici), which he says is not inferior to that of the olive for lamps, though it has the disadvantage of a strong unpleasant smell. Pliny calls the tree cici, which, he adds, “grows abundantly in Egypt, and has also the names of croton, trixis, tree sesamum, and ricinus;” and he records his very natural dislike of castor-oil. The mode he mentions of extracting the oil by putting the seeds into water over a fire, and skimming the surface, is the manner now adopted in Egypt; though he says the ancient Egyptians merely pressed them after sprinkling them with salt. The press, indeed, is employed for this purpose at the present day, when the oil is only wanted for lamps; but by the other method it is more pure, and the coarser qualities not being extracted, it is better suited for medicinal purposes. Strabo says, “Almost all the natives of Egypt used its oil for lamps, and workmen, as well as all the poorer classes, both men and women, anointed themselves with it,” giving it the same name, kiki, as Pliny, which he does not confine, like Herodotus, to the oil: and of all those by which it was formerly known in Egypt or Greece, no one is retained by the modern Egyptians. It grows in every part of Upper and Lower Egypt; but the oil is now little used, in consequence of the extensive culture of the lettuce, the coleseed, the olive, the carthamus, and the simsim, which afford a better quality for burning: it is, therefore, seldom employed except for the purpose of adulterating the lettuce and other oils; and the Ricinus, though a common plant, is rarely cultivated in any part of the country.

“The cnicon, a plant unknown in Italy, according to Pliny, was sown in Egypt for the sake of the oil its seeds afforded;” the chorticon, urtica, and amaracus were cultivated for the same purpose, and the cypros, “a tree resembling the ziziphus in its foliage, with seeds like the coriander, was noted in Egypt, particularly on the Canopic branch of the Nile, for the excellence of its oil.” Egypt was also famed for its “oil of bitter almonds;” and many other vegetable productions were encouraged for the sake of their oil, for making ointments, or for medicinal purposes.

In the length of time each crop took to come to maturity, and the exact period when the seed was put into the ground, much depended on the duration of the inundation, the state of the soil, and other circumstances; and in the two accompanying tables I have been guided by observations made on the crops of modern Egypt, which, as may be supposed, differ in few or no particulars from those of former days; the causes that influence them being permanent and unvarying.

English Name.

              Botanical Name.




              Oryza sativa. (Arab. Rooz or Aroos.)

              Cut in 7 months: in October. Grown in the Delta.



              Holcus Sorghum. (Arab. Doora Kaydee.)

              Sown in beginning or end of April; cut at rise of Nile in 100 days. Its seed sown as Byoód.


Byoód or autumn Doora.

              Holcus Sorghum. (Arab. D. Byoód, or Diméeree.)

              Sown middle of August; cut in 4 months; but its seed, no longer prolific, is all used for bread.


Yellow Doora

              Id. (Arab. D. Saffra.)

              Sown when the Nile is at its height, in middle of August, and banked up from the inundation: ripens in 120 days.



              Holcus saccharatus. (Arab. Dokhn.)

              Only in Nubia and the Oases: sown at same time as the Doora.



              Gossypium herbaceum. (Arab. Koton.)

              Planted in March and summer. In good soil some is gathered the 5th month.


Simsim, Sesame

              Sesamum orientale. (Arab. Simsim.)

              Gives an oil. Ripens in about 100 days. Sown 10 days after the Doora Byoód. See above, p. 23.



              Indigofera argentea. (Arab. Néeleh.)

              Sown in April: the first crop in 70 days; second in 40; third in 30; fourth in 25, in the first year: it is then left without water all the winter, and watered again in March. Then the first crop is cut after 40 days; second in 30; third in 30; and the same in the third year. After three years it is renewed from seed. The first year’s crop is the best.



              Lawsonia spinosa et inermis.

              Used for the dye of its leaves.


Water Melon

              and other Cucurbitæ. (Arab. Bateekh, &c.)

              During the rise of the Nile, and in March, on the sandbanks of the river.


Onion (Leek, and Garlic)

              Allium Cepa, &c. (Arab. Bussal.)

              Sown in August.



              Hibiscus esculentus. (Arab. Bámia.)

              Mostly in gardens. Gathered in 50 or 60 days, in September and October. Many other vegetables raised at different seasons, by artificial irrigation.


In the foregoing table are enumerated the chief productions sown the half year before, or during the inundation. They may be called the plants of the summer season; which succeeding the other crops, either immediately or after a short interval, are produced solely by artificial irrigation. But the use of the shadoof is not confined to the productions of summer; it is required for some in spring, and frequently throughout the winter, as well as in autumn, if the inundation be deficient; and the same system was, of course, adopted by the ancient Egyptians.

Having, in the preceding tables, shown the seasons when the principal productions of Egypt were raised, I proceed to mention those which appear from good authority to have been grown by the ancient Egyptians. Wheat, barley, Doora, peas, beans, lentils, hommos, gilbán? (Lathyrus sativus), carthamus, lupins, bamia (Hibiscus esculentus), figl (Raphanus sativus, var. edulis), simsim, indigo, sinapis or mustard, origanum, succory, flax, cotton, cassia senna, colocinth, cummin, coriander, several Cucurbitæ, “cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, garlic,” lotus, nelumbium, cyperus esculentus, papyrus, and other Cyperi, are proved to have been cultivated by them: and the learned Kircher mentions many productions of the country, principally on the authority of Apuleius, and early Arab writers. But the greater part of these last are wild plants: and, indeed, if all the indigenous productions of Egypt (which unquestionably grew there in ancient as well as modern times) were enumerated, a large catalogue might be collected, those of the desert alone amounting to nearly 250 species. For though the Egyptian Herbarium is limited to about 1300, the indigenous plants constitute a large proportion of that number, and few countries have a smaller quantity introduced from abroad than Egypt, which, except in a few instances, has remained contented with the herbs and trees of its own soil; and the plants of the desert may be considered altogether indigenous, without, I believe, one single exception.

The following is a brief enumeration of those mentioned by Pliny, together with the most striking characteristics or properties he ascribes to them. I have arranged them in the order in which they are given by the naturalist, not according to their botanical classification, some being unknown.

Name from Pliny.

              lib.              c.

              Botanical Name.



A plant producing ladanum

              12              17

              Cistus ladaniferus.

              “The plant which produces ladanum, introduced into Egypt by the Ptolemies.” Plin.


Tree producing Myrobalanum, Myrobalanus

              12              21

23              5

              Moringa aptera? (Arab. Yessur; fruit, Hab-ghálee.)

              “Producing a fruit from which an oil or ointment was extracted. Growing in the Thebaïd.” Plin.


Palma called Adipsos

              12              22


              “Gathered before ripe: that which is left is called Phœnicobalanus, and is intoxicating.” Plin.


Sphagnos, Bryon, or Sphacos

              12              23              28

24              6

13              1

              Parmelia parietina? (Arab. Shegeret e’neddeh.)

              “Said to grow in Egypt.” Plin. A sort of lichen growing on trees. Oil extracted from it. Plin. 13. 1.



              12              24

13              1

23              4

              Lawsonia spinosa et inermis. (Arab. Henneh.)

              “Bearing leaves like the Zizyphus. Cooked in oil to make the ointment called Cyprus. The best grown about Canopus. Leaves dye the hair.” Plin.



              12              24

              Teucrium Iva? (Arab. Miskeh?)

              There are four or five other species of Teucrium in Egypt.



              12              25

              Amyris Opobalsamum. (Arab. Belisán.)

              Balsam in Egypt, according to Dioscorides and Strabo, till lately cultivated at Heliopolis.


Elate (Abies?), Palma, or Spathe

              12              28

23              5


              “Of use for ointments.” Plin. It is supposed to be the sheath of the palm flowers. Vide Dioscor. 1. 150. (Arab. Sabát, comp. Spathe.)


Amygdalus, Almond

              13              1

              Amygdalus communis. (Arab. Lôz.)

              “Oil of bitter almonds made in Egypt.” Plin.


Palma, Palm

              13              4

              Phœnix dactylifera. (Arab. Nakhl.)

              See Vol. I., p. 55. “Thebaïc palms.” Plin. 23. 4.



              13              5

              Cordia Myxa, Sebestena. domestica, Alpin. (Arab. Mokháyt.)

              “Wine made from the fruit in Egypt.” Plin. They now make birdlime from it.


Ficus Ægyptia

              13              7

23              7

              Ficus Sycamorus. (Arab. Gimmayz.)

              “Fruit growing on the stem itself.” Plin. and Athen. Deipn. ii. p. 51.


(Ceraunia siliqua)

              13              8

              Ceratonia Siliqua. (Arab. Kharoob.)

              (Locust tree, or Kharoób, said by Pliny not to grow in Egypt. It is now an Egyptian tree.)


Persica or Peach

              13              9

15              13

              Amygdalus Persica. (Arab. Khokh.)

              “Pliny rejects the idle tale of the peach being a poisonous fruit introduced by the Persians into Egypt.” See lib. xv. 13.



              13              9

              Cucifera Thebaïca. (Arab. Dôm.)

              “Like to a palm, but with spreading branches. Fruit fills a man’s hand; of a brown yellow colour. That within large and hard; turned and made into pulleys or sail rings. The nucleus within it eaten when young; exceedingly hard when dry (and ripe).” See above, Vol. I. p. 56.


Spina Ægyptia, the Acanthus of Herodotus and Strabo.

              13              9              11

24              11              12

              Mimosa Nilotica. (Arab. Sont.)

              “Seed pods used for tanning.” “Produces gum.” Plin. See Athen. xv. p. 680. Groves of it at Thebes, Memphis, and Abydus: the two last still remain. Many other Mimosas in Egypt. Pliny (xiii. 10) mentions a sensitive acacia about Memphis. One is now common on the banks of the Nile above Dongola (the Acacia Asperata?). The mimosa Lebbek also grew of old in Egypt, and the Copt Christians have a silly legend of its worshipping the Saviour.


Quercus, Oak

              13              9


              “About Thebes, where the Persica, olive (and spina) grow.” Plin. The oak is unknown in Egypt.



              13              9

              Balanites Ægyptiaca. (Arab. Egléeg; fruit, Lalób.)

              Grows in the Eastern desert of the Thebaïd. See Descr. de l’Egypte. Bot., pl. 28. fig. 1.


Oliva, Olive

              13              9

15              3

              Olea Europæa. (Arab. Zaytóon.)

              “The olives of Egypt very fleshy, but with little oil.” Plin. xv. 13. This is very true. Strabo says, “the Arsinoïte nome alone (excepting the gardens of Alexandria) produces the olive. The oil is very good if carefully extracted; if not, the quantity is great, but with a strong odour.” xvii. p. 556.


Prunus Ægyptia

              13              10

              Rhamnus Spina Christi or R. Nabeca, Forsk. (Arab. Nebk.)

              “Near Thebes.”


Papyrus or Biblus

              13              11              12

24              11

              Cyperus papyrus. (Arab. Berdi?)

              See below in Chap. vii. Strabo, xvii. p. 550.



              13              17

24              2

              Nymphæa Lotus. (Arab. Beshnín.)

              See Vol. I. pp. 57, 79, 256, 257.


Punicum malum or Granatum, Pomegranate

              13              19

              Punica Granatum. (Arab. Roomán.)

              “The flower called Balaustium.” Plin. It is the ancient rhodon or rose, which was used for its dye, and gave its name to the Island of Rhodes. It is therefore on the reverse of the coins of that island.


Tamarix, Myrice, Tamarisk

              13              21

24              9

              Tamarix Gallica. (Arab. Tarfa.)

              “Called also Myrice, or wild brya, very abundant in Egypt and Syria.” “Brya, or bryonia, commonly called Arbor infelix.” Plin.



              13              22

20              23

              Ferula communis? or Bubon tortuosum? (The Crythmum Pyrenaicum of Forskal.) (Arab. Shebet e’ Gebel.)

              “Knotted and hollow stem, very light, good for matches. Some call the seed Thapsia.” Plin. Two kinds, like the anethum. A large umbelliferous plant, supposed to be a sort of wild fennel.



              13              23

              Capparis spinosa. (Arab. Lussuf.)

              The Caper. The fruit of the Egyptian caper, or Lussuf, is very large, like a small cucumber, about 2½ inches long, which is eaten by the Arabs.



              13              23

              Cyperus dives? or C. fastigiatus? (Arab. Dees.)

              See Theophr. iv. 9. “It grows on the banks of the Nile, with a head (coma) like the papyrus, and is eaten in the same manner.” Plin.


Vitis, Vine

              14              3              7

16              18

              Vitis vinifera. (Arab. Enéb.)

              See above, Vol. I. pp. 39 to 45. Pliny says that no trees, not even vines, lose their leaves about Memphis and Elephantine. Lib.xvi. 21.


Cici, Croton, Trixis, or wild Sesamum

              5              3

              Ricinus communis. (Arab. Kharwah.)

              Castorberry tree, or Palma Christi. “Oil extracted from it abounds in Egypt.” Plin.



              15              7

19              5

              Raphanus oleïfer, or the Brassica oleïfer (Seemga of Nubia; or the Selgam of Egypt?)

              “Oil made from its seeds in Egypt.” Plin. It is probably the Seemga or Raphanus oleïfer, and not the sativus, that he alludes to. He may perhaps have had in view the Selgam (Brassica oleïfer), or coleseed, so common throughout Egypt. The seemga is now confined to Nubia and the southern extremity of the Thebaïd.


Chorticon, a Grass

              15              7


              “Oil extracted from it.” Plin.



              15              7

              Sesamum orientale. (Arab. Simsim.)

              “Cultivated for its oil.” See above, p. 23.


Urtica, called Cnecimum, or Cnidium

              15              7

22              13

              Urtica pilulifera. (Arab. Fiss el Keláb.)

              “Giving an oil.” “The Alexandrian the best quality.” “Used also medicinally.” Plin. Supposed to be a nettle.



Pyrus Alexandria, Pear of Alexandria

              15              15

              Pyrus communis? (Arab. Koomittree.)

              Perhaps of Greek introduction.


Ficus, Fig

              15              18

              Ficus Carica. (Arab. Tin.)

              It is a singular fact, that the small fruit of the wild fig of the Egyptian desert, and of Syria, is called by the Arabs Kottayn, since Pliny says, “the small Syrian figs are called Cottana.” Lib. xiii. c. 5. The tree is called Hamát.


Myrtus, Myrtle

              15              29

21              11

              Myrtus communis. (Arab. As, or Mersia.)

              “The myrtle of Egypt is the most odoriferous.” Plin. and Athen. 15. It is only now grown in gardens. Pliny in another place says, “the flowers of Egypt have very little odour,” xxi. 7, probably on the authority of Theophrastus. Hist. Plant. vi. 6.; De Caus. Plant. vi. 27.


Calamus, Reed

              16              36

              Arundo Donax, and Arundo Isiaca. (Arab. Kussub and Boos.)

              “Used by many nations for arrows, so that half the world has been conquered by reeds.” Plin. (See Vol. I. pp. 352, 353.)


Hordeum, Barley

              18              7

              Hordeum vulgare. (Arab. Shayír.)



Triticum. Wheat

              18              8

              Triticum sativum. (Arab. Kumh.)





              18              8


              Triticum Zea?

Holcus Sorghum? (Arab. Dóora.)

              “The Egyptians make a medicinal decoction of olyra for children, which they call Athara.”Plin. xxii. 25.




              Triticum Spelta?


Faba, Beans

              18              12

              Vicia Faba. (Arab. Fool.)

              “With a prickly stalk.” Plin.


Lens, Lentils

              18              12

              Ervums Lens. (Arab. Atz, Adz, or Adduz.)

              “Two kinds of lentils in Egypt.” Plin.


Linum, Flax

              19              1

              Linum usitatissimum. (Arab. Kettán.)

              “Four kinds, the Tanitic, Pelusiac, Butic, and Tentyritic.” Plin.


Gossipion, Cotton

              19              1

              Gossypium herbaceum. (Arab. Kôton.)

              “Called Gossipion, or Xylon: the cloths made from it hence named Xylina.” Plin.



              19              5

24              16

              Arum Colocasia? (Arab. Kolkás.)

              “About the size of a squill;” “with a bulbous root.” Plin.



              24              16

              Arum Arisarum?

              “Like the Aron, but smaller; the root being the size of an olive.” Plin.


Allium, Garlic

              19              6

              Allium sativum. (Arab. Tôm.)

              “Both ranked by the Egyptians among gods, in taking an oath.” Plin.


Cepa, Onion

              19              6

              Allium Cepa. (Arab. Bussal.)

              “The best kind is in Egypt.” Plin.


Porrum, Leek

              19              6

              Allium Porrum. (Arab. Korrát.)


Cuminum, Cummin

              19              8

20              15

              Cuminum Cyminum, and Nigella sativa. (Arab. Kammoon-abiad and Kammoon-aswed.)

              Pliny speaks of two, one whiter than the other, used for the same purpose, and put upon cakes of bread at Alexandria. The white and black Cuminum are called by the Arabs Kammoon abiad and Kammoon aswed: the latter is the Nigella sativa. See above, Vol. I., pp. 177, 266.



              19              8

20              17

25              4

              Origanum Ægyptiacum. (Arab. Bardakoosh.)



Sinapis, Mustard

              19              8

              Sinapis juncea. (Arab. Khardel, or Kubbr.)

              “The best seed is the Egyptian. Called also Napy, Thaspi, and Saurion.” Plin.


Cichorium, or Intubus erraticus

              20              8

21              15

              Cichorium Intybus. (Arab. Shikórieh.)

              “In Egypt, the wild endive is called Cichorium; the garden endive, Seris.” Plin.



              20              8

              Cichorium Endivia? (Arab. Hendebeh.)


Anisum, Aniseed

              20              17

              Pimpinella Anisum. (Arab. Yensoón.)

              “The Egyptian is the best quality after the Cretan.” Plin.



              20              20

              Coriandrum sativum. (Arab. Kuzber or Koozbareh.)

              “The best is from Egypt.” Plin.


Buceros, or Fœnum Græcum

              21              7

24              19

              Trigonella Fœnum Græcum. (Arab. Helbeh.)

              “Without any scent.” Plin.



              21              10

21              21

              Teucrium Creticum?

              (Helenium (according to Dioscorides), a native of Egypt. This and four other species of Teucrium now grow there.)



              21              11

21              22

              Origanum Majorana.

              “What is called by Diocles, and the Sicilians, Amaracus, is known in Egypt and Syria as the Sampsuchum.” “An oil made from it.” Plin. Athenæus (xv. p. 676) says, “the Amaracus abounds in Egypt;” and in lib. v. he mentions “Amaracine ointment.”



              21              11

              Trifolium Melilotus Indica. (Arab. Rekrak or Nafal?)

              “Grows every where.” Plin.


Rosa, Rose


              Rosa centifolia. (Arab. Werd.)

              If by “In Ægypto sine odore hæc omnia,” Pliny means that all the flowers mentioned in this chapter are Egyptian, many others might be here introduced.


Viola, Violet

              21              11

              Viola odorata (Arab, Benefsig.)


Colocasia or Cyamus, or Faba Ægyptia.

              21              15

              Nymphæa Nelumbo, or Nelumbium.

              “Growing in the Nile;” “one of the wild plants, which abound so plentifully in Egypt.” Plin. Athen. iii. p. 72. Strabo, xvii. p. 550.



              21              15

21              29

              Supposed to be the Cyperus esculentus?? (which is in Arab. Hab el āzeez.)

              “Grows some distance from the Nile.” “Fruit like a medlar, without husk or kernel. Leaf of the Cyperus. No other use but for food.” Plin. Some suppose it the Cyperus esculentus, which is very doubtful.



              21              15

              Supposed to be the Arachis hypogæa?

              “Also eaten in Egypt, Few leaves; large root.” Plin. Theophrastus says, it has a long root, gathered at the time of the inundation, and used for crowning the altars. Lib. i. c. 1. 11.



              21              15


              All esculent plants.

              “These two have spreading and numerous roots; but no leaf, nor anything above the ground.” Plin.



              21              15




              21              15

              Lactuca sativa? (Arab. Khuss.)




              21              15

              Hyoseris lucida.




              21              15

              Caucalis daucoïdes?




              21              15

              Caucalis anthriscus. (Arab. Gezzer e’shaytán.)



Scandix, or Tragopogon.

              21              15

              Tragopogon picroïdes? (Arab. Edthbáh?)

                            “Leaves like a crocus.” Plin. The Edthbáh is of the order Syngenesia, and the flower is of a purplish colour.



              21              15              30

22              17

25              5

              Matricaria Parthenium, or M. Chamomilla.

                            Dioscorides describes its flower with a white circuit and yellow within.


Strychnum, or Strychnus, or Trychos, or Solanum.

              21              15

21              31

27              13

              Solanum Dulcamara, or Solanum nigrum. (Arab. Eneb e’ deeb.)

              “Used in Egypt for chaplets: the leaves like ivy: of two kinds; one has red berries (in a sort of bladder) full of grains, and is called Halicacabus, or Callion, and, in Italy, Vesicaria: the third kind is very poisonous.” Nightshade.



              21              15

21              32

              Corchorus olitorius. (Arab. Melokhéëh.)

              “Eaten at Alexandria.” Plin.



              21              15

              Leontodon Taraxacum.

              “Flowers all the winter and spring, till the summer.” Plin. Dandelion.



              21              15

21              27

              Thymus Acinos, or Ocymum Zátarhendi. (Arab. Zátar.)

              “The Egyptians grow the Acinos for making chaplets and for food. It appears the same as the Ocimum, but its leaves and stalks are more hirsute.” Plin.



              21              15

              Sedum confertum. (Arab. Heialem.)

              “Never flowers.” Plin. Some editions of Pliny make this and the Acinos the same; but they are generally believed to be different.


Cnicus, or Atractylis

              21              15

21              32

              Carthamus tinctorius? (Arab. Koortum.)

The other is perhaps the Carthamus Creticus?

              Supposed to be the Carthamus. “Unknown in Italy. Oil extracted from the seeds, and of great value. Two kinds; the wild and the cultivated; and two species of the former. Remedy against the poison of scorpions and other reptiles.” Plin. It is supposed that the Cnicus and Atractylis are not the same plant.



              21              16

22              10

              Trapa natans?

              “Grows about the Nile in marshes, and is eaten. Leaf like the elm.” Plin.



              21              17

22              17


              “Eaten by other people, as by the Egyptians.” “Grows on walls and tiles of houses.” Plin.



              21              17

              Ornithogalum Arabicum?




              21              18

              Juncus acutus? (Arab. Sumár.)

              “Sieves made of it in Egypt.” Plin.



              21              18

              Gladiolus communis.

              “With a bulbous root.” Plin.



              21              18

              Cyperus Niloticus, and many other species.

              “A triangular rush.” Plin.


Heliochrysum, or Chrysanthemum

              21              25

              Gnaphalium Stœchas.

              “Gods crowned with it; a custom particularly observed by Ptolemy, King of Egypt.” Plin.



              21              33


              “Grown in gardens in Egypt, for making chaplets.” Plin.



              22              21

              A large kind of cultivated lotus, or Nymphæa Lotus.

              “Coming from the garden lotos, from whose seed, like millet, the Egyptian bakers make bread.” Plin.



              24              11

              Rhus oxyacanthoïdes. (Arab. Errin.)

              (“Rhus: leaves like myrtle, used for dressing skins.” Though Pliny does not mention it as an Egyptian plant, it is indigenous in the desert, and the leaves and wood are used by the Arabs for tanning.)


Egyptian Clematis, or Daphnoides, or Polygonoides.

              24              15

              Vinca major et minor?

              “Mostly produced in Egypt.” Plin.



              24              17


              “About Elephantina.” Plin.



              24              18

              Pistia Stratiotes. (Arab. Heialem el ma.)

              “Only in Egypt during the inundation of the Nile.” Plin.



              25              2

21              21

              Perhaps the Bust or Hasheésh, a preparation of the Cannabis sativa.

              “Homer attributes the glory of herbs to Egypt. He mentions many given to Helen by the wife of the Egyptian King, particularly the Nepenthes, which caused oblivion of sorrow.” Plin.


Absinthium marinum, or Seriphium.

              27              7

21              21

              Artemisia Judaïca? (Arab. Bytherán.)

              “The best at Taposiris in Egypt: a bunch of it carried at the fête of Isis.” Plin.



              27              12

              Myosotis arvensis.

              “The Egyptians believe that if, on the 27th day of Thiatis (Thoth), which answers nearly to our August, any one anoints himself with its juice before he speaks in the morning, he will be free from weakness of the eyes all that year.” Plin.


The trees of ancient Egypt represented on the monuments are the date, dôm, sycamore, pomegranate, persea, tamarisk, and Periploca Secamone: and the fruit, seeds, or leaves of the nebk, vine, fig, olive, Mokhayt (Cordia Myxa), Kharoob or locust-tree, palma Christi or cici, Sont or acanthus, bay, and Egleeg or balanites, have been found in the tombs of Thebes; as well as of the Areca, Tamarind, Myrobalanus, and others, which are the produce either of India, or the interior of Africa. And though these last are not the actual productions of Egypt, they are interesting, as they show the constant intercourse maintained with those distant countries. One instance has been met with of the pine apple, in glazed pottery. The sculptures also represent various flowers, some of which may be recognised; while others are less clearly defined, and might puzzle the most expert botanist.


365.              Plants from the sculptures. From Thebes.

Figs. 1 to 6, inclusive, from the tomb of Remeses III.

Figs. 1 and 5 perhaps the same as the two flowers in fig. 10, woodcut 260.

Little attention is paid by the inhabitants of modern Egypt to the cultivation of plants, beyond those used for the purpose of food, or to the growth of trees, excepting the palm, large groves of which are met with in every part of the country; and if the statement of Strabo be true, that, “in all (Lower) Egypt the palm was sterile, or bore an uneatable fruit, though of excellent quality in the Thebaïd,” this tree is now cultivated with more success in Lower Egypt than in former times, some of the best quality of dates being produced there, particularly at Korayn, to the E. of the Delta, where the kind called A´maree is superior to any produced to the N. of Nubia.

Few timber trees are reared in these days either in Upper or Lower Egypt. Some sycamores, whose wood is required for water wheels and other purposes; a few groups of Athuls, or Oriental tamarisks, used for tools and other implements requiring a compact wood; and two or three groves of Sont, or Mimosa Nilotica, valuable for its hard wood, and for its pods used in tanning, are nearly all that the modern inhabitants retain of the many trees grown by their predecessors. But their thriving condition, as that of the mulberry-trees (planted for the silkworms), which form, with the Mimosa Lebbek, some shady avenues in the vicinity of Cairo, and of the Cassia fistula (bearing its dense mass of blossoms in the gardens of the metropolis), shows that it is not the soil, but the industry of the people, which is wanting to encourage the growth of trees.

The Egleeg, or balanites, (the supposed Persea,) no longer thrives in the valley of the Nile; many other trees are rare, or altogether unknown; and the extensive groves of Acanthus, or Sont, are rather tolerated than encouraged, as the descendants of the trees planted in olden times near the edge of the cultivated land.

The thickets of Acanthus, alluded to by Strabo, still grow above Memphis, at the base of the low Libyan hills: in going from the Nile to Abydus, you ride through the grove of Acacia, once sacred to Apollo, and see the rising Nile traversing it by a canal, as when the geographer visited that city, even then reduced to the condition of a small village: and groves of the same tree may here and there be traced in other parts of the Thebaïd, from which it obtained the name of the Thebaïc thorn.

Above the cataracts, the Sont grew in profusion a few years ago upon the banks of the Nile, enabling the poor Nubians to send abundance of charcoal for sale to Cairo; and its place is supplied in the desert by the Séáleh and other of the Mimosa tribe, which are indigenous to the soil.

The principal woods used by the Egyptians were the date, Dôm, sycamore, several acacias, the two tamarisks, the Egleeg or balanites, ebony, fir, and cedar. The various purposes, to which every part of the palm or date-tree was applied, have been already noticed, as well as of the Dôm, or Theban palm. Sycamore wood was employed for coffins, boxes, small idols, doors, window shutters, stools, chairs, and cramps for building; for handles of tools, wooden pegs or nails, cramps, idols, small boxes, and those parts of cabinet work requiring hard compact wood, the Sont (Acacia Nilotica) was usually preferred; and spears were frequently made of other acacias, which grew in the interior, or on the confines of the desert.

For cramps in walls, and tools of various kinds, the wood of the Tamarix orientalis was much used, and even occasionally for pieces of furniture, for which purpose the Egleeg was also employed; but the principal woods adopted by the cabinet-maker for fine work were ebony, fir, and cedar. Of these three the first came from Africa, and formed, with ivory, gold, ostrich feathers, dried fruits, and skins, the principal object of the annual tribute brought to Egypt by the conquered tribes of Ethiopia and the Soodán; but fir and cedar were imported from Syria; the two last being in great demand for common furniture, small boxes, coffins, and various objects connected with the dead.

Other woods of a rare and valuable kind were brought to Egypt by the people of Asia tributary to the Pharaohs; and the importance attached to them may be estimated by their being frequently imitated, for the satisfaction of those who could not afford to purchase furniture or trinkets of so expensive a material.

Egypt also produced some fungi useful for dyeing; the pods of the Acacia Nilotica, the bark of the séáleh acacia, and the wood and bark of the Errin, or Rhus oxyacanthoïdes, for tanning, and the Periploca Secamone for curing skins.

White crops were of course the principal cultivated productions in the valley of the Nile, and wheat and barley were grown in every part of Egypt.

Like the Romans, they usually brought the seed in a basket, which the sower held in his left hand, or suspended on his arm (sometimes with a strap round his neck), while he scattered the seed with his right; and he sometimes followed the plough, in those fields which required no further preparation with the hoe, or were free from the roots of noxious weeds. The mode of sowing was what we term broadcast; the seed was scattered loosely over the surface, whether ploughed, or allowed to remain in its unbroken muddy state; and in no agricultural scene is there any evidence of drilling or dibbling.

Corn, and those productions which did not require constant irrigation, were sown in the open field, as in other countries; but for indigo, esculent vegetables, and herbs, the fields were portioned out into the usual square beds, surrounded by a raised border of earth to keep in the water, which was conducted into them by channels from the shadóof, or poured in with buckets.

Wheat was cut in about five, barley in four months; the best quality, according to Pliny, being grown in the Thebaïd. The wheat, as at the present day, was all bearded, and the same varieties, doubtless, existed in ancient as in modern times; among which may be mentioned the seven-eared quality described in Pharaoh’s dream. This is the kind which has been lately grown in England, and which is said to have been raised from grains found in the tombs of Thebes. It is no longer cultivated in Upper Egypt, being only grown in small quantities in the Delta; and this is the more remarkable as it renders the substitution of modern for ancient wheat at Thebes very improbable.

The wheat was cropped a little below the ear with a toothed sickle, and carried to the threshing-floor in wicker paniers upon asses,| or in rope nets, the gleaners following to collect the fallen ears in hand baskets. The rope net, answering to the Shenfeh of modern Egypt, was borne on a pole by two men; and the threshing-floor was a level circular area near the field, or in the vicinity of the granary, where, when it had been well swept, the ears were deposited, and cattle were driven over it to tread out the grain. While superintending the animals so employed, the Egyptian peasants, like their modern successors, relieved their labours by singing; and in a tomb at Eileithyias this song of the threshers is written in hieroglyphics over oxen treading out the grain:—“(1) Thresh for yourselves (twice, a), (2) O oxen, (3) thresh for yourselves (twice, b,) (4) measures for yourselves, (5) measures for your masters.” The discovery and translation of this are due to Champollion, to whom all who study hieroglyphics are under such infinite obligations, and whose talents were beyond all praise.


Fig.              1 puts the seed into the basket.

2 sowing the land after the plough has passed. The handle of the plough has a peg at the side like the modern Egyptian plough, which may be seen in the Vignette.


366.              Ploughing, sowing, and reaping. Tombs of the Kings—Thebes.

Fig.              1. Plucking up the doora by the roots.

2. Reaping wheat.


367.              Harvest scene. Thebes.

Fig.              1. The reapers.

2. A reaper drinking from a cup.

3, 4. Gleaners: the first of these asks the reaper to allow him to drink.

5. Carrying the ears in a rope basket: the length of the stubble showing the ears alone are cut off.

8. Winnowing.

10. The tritura, answering to our threshing.

12. drinks from a water-skin suspended in a tree.

14. Scribe who notes down the number of bushels measured from the heap.

16. Checks the account by noting those taken away to the granary.


368.              The tritura. Thebes.

Fig.              1. The steward, or the owner of the land.

2. throws the ears of wheat into the centre, that the oxen may pass over them and tread out the grain.

3. The driver.

4. brings the wheat to the threshing-floor in baskets carried on asses.

The oxen are yoked together, that they may walk round regularly.


369.              Song of the threshers to the oxen. Eileithyias.

A certain quantity was first strewed in the centre of the area, and when this had been well triturated by the animals’ feet, more was added by means of large wooden forks, from the main heap, raised around, and forming the edge of, the threshing-floor; and so on till all the grain was trodden out. This process, called trituration, was generally adopted by ancient, as by some modern people. Sometimes the cattle were bound together by a piece of wood or a rope fastened to their horns or necks, in order to force them to go round the heap, and tread it regularly, the driver following behind them with a stick.


370.              Harvest scene. Thebes.

Fig.              1. The steward. 2, 3. Reapers. 5. A woman gleaner. 6. carrying the wheat in the usual rope net. 7. The tritura.

9. Winnowers. 11. The scribe. 13, 14 carrying the grain to the granary in sacks.

The continuation of this scene, beyond the fig. 14, is given in woodcut 33, vol. i. p. 32.


371.              Tritura, or threshing; and winnowing. Thebes.

Fig.              1. Raking up the ears to the centre.

2. The driver.

3. Winnowing, with wooden shovels.

After the grain had been trodden out, they winnowed it with wooden shovels; it was then carried to the granary in sacks, each containing a fixed quantity, which was determined by wooden measures; a scribe noting down the number, as called by the teller who superintended its removal. Sweepers with small hand-brooms were employed to collect the scattered grain that fell from the measure; and the “immense heaps of corn” mentioned by Diodorus, collected from “the field which was round every city,” accord well with the representation of the paintings in the tombs, and with those seen at the present day in the villages of the Nile. Sometimes two scribes were present; one to write down the number of measures taken from the heap of corn, and the other to check them by entering the quantity removed to the granary,| as well as the number of sacks actually housed:—a precaution quite in character with the circumspect habits of the Egyptians.

Oxen, as Herodotus says, were generally used for treading out the grain; and sometimes, though rarely, asses were employed for that purpose.

The Jews had the same custom, and, like the Egyptians, they suffered the ox to tread out the corn unmuzzled, according to the express order of their lawgiver. In later times, however, it appears that the Jews used “threshing instruments;” though, from the offer made to David by Ornan, of “the oxen also,” and the use of the word dus, “treading,” in the sentence, “Ornan was threshing wheat,”* it is possible that the trituration is here alluded to, and that the threshing instruments only refer to the winnowing-shovels, or other implements used on those occasions: though the “new sharp threshing instrument having teeth,” mentioned in Isaiah, seems to be the nóreg, or corn-drag, still employed in Egypt, which the Hebrew name “moreg” so closely resembles; and this same word is applied to the “threshing instruments” of Ornan. The Jews, like the Greeks, bound up the wheat, when cut, into sheaves; which was sometimes done by the Egyptians, though their usual custom was to put it into baskets or rope nets, and to carry it loose to the threshing-floor.


372.              Wheat bound in sheaves. Thebes.

Fig.              1. Reaping. 2. Carrying the ears. 3. Binding them in sheaves put up at fig. 4.

The modern Egyptians cut the wheat close to the ground,—barley and doora being plucked up by the roots,—and having bound it in sheaves, carry it to a level and cleanly swept area near the field, in the centre of which they collect it in a heap, and then taking a sufficient quantity, spread it upon the open area, and pass over it the nóreg drawn by two oxen: the difference in the modern and ancient method being that in the former the nóreg is used, and the oxen go round the heap, which is in the centre, and not at the circumference, of the threshing floor. Some instances, however, occur of the heap being in the centre, as at the present day.

The nóreg is a machine consisting of a wooden frame, with three cross-bars or axles, on which are fixed circular iron plates, for the purpose of bruising the ears of corn and extracting the grain, at the same time that the straw is chopped up: the first and last axles having each four plates, and the central one three: and at the upper part is a seat on which the driver sits, his weight giving additional effect to the machine. Indeed, the Roman tribulum, described by Varro, appears not to have been very unlike the nóreg. It was “a frame made rough by stones or pieces of iron, on which the driver, or a great weight, was placed; and this being drawn by beasts yoked to it, pressed out the grain from the ear.”


373.              The oxen driven round the heap; contrary to the usual custom. Thebes.

While some were employed in collecting the grain and depositing it in the granary, others gathered the long stubble from the field, and prepared it as provender to feed the horses and cattle; for which purpose it was used by them, as by the Romans, and the modern Egyptians. They probably preferred reaping the corn close to the ear, in order to facilitate the trituration; and afterwards cutting the straw close to the ground, or plucking it by the roots, they chopped it up for the cattle; and this, with dried clover (the drees of modern Egypt), was laid by for autumn, when the pastures being overflowed by the Nile, the flocks and herds were kept in sheds or pens on the higher grounds, or in the precincts of the villages.

This custom of feeding some of their herds in sheds accords with the Scriptural account of the preservation of the cattle, which had been “brought home” from the field; and explains the apparent contradiction of the destruction of “all the cattle of Egypt” by the murrain, and the subsequent destruction of the cattle by the hail; those which “were in the field” alone having suffered from the previous plague, and those in the stalls or “houses” having been preserved.

An instance of stall-fed oxen from the sculptures has been given in the account of the farmyard and villas of the Egyptians.

The first crop of wheat having been gathered, they prepared the land for whatever produce they next intended to rear; the field was ploughed and sowed, and, if necessary, the whole was inundated by artificial means, as often as the quality of the crop or other circumstances required. The same was repeated after the second and third harvest, for which the peasant was indebted to his own labours in raising water from the Nile,—an arduous task, and one from which no showers relieved him throughout the whole season. For in Upper Egypt rain may be said to be unknown: five or six slight showers, that annually fall there, scarcely deserving that name; and in no country is artificial irrigation so indispensable, as in the valley of the Nile.

In many instances, instead of corn they reared clover, or leguminous herbs, which were sown as soon as the water began to subside, generally about the commencement of October; and at the same time that corn, or other produce, was raised on the land just left by the water, another crop was procured by artificial irrigation. This, of course, depended on the choice of each individual, who consulted the advantages obtained from certain kinds of produce, the time required for their succession, or the benefit of the land: for though no soil recovers more readily from the bad effects arising from a repetition of similar crops, through the equalising influence of the alluvial deposit, it is at length found to impoverish the land; and the Egyptian peasant is careful not to neglect the universal principle in husbandry, of varying the produce on the same ground.

Besides wheat, other crops are represented in the paintings of the tombs; one of which, a tall grain, is introduced as a production both of Upper and Lower Egypt. From the colour, the height to which it grows, compared with the wheat, and the appearance of a round yellow head it bears on the top of its bright green stalk, it is evidently intended to represent the doora, or Holcus Sorghum. It was not reaped by a sickle, like the wheat and barley, but men, and sometimes women, were employed to pluck it up; which being done, they struck off the earth that adhered to the roots with their hands, and having bound it in sheaves, they carried it to what may be termed the threshing floor, where, being forcibly drawn through an instrument armed at the summit with metal spikes, the grain was stripped off, and fell upon the well-swept area below. This ancient contrivance is the more remarkable as something of the kind has lately been proposed in England, for a similar purpose.


374.              Gathering the doora and wheat. Thebes.

Fig.              1. Plucking up the plant by the roots.

2. Striking off the earth from the roots.

3. Reaping wheat.

Much flax was cultivated in Egypt, and the various processes of watering it, beating the stalks when gathered, making it into twine, and lastly into a piece of cloth, are represented in the paintings. These will be mentioned in the account of the arts and manufactures of Ancient Egypt.


375.              Gathering the Doora, and stripping off the grain. Eileithyias.

Fig.              1. Woman plucking up the plant by the roots.

2. Striking off the earth from the roots after he has plucked it up.

3. Binding it into a sheaf.

4. Carrying it to the area.

5. Stripping off the grain by drawing the head forcibly through an instrument furnished with metal spikes for this purpose.

At the end of summer, the peasant looked anxiously for the return of the inundation, upon which all his hopes for the ensuing year depended. He watched with scrupulous attention the first rise of the river; the state of its daily increase was noted down and proclaimed by the curators of the Nilometers at Memphis and other places; and the same anxiety for the approaching inundation was felt on each succeeding year. But during this interval he was not idle, and the quantity of water required for artificial irrigation entailed on the peasant incessant labour, except when the Nile was at its highest; and even while watching his water-melons, and various cucurbitaceous plants (like the modern felláh, under the shade of a rude “lodge in a garden of cucumbers”), he occupied himself in preparing something that might be serviceable on a future occasion.

During the inundation, when the Nile had been admitted by the canals into the interior, and the fields were covered with water, the peasantry indulged in various amusements which this leisure period gave them time to enjoy. Their cattle were housed, and supplied with dry food, which had been previously prepared for the purpose; the tillage of the land and all agricultural occupations were suspended; and this season was celebrated as a harvest home, with recreations of every kind. They indulged in feasting, and in all the luxuries of the table that they could afford; they attended the public games held in some of the principal towns, where the competitors contended for prizes of cattle, skins, and other things well suited to the taste or wants of the peasant; and they amused themselves with wrestling-matches, bull-fights, and various sports. Many a leisure hour was passed in singing and dancing; and among the songs of the Egyptian peasant, Julius Pollux mentions that of Maneros; who was even celebrated as the inventor of husbandry,—an honour generally given to the still more mysterious Osiris. But some songs and games were exclusively appropriated to certain festivals; and this adaptation of peculiar ceremonies to particular occasions, is quite consistent with the character of the Egyptians.

They had many festivals connected with agriculture and the produce of the soil, which happened at different periods of the year. In the month Mesoré, they offered the firstfruits of their lentils to the God Harpocrates, “calling out at the same time, The tongue is Fortune, the tongue is God;” and the allegorical festival of “the delivery of Isis was celebrated immediately after the Vernal Equinox,” to commemorate the beginning of harvest. “Some,” says Plutarch, “assimilate the history of those Gods to the various changes which happen in the air, during the several seasons of the year, or to those accidents which are observed in the production of corn, in its sowing and ripening; ‘for,’ they observe, ‘what can the burial of Osiris more aptly signify, than the first covering the seed in the ground after it is sown? or his reviving and reappearing, than its first beginning to shoot up? and why is Isis said, upon perceiving herself to be with child, to have hung an amulet about her neck on the 6th of the month Phaophi, soon after sowing time, but in allusion to this allegory? and who is that Harpocrates, whom they tell us she brought forth about the time of the winter tropic, but those weak and slender shootings of the corn, which are yet feeble and imperfect?’—for which reason it is, that the firstfruits of their lentils are dedicated to this God, and they celebrate the feast of his mother’s delivery just after the vernal equinox.” From this it may be inferred that the festival of the lentils was instituted when the month Mesoré coincided with the end of March; for since they were sown at the end of November, and ripened in about 100 or 110 days, the firstfruits might be gathered in three months and a half, or, “just after the vernal equinox,” or the last week in March: which would carry back the original institution of the festival to about 2650 years before our era, or some time after the reign of Menes.

“On the 19th day of the first month (Thoth), which was the feast of Hermes, they eat honey and figs, saying to each other, ‘how sweet a thing is truth!’ ”—a satisfactory proof that the month itself, and not the first day alone, was called after and dedicated to Thoth, the Egyptian Hermes; and another festival, answering to the “Thesmophoria of the Athenians,” was established to commemorate the period when “the husbandmen began to sow their corn, in the Egyptian month Athyr.

Many of the sacred festivals of the Egyptians were connected with agriculture; but these I have already introduced among their religious ceremonies. The gardeners have also been noticed, in mentioning the villas of the Egyptians.

The huntsmen formed another subdivision of this class.

They were employed in great numbers to attend and assist the amateur sportsmen, during their excursions in pursuit of the wild animals of the country; the scenes of which were chiefly in the deserts of Upper Egypt. They conducted the dogs to the field; they had the management of them in loosing them for the chase, and they secured and brought home the game, after having contributed by their own skill to increase the sport of the chasseur. They also followed the occupation on their own account; making a considerable profit by catching the animals most prized for the table; by the reward they received for destroying the hyæna, and other animals hostile to the husbandman or the shepherd; and by the lucrative chase of the ostrich, which was highly valued for its plumes and eggs, and was sold to the wealthier Egyptians.


376.              Ostrich, with the feathers and eggs. Thebes.

The boatmen of the Nile belonged to the same third class.

They were of different grades; some belonging to the private sailing or pleasure boats of the grandees; others to those of burden. They also differed from the sailors of the “long ships” employed at sea, and even from those of the war galleys on the Nile, which acted as guard-boats, and were also used in the expeditions undertaken by the Pharaohs into Ethiopia. These government boatmen were sometimes employed by the Kings in transporting large blocks of stone to ornament the temples; and the immense monolith of granite, brought by Amasis from the first cataract to Saïs, was dragged overland by 2000 boatmen; but those who carried stones in lighters from the quarries were an inferior order, and ranked among the common boatmen of the Nile. Even among them the office of steersman seems always to have been very important; and as the pilots of the ships of war had a high rank above the “able seamen” of the fleet, so the helmsman in the ordinary boats of the Nile was looked upon as little inferior to the captain; standing in the same relative position as the Mestámel to the Ryïs of the modern Cangia.


I. The Nóreg, a machine used by the modern Egyptians for threshing corn.


K. Modern boats of the Nile. On the opposite bank is a whirlwind of sand.

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