As one of the greatest civilizations known to man as well as one of the longest lasting, ancient Egypt holds a peculiar fascination for most people. It may surprise you to learn that the pharaohs built their massive economies on many of the same principles that we employ today.
The storied flooding of the Nile was the main contributor to ancient Egypt’s agricultural wealth, as each summer it swept copious amounts of nutrient-rich silt onto the banks lining its sides. Such fertile land fostered the stable cultivation of crops such as barley and wheat and allowed people to move from a primarily meat-dependent society to one that could store and rely on grain. This in turn allowed them to abandon nomadic lifestyles and remain in the same place year after year so a more complex civilization could develop.
Specialization of Labor
A highly developed agricultural economy and the need to control surplus wealth eventually led to the concentration of power under godlike kings, or pharaohs. This led to large civilizations and specialization of labor, with citizens producing bread and beer, harvesting papyrus, sailing merchant vessels, herding animals and making goods.
The Egyptians bartered to obtain many of their goods within the Egyptian state, but they also used money, or currencies based on precious metals, in their business transactions. Since Egypt lacked abundant precious metals, it had to trade with other countries to get them. Merchants carried Egypt’s wealth in the form of goods to other lands around the Mediterranean and Middle East mostly by ships sailing up and down the Nile, receiving in return precious metals along with cedar wood, leopard skins, ivory, incense, spices and wine.
The primary source of energy in ancient Egypt was muscle power. People fished for food and grew crops in fields. When raw human power alone wasn’t enough, workers drafted animals such as cattle into service. Animals were used to plow fields, and humans followed behind to cast grain on the ground and sweep it into the earth using a branch. Another main energy source was the sun, which provided the heat necessary to grow the crops on which the economy relied. To supplement this, people built canals to bring in water. Wind power supplied impetus for trade along the Nile.