Geography of Ancient Egypt

A combination of favorable geographical features contributed to the success of ancient Egyptian culture, the most important of which was the rich fertile soil resulting from annual flooding of the Nile River. At the same time each year, the Nile flooded for about six months. As the river receded, it deposited a rich, brown layer of silt that was suitable for growing wheat, beans, barley, or even cotton

This predictable flooding and fertilization of the soil allowed farmers to dig short canals leading to fields near the Nile, thus providing fresh water for year-round irrigation. Planting immediately after a flood yielded harvests before the next year's flood. The ancient Egyptians were thus able to produce an abundance of food, allowing the population to devote more time and resources to cultural, technological, and artistic pursuits..

The Egyptians recognized three seasons: Akhet (flooding), Peret (planting), and Shemu (harvesting). The flooding season lasted from June to September, depositing on the river's banks the silt for growing crops. After the flood waters had receded, the growing season lasted from October to February. Farmers plowed and planted seeds in the fields, which were irrigated with ditches and canals. Egypt received little rainfall, so farmers relied on the Nile to water their crops.

The ancient Egyptians cultivated emmer and barley, and several other cereal grains, all of which were used to make bread. Flax plants, uprooted before they started flowering, were grown for the fibers of their stems. These fibers were split along their length and spun into thread, which was used to weave sheets of linen and to make clothing. Papyrus growing on the banks of the Nile River was used to make paper. Vegetables and fruits were grown in garden plots, close to habitations and on higher ground, and had to be watered by hand.

Beyond the fertile lands that lie on each side of the Nile River are immense deserts. To the west is the Sahara Desert, the largest desert in the world. East of the Nile is more desert and the Red Sea. These deserts provided a great natural barrier and protection against invaders.