WEATHER, CLIMATE CHANGE AND DROUGHT IN ANCIENT EGYPT

CLIMATE AND WEATHER IN ANCIENT EGYPT


Sahara dunes

The weather in Egypt is generally warm in the winter, very hot in the summer and dry most of the year, with the exception of a rainy period in the winter that occurs mostly in the northern part of the country. In the desert there are great extremes of hot and cold on a daily basis. Daytime and nighttime temperature differences of 80̊F (45̊C) have been recorded. The Tropic of Cancer roughly divides Egypt into north and south.

Precipitation is generally scarce in most of the Egypt and, if it occurs, tends to fall between November and March, with January and February generally being the rainiest months. Moisture is generally carried in by winds from the Mediterranean Sea. Very little rain comes in from the Red Sea. Egypt’s mountains are situated in places where they don’t cause much of rain making effect. As a result the rainfall amounts are considerably lower than in parts of Israel, Lebanon and Iran. Cairo and the Mediterranean region are considerably cooler and wetter than the rest of the country. The climate in these places is influenced more by the Mediterranean Sea than by the Sahara. Alexandria and Cairo can be quite cool in the winter when temperatures may drop into the 40s F (single digits C) at night.

Winter in Egypt is warm in most of the country, with high temperatures in the 70s F (20s C), and cool in the mountains and north, where the temperatures may fall below freezing at night. The tops of the highest mountains sometimes receive snow. Spring and autumn are warm in the north and hot in the south.

Summer in Egypt is very hot throughout the country. There is generally no rain. In most of Egypt the highs are in the 90s and 100s F (upper 30s and 40s C). The deserts are extremely hot. Temperatures often rises above 100̊F (38̊C) or even 120̊F (50̊C) during the afternoon and then sometimes drop into the 40s F (single digits C) at night. The Red Sea area, the Mediterranean area and Cairo are very humid. June, July and August are the hottest months.

In the deserts and south of the Tropic of Cancer the high temperatures are: in the 80s F (upper 20s C) during January and February; and in the 90s (30s C) in March, April, October and November. It is extremely hot from May to September, when is not unusual for the temperature to hit 125̊F (50̊C). At this time of the year, if the high temperature only reaches 110̊F (45̊ C) locals often comment that a cold front must coming through.

The air in the desert is generally dry and the humidity is low. Many places go years without seeing any rain, and when it does rain it comes in a deluge. The temperatures in the desert can also drop quite low at night. In the northern desert they can drop below freezing as late as April. This is because all that heat that arrives during the day escapes into the atmosphere at night because they are no clouds to hold it in.

In the hottest deserts, the winter temperatures can rise to the 90s F (30s C) in the day and drop to the 30s F (single digits C) at night. There are occasional downpours. In the summer it is so hot that shoes fall apart because the glue melts and thermometers do not have a high enough measurement to record the high temperatures. In addition, the air is so dry that pages fall out of books because the bindings fail. At night the temperature drops only to 95̊F (35̊C).

Websites on Ancient Egypt: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, escholarship.org ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Discovering Egypt discoveringegypt.com; BBC History: Egyptians bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/egyptians ; Ancient History Encyclopedia on Egypt ancient.eu/egypt; Digital Egypt for Universities. Scholarly treatment with broad coverage and cross references (internal and external). Artifacts used extensively to illustrate topics. ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/digitalegypt ; British Museum: Ancient Egypt ancientegypt.co.uk; Egypt’s Golden Empire pbs.org/empires/egypt; Metropolitan Museum of Art www.metmuseum.org ; Oriental Institute Ancient Egypt (Egypt and Sudan) Projects ; Egyptian Antiquities at the Louvre in Paris louvre.fr/en/departments/egyptian-antiquities; KMT: A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt kmtjournal.com; Ancient Egypt Magazine ancientegyptmagazine.co.uk; Egypt Exploration Society ees.ac.uk ; Amarna Project amarnaproject.com; Egyptian Study Society, Denver egyptianstudysociety.com; The Ancient Egypt Site ancient-egypt.org; Abzu: Guide to Resources for the Study of the Ancient Near East etana.org; Egyptology Resources fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk

Rain and Wind in Egypt


The prevailing winds generally blows from north to south, with rainfall amounts generally decreasing as one moves southward. Northern Egypt receives the same amount of rain as southern Italy. Alexandria get about 75 inches (190 centimeters) of rain a year. Cairo gets about 15 inches (40centimeters). The barren deserts in the south, east and west get between nothing and 5 inches (13 centimeters). The Red Sea area receives little rain but can oppressively humid and hot. In the desert regions rainfall can vary greatly from month to month and year to year. Egypt doesn’t suffer as much as other places during droughts because it water comes from the Nile and oases.

Egypt can get very windy and experience nasty sandstorms. The Khamsin is a hot, dusty, wind that blows up from the south during the summer. Sometimes beginning as early as April, it lasts for two or three days and is strong enough to kick up huge clouds of dust and sand and damage vegetation. Some people regard the wind as a "witch" that brings evil and causes people to do awful things, including commit suicide. Khasmin is the Arabic word for "fifty." It describes the number of days the wind strike the cities of North Africa.

The Etesian is an eastern Mediterranean summer wind that blows from the north towards the Sahara and from the Near East highlands towards the sea. It is also called a Meltemi . The hamoob is a dark gloomy wind associated with the Nile. Sometimes sandstorms suddenly whip up, particular in the khamsin season, shutting down flights, reducing visibility to near zero and sometimes killing people. These are often accompanied by thunderstorms or sinoons (hot sand-laden storms).

Weather in Ancient Egypt

There was a severe 200-year drought in North and East Africa around 2200 B.C. Hieroglyphics record that the annual Nile flood failed for 50 about years and many people died of famine. The disaster may have produced the collapse of the Old Kingdom and caused the period of chaos that followed. The power of the Pharaohs was based in part on their ability to predict the annual flooding of the Nile.

Beatrix Midant-Reynes wrote: “Between 8500 and 5000 B.C. monsoon rains reached the northern Sahara, supporting the growth of savanna. As a consequence of annual precipitation of up to 100 mm, the area supported hunter-gatherer groups capable of covering vast distances. They brought with them ceramic technology and possibly domesticated cattle (for the question of the domestication of the Bos in Africa, see Marshall and Hildebrand 2002). Although we can only speculate on the relationships between the eastern Sahara and the Nile Valley during this time due to the lack of data from the Valley itself, it is clear that the region we currently identify as “desert” was not the large area of hyperaridity that exists today, nor was it a barrier between the Saharan nomadic populations and the inhabitants of the Valley. On the contrary, the two groups shared the hunter-gatherer way of life. [Source: Beatrix Midant-Reynes, Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2014, escholarship.org <>]

“In the sixth millennium B.C. the landscape changed. The gradually increasing seasonality of rains and the increasing rate of evaporation during the hot seasons rendered pools and lakes temporary, necessitating that people be highly mobile on the one hand and agglomerate in permanent water areas (e.g., oases and the Nile Valley) on the other (Riemer 2007): thus they adopted a radical new way of life based on livestock breeding.” <>

20120215-Sahara rive SafsafOasis_SAR_comparison.jpg
ancient rivers under the Sahara at Safsa Oasis

Green Sahara

During the last 300,000 years there have been major periods of alternating wet and dry climates in the Sahara which in many cases were linked to the Ice Age eras when huge glaciers covered much of Europe and North America. Wet periods in the Sahara often occurred when the ice ages were waning. The last major rainy period in the Sahara lasted from about 12,000, when the last Ice Age began to wan in Europe, to 7,000 years ago. Temperatures and rainfall peaked around 9,000 years ago during the so-called Holocene Optimum.

Scientists believed the ice ages and the climate changes in the Sahara were produced by events triggered by changes in the Earth's orbits and rotations based on the fact the timing of the climate changes have correlated with the changes in the Earth’s tilt and rotation. Sometimes when the Earth approached close to the sun or the tilt of the Earth exposed the Northern Hemisphere to more sunlight the African monsoon shifted northward or the Mediterranean winds to shift south.

As the Ice Age in Europe ended more water evaporated from the Atlantic filling clouds and and more moisture was brought to North Africa as monsoon winds from Africa shifted north and Mediterranean westerly winds south because of the cooler temperatures in Europe. This caused the rains that nourished western Africa and the Mediterranean region to move into the Sahara in North Africa.

During wet periods in the Sahara oak and cedar trees grew in the highlands and the Sahara itself was a savannah grassland with acacia trees and hackberry trees and shallow lakes and braided rivers. Rock and cave paintings from that time depict abundant wildlife---including elephants and giraffes that lived in the savannahs and hippopotami and crocodiles that lived in the rivers and lakes--- and people, who hunted with bows and arrows, herded animals, collected wild grains and fished.

Remnants from the wet periods discovered by scientists include ostrich egg shells, high water marks around lakes that are presently dried up, swamp sediments, pollen from trees and grass and bones of elephants, giraffes, hippopotami, lions, fish, rhinoceros, frogs and crocodiles. Prehistoric inhabitants of Egypt may have raised ostriches. Large numbers of ostrich egg shells have been at excavations at a 9,000-year-old site at Farafra Oasis.

Sahara Becomes a Desert

Beginning around 7,000 years the Sahara began changing from a savannah to a desert. The climates changes in the Sahara occurred in two episodes---the first 6,700 to 5,500 years ago and the second 4,000 to 3,600 years ago. These changed are may have occurred when the African monsoons and Mediterranean winds returned to their normal locations.

As the Sahara region dried out grasslands and lakes disappeared. Desiccation occurred relatively quickly, over a few hundred years. Desertification processes were accelerated as vegetation, which helped generate rain, was lost, causing even less rain, and the soil lost its ability to hold moisture when it did rain. Light-colored land without plants reflects rather than absorbs sunlight, producing less warm, moist cloud-forming updrafts, causing even less rain. When it did rain the water washed away or evaporated quickly. The result: desert.

By 2000 B.C. the Sahara was as dry as it is now. The last lake dried up around 1000 B.C. The people that lived in the region were forced to leave and migrate south to find food and water. Some scientist believe some of these people settled on the Nile and became the ancient Egyptians.

Some scientists are currently studying whether global warming could cause the Sahara to bloom again. The current thinking seems to be that yes this is possible but greenhouse gas levels have to increase to a much higher rate than they are at today.


Ice Ages


Climatic Shifts and the Early Cultures of Egypt

Beatrix Midant-Reynes wrote: “The large surveys conducted over the past thirty years by American and German expeditions in the eastern Sahara have provided an overview of the environmental and cultural changes that occurred during the Holocene in Egypt’s Western Desert and have revolutionized our knowledge of the emergence of Predynastic cultures in Middle and Upper Egypt. In the 1970s, Wendorf and his team concentrated on the Bir Sahara-Bir Tarfawi area. Over the next two decades, the BOS and ACACIA German expeditions surveyed more than 1500 sites, revealing several new sites that exhibited extended periods of occupation along with short-lived climatic oscillations. From 8500 to 1500 B.C. the climatic history of the Eastern Sahara was dominated by a gradual aridization that had increased dramatically by about 3500 B.C..

“The climatic and ecological variations determined the dynamics of the human population, who had necessarily to adapt to the changing conditions....In the fifth millennium the drastic shift toward aridity prompted far-reaching migrations to areas with permanent water sources and consequent restricted activity in waterless areas. As shown by specific types of vessel and by strong similarities in the lithic equipment, an original culture, the Tasian, which constitutes a branch of a Nubian tradition, flourished from the Gilf Kebir to the southern part of the Western and Eastern deserts (Gatto 2002, 2011). Although discovered by Brunton at Mostagedda in 1937, the chronological classification of the Tasian culture and its status as a cultural entity have been long debated (Friedman and Hobbs 2002; Gatto 2006; see also Kobusiewicz et al. 2010). Nevertheless, the Tasian is believed to have given birth to the Badarian—the first Egyptian Predynastic culture—in northern Upper Egypt. <>

“The development of Predynastic regional cultures at the end of the fifth millennium was thus determined largely by the regional adaptation to new living strategies in the unsteady context of climatic and ecological changes. While the adoption of food production was a response to the drastic environmental deterioration of the eastern Sahara, the choice of Asiatic species suggests a connection with the northern regions, and the marshy areas of the Delta, which first became available to agricultural settlers around 6500 – 5500 B.C. (Stanley and Warne 1993). <>

20120215-Sahara rive SafsafOasis SAR.jpg
ancient rivers under the Sahara at Safsa Oasis

Drought and Famine Caused the Old Kingdom Collapse?

Professor Fekri Hassan wrote for the BBC: “What was the factor that weakened the monarchy and allowed provincial governors to assume royal power over their regions? One possibility is an invasion by Asiatics. However, there is no evidence that Asiatics invaded Egypt at the end of the Old Kingdom. Alternatively, the initial breakdown of the Old Kingdom was caused by a sudden, unanticipated, catastrophic reduction in the Nile floods over two or three decades. This was so severe that famine gripped the country and paralysed the political institutions. People were forced to commit unheard of atrocities such as eating their own children and violating the sacred sanctity of the royal dead. [Source: Professor Fekri Hassan, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“The Egyptian sage Ipuwer gives a graphic description of the horrendous events of that time: ‘Lo, the desert claims the land Towns are ravaged, Upper Egypt became a wasteland Lo, everyone's hair [has fallen out] Lo, great and small say, 'I wish I were dead' Lo, children of nobles are dashed against walls Infants are put on high ground Food is lacking Wearers of fine linen are beaten with [sticks] Ladies suffer like maidservants Lo, those who were entombed are cast on high grounds Men stir up strife unopposed Groaning is throughout the land, mingled with laments See now the land deprived of kingship What the pyramid hid is empty [The] People are diminished. |::|

“The impact of a series of low floods, even if they occur over a few years, can cause distress, famine, plague and civil unrest in Egypt. For example, in AD 967, a low flood caused a severe famine that left 600,000 people dead in and around Fustat, the-then capital of Egypt. The famine lasted for two years and it was not until AD 971-2 that plentiful harvests returned. Once again, in 1201, low Nile floods followed by another low flood in 1202 caused a catastrophic famine.

“This eyewitness account comes from Abdel-Latif Al-Baghdadi, a physician/scholar from Baghdad who was in Egypt from 1194 to AD 1200. He reported that people emigrated in crowds and that those who remained habitually ate human flesh; parents even ate their own children. Graves were ransacked for food, assassinations and robbery reigned unchecked and noblewomen implored to be bought as slaves. Al-Baghdadi's account is almost an exact copy of that recorded by Ankhtifi, more than 3000 years earlier. ’All Upper Egypt was dying of hunger, to such an extent that everyone has come to eating his children ... The entire country had become starved like a starved grasshopper, with people going to the north and to the south (in search of grain).’ The low Nile episode that devastated the Old Kingdom was, however, of greater magnitude and duration than that of 967 or AD 1201.” |::|

Climate Change and the Old Kingdom Collapse?

Professor Fekri Hassan wrote for the BBC: “Egyptologists concede that there can be no doubt that these texts relate to fact. There is incontrovertible evidence that this terrible famine was caused by the reduction of the Nile floods. The scale of the failure of the floods is shown by the fact that the Faiyum, a lake of some 65 metres deep, dried up. This means that the lake actually evaporated over time. These low floods were related to global climatic cooling which reduced the amount of rainfall in Ethiopia and East Africa. In Iceland, researchers have detected a transition from birch and grassland vegetation to arctic conditions in about 2150 B.C. This correlates with a shift to drier climate in south-eastern Europe c.2200-2100 B.C. Also, the reappearance of oak at White Moss, UK, suggests fluctuating wetness in around 2190-1891 B.C. In Italy, drier conditions are found around 2200-1900 B.C. in Lake Castglione. Dry spells have also been detected as far away as Western Tibet at Lake Sumxi. [Source: Professor Fekri Hassan, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“The most tantalizing recent discovery, however, was made when scientists made a high-resolution study of dust deposition from Kajemarum Oasis in north-eastern Nigeria. The study conclusively revealed that a pronounced shift in atmospheric circulation occurred in around 2150 B.C. This data indicates that an abrupt, short-lived event of cold climate led to less rainfall and a reduction of water flow in a vast area extending from Tibet to Italy. This had catastrophic effects on such early state societies as the Egyptian Old Kingdom. |::|

“Long-term variations in Nile floods are beyond the perceptions of people. The Nile, today and during the prosperous times of the Old Kingdom, is regarded unquestionably as the source of life in Egypt. Therefore, the Nile can be considered as the force which destroyed the civilization that it had nurtured. Inconceivable as it might be, the Nile is a temperamental river. The volume of flood discharge varies wildly in episodes which range from decades to hundreds of years. Furthermore, there is the impact of freak years where the floods can be disastrously low or high. |::|

20120215-All_Gizah_Pyramids.jpg

Proof That the Old Kingdom Was Brought Down by Climate Change and Drought?

In 2012, scientists announced that had found proof of serious environmental problems around the time of the Old Kingdom’s demise: ancient pollen and charcoal preserved in deeply buried sediments in Egypt’s Nile Delta that indicated ancient droughts and fires, including a particularly nasty drought 4,200 years, when the Old Kingdom collapsed. The research was published in the July 2012 issue of Geology and carried out by a team led by Christopher Bernhardt, a researcher with the U.S. Geological Survey as part of his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania, Benjamin Horton, an associate professor in Penn’s Department of Earth and Environmental Science, and Jean-Daniel Stanley at the Smithsonian Institution. [Source: sciencedaily.com, August 27, 2012 /*/]

Sciencedaily.com reported: “The researchers used pollen and charcoal preserved in a Nile Delta sediment core dating from 7,000 years ago to the present to help resolve the physical mechanisms underlying critical events in ancient Egyptian history. They wanted to see if changes in pollen assemblages would reflect ancient Egyptian and Middle East droughts recorded in archaeological and historical records. The researchers also examined the presence and amount of charcoal because fire frequency often increases during times of drought, and fires are recorded as charcoal in the geological record. The scientists suspected that the proportion of wetland pollen would decline during times of drought and the amount of charcoal would increase. /*/

“And their suspicions were right. Large decreases in the proportion of wetland pollen and increases in microscopic charcoal occurred in the core during four different times between 3,000 and 6,000 years ago. One of those events was the abrupt and global mega-drought of around 4,200 years ago, a drought that had serious societal repercussions, including famines, and which probably played a role in the end of Egypt’s Old Kingdom and affected other Mediterranean cultures as well. “Our pollen record appears very sensitive to the decrease in precipitation that occurred in the mega-drought of 4,200 years ago,” Bernhardt said. “The vegetation response lasted much longer compared with other geologic proxy records of this drought, possibly indicating a sustained effect on delta and Nile basin vegetation.”

“Similarly, pollen and charcoal evidence recorded two other large droughts: one that occurred some 5,000 to 5,500 years ago and another that occurred around 3,000 years ago. These events are also recorded in human history — the first one started some 5,000 years ago when the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt occurred and the Uruk Kingdom in modern Iraq collapsed. The second event, some 3,000 years ago, took place in the eastern Mediterranean and is associated with the fall of the Ugarit Kingdom and famines in the Babylonian and Syrian Kingdoms. “The study geologically demonstrates that when deciphering past climates, pollen and other micro-organisms, such as charcoal, can augment or verify written or archaeological records — or they can serve as the record itself if other information doesn’t exist or is not continuous,” said Horton.” /*/

Food Shortages and Famine in the First Intermediate Period and the Early Middle Kingdom


drought

Sally Katary of Laurentian University wrote: “There are frequent allusions to low Nile levels that led to drought and famine in texts of the First Intermediate Period and the early Middle Kingdom. Autobiographical inscriptions of nomarchs of the First Intermediate Period and early Twelfth Dynasty depict these high officials as the saviors of their people in times of crisis, using rhetoric that goes back to Old Kingdom recitals of virtue in mortuary texts. Khety I, nomarch of Assiut during the First Intermediate Period, claims credit for a ten-meter-wide canal, providing irrigation to drought-stricken plowlands through planned water management. In his Beni Hassan tomb-autobiography, Amenemhet (Ameny), nomarch under Senusret I, claims that he preserved his nome in “years of hunger” through wise and fair policies of land management. There is also mention of a food shortage in the Hekanakht Papers. [Source: Sally Katary, Laurentian University, Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2012, escholarship.org <>]

“These texts suggest that abrupt climate change led to frequent famines, and that nomarchs took a leading role in saving their people because of their access to emergency food supplies, control over the management and conservation of existing food supplies, and access to the engineering skills needed for effective land and water management. Food shortages certainly occurred at times of drought or spoiled harvests, as stored commodities were used up and the new harvest was not yet ready or fit for consumption. What is not clear is whether the texts refer to true famines or temporary shortages in the food supply. <>

“There is no evidence that any action was taken on the part of the central government to intervene in local affairs; solutions presumably were left to the local officials, water management and the distribution of food being controlled locally. The piety typical of autobiographical inscriptions led officials to boast of virtuous acts that they may not have actually performed. Thus, there is probably much exaggeration in their claims of having saved the populace in times of disaster. While there were certainly occasional food shortages, there is no evidence for the dire conditions described in these autobiographies. There is also no evidence that drought and famine were unique to this period or were of such magnitude that they played a significant role in destabilizing the government at the end of the Old Kingdom. Climate change toward drier conditions at the end of the third millennium B.C. was likely gradual rather than catastrophic.” <>

Famine in Ancient Egypt

Laurent Coulon of the University of Lyon wrote: “In ancient Egypt, food crises were most often occasioned by bad harvests following low or destructive inundations. Food crises developed into famines when administrative officials— state or local—were unable to organize storage and redistribution systems. Food deprivation, aggravated by hunger-related diseases, led to increased mortality, migrations, and social collapse. In texts and representations, the famine motif is used as an expression of chaos, emphasizing the political and theological role of the king (or nomarch or god) as “dispenser of food.” [Source: Laurent Coulon, University of Lyon, France,UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2008, escholarship.org <>]

“In pre-modern times, food production in Egypt was heavily dependent on cultivation of the Nile Valley lands, watered and fertilized by the annual flood. Because the inundation level was irregular, food crises recurred fairly frequently, ranging from food shortages to famine, a term which, strictly speaking, should be reserved for “critical shortage of essential foodstuffs, leading through hunger to a substantially increased mortality rate in a community or region, and involving a collapse of the social, political and moral order”. The correspondence between Hekanakht, a landowner who lived during the early 12th Dynasty, and his dependents gives an account of the serious difficulties encountered by various strata of society at a time when the Nile only partially flooded the cultivated lands. Epigraphic and literary sources give numerous mentions of successive years of low flood, exemplified by the biblical episode in which Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dream of seven lean cows and seven dried stalks of wheat. At the beginning of the First Intermediate Period, Ankhtify’s autobiography recounts a dark period when, except in his nome, “all of Upper Egypt was dying of hunger and people were eating their children.” Paleopathologic studies also provide cases of nutritional stress and high mortality at various times, but it is only for the Greco-Roman Period that we possess the papyrological documentation for a historical overview of famines in ancient Egypt; the study of such documentation shows—not surprisingly—the coincidence of famines with plague epidemics. <>


famine stela

“Famines were also capable of prompting migrations of population. Ankhtifi’s autobiography mentions that “the whole country has become like locusts going upstream and downstream.” Migrations probably played a significant role in the birth of Egyptian civilization during the Holocene Period, when drastic climatic changes and increasing aridity may have forced inhabitants of the Western and Eastern Deserts to settle on the banks of the Nile. <>

“The consequences of low or destructive inundations depended to a large degree on the ability of administrative officials—state or local—to anticipate subsistence crises: sufficient storage of surpluses from one year to the next and an efficient redistribution system could counter bad harvests. Conversely, famine clearly correlates with mismanagement of the state administration—for example, during the 20thDynasty, when the workmen of Deir el- Medina were compelled to go on strike to obtain their salaries. The prosperity of the Egyptian state was nevertheless famous throughout the Near East, and New Kingdom pharaohs used grain supplies as diplomatic gifts when their allies, especially the Hittites, were facing starvation; on the other hand, the Egyptian army commonly induced famine artificially, through destruction of harvests and cattle, to subdue foreign enemies. <>

“The Egyptians viewed food deprivation as a liminal experience, approaching chaos. Because the experience of chaos was included as a kind of “rite of passage” in the funerary ritual, the deceased were therefore required to suffer hunger and thirst before being regenerated by funerary offerings. The evocation of the elite suffering famine is also an essential feature of the social anarchy described in texts such as The Prophecy of Neferty and The Admonitions of Ipuwer. Conversely, representations occasionally emphasize the opulence of the Egyptians from the Nile Valley by contrasting them with the starving nomadic tribes, as we see, for example, in 5th-Dynasty reliefs depicting emaciated Bedouin and in the 12th-Dynasty relief of a cowherd in a tomb of Meir. “Nourishing the land” and “giving bread to the hungry” are the basic definitions of the role of the king and high officials; the evocation of famine in hieroglyphic texts is embedded in this ideological discourse. Recent studies suggest that the repeated evocation of famines in First Intermediate Period texts reflects the employment of a new rhetoric of the nomarch as “dispenser of food,” featuring realistic descriptions rather than the standard clichés . To use these texts as evidence of climatic changes is therefore misleading, the more so as this self-presentation of the nomarch is still attested during the Middle Kingdom. Divine intervention against famine is also a frequent motif of Late Period texts, among the most famous of which is the so-called “Famine Stela” at Sehel, a Ptolemaic inscription celebrating the prosperity granted to the region by the god Khnum after a seven-year famine during the reign of Djoser.” <>

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, escholarship.org ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Tour Egypt, Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com; Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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