ancient egypt: history and culture
Ancient Egyptian plants: Cereals
Main menu Main Index and Search Page History List of Dynasties Cultural chronology Mythology Aspects of Life in Ancient Egypt Glossary of ancient Egyptian terms Herodotus on the pharaohs Ancient Egyptian texts Apologia and Bibliography

  For best results save the whole webpage (pictures included) onto your hard disk, open the page with Word 97 or higher, edit if necessary and print.
  Printing using the browser's print function is not recommended.



Corn harvest, tomb of Petosiris
Corn harvest. Drawing after wall decorations in the tomb of Petosiris.
Source: Lefebvre, Gustave ; 1924, Le Tombeau de Petosiris

    Cereals are grasses indigenous to the Mediterranean region and western Asia. They were domesticated early on and became the staple food of Old World agricultural civilisations. The Egyptians grew a number of cereals:
    Emmer, (Triticum dicoccum), is an old species of spelt with bearded ears. The spikelets contain two grains. Emmer is one of the most ancient domesticated forms of grain. Low in gluten content, emmer dough does not rise when baked and was therefore given a flat pitta shape or eaten as porridge.
    The most important cereal was seemingly Barley, (Hordeum vulgare), used both for baking bread and brewing beer. It originated in Ethiopia and was grown in Egypt since pre-dynastic times. Barley has no gluten, it may have been mixed with other cereals to achieve a sourdough which rose, or again, like spelt bread, it was eaten in the form of thin pittas.
    Wheat, (Triticum aestivum), was possibly introduced in the Late Period, though claims are made that it had been available for much longer. Thanks to its high gluten content it rises during baking, resulting in airy bread.
    Oat, (Avena strigosa, Schreb.), Sorghum, (Sorghum vulgare), and millet were of minor economic importance. They were indigenous to Egypt, growing wild and provided nourishment for the poor of the country.
    The economic importance of corn [2] is reflected in the frequency corn is mentioned in mythology and depicted in tombs. Neper was the corn god, who had his own barque as depicted in the second chapter of the Book of Am Tuat. There are also three gods, each of whom has two ears of corn stuck in his hair; these are called Besua, Neper, and Tepu. The Coffin Texts describe Neper as he who lives after he has died.
The barque of the grain-god Neper
The barque of the grain-god Neper
From The Book of Am-Tuat by E. A. Wallis Budge [1]
    Osiris was the primary vegetation god. The pigs treading the seed into the ground symbolised the temporary ascendence of Seth over his brother, but the sprouting corn demonstrated the ultimate victory of Osiris.
    Rough earthen statuettes of Osiris were made and grains of corn inserted into them which began to sprout, covering the statuette in growing corn. Such statuettes were left in the tombs of the deceased as proof of the continuity of life after death.
Corn growing from the dead body of Osiris.

[2] On this website corn always refers to the most important local cereal, i.e. to barley and wheat, and not to maize, as many Americans are wont to think.

-Index of Topics
-Ancient Egyptian Botanical
Offsite links(Opening in a new window)
These are just suggestions for further study. I do not assume any responsibility for their content or availability
-[1] The Book of Am-Tuat by E. A. Wallis Budge
-Cereals in ancient Egypt
-The Giza Plateau Mapping Project - 1993-94 Annual Report by Mark Lehner
© 2003