The Role of Animals of Ancient Egypt

To the ancient Egyptians, animals were created by the gods and given rights equal to that of mankind. They saw animals not as their subjects, but rather as independent beings, and treated them with respect. [A]

The Nile served as a source of food and was the most important factor to the agriculture of the region. Fish were plentiful and could be eaten roasted, boiled, salted, preserved, or simply dried in the sun. Because the Nile would flood annually, it revitalized the land with water and fertile silt, enriching the soil to grow wheat, fruits, and vegetables. Additionally, it provided thick grasses on which animals would graze.

The people of ancient Egypt were mainly pescarian, meaning they would often eat fish. The Nile supplied many types of fish, including: catfish, mullet, tilapia, sturgeon, eel, carp, and perch, which were all an important source of nourishment. Along the Nile, there were restrictions on the types of fish that could be eaten because of their connections with the gods. The Pharaoh and other priests would abstain from eating fish altogether because it was forbidden by one of their deities as a food reserved for peasants.

Bread was their main staple, made from wheat and barley. From time to time, they supplemented their diet with antelope, which they hunted. Occasionally they ate pork and goat, which were raised on farms.

The Egyptians also raised sheep, cattle, geese and ducks. These animals not only provided them with food, drink, leather and skins, but also helped with their daily lives. Oxen and cattle were used for plowing the fields, and other animals were used for trampling seeds into the soil, and eating unwanted grain.

Birds were of extreme importance to the ancient Egyptians as well. Along the Nile, the bird-life included the falcon, kite, goose, crane, heron, pigeon, ibis, vulture and owl. Numerous birds were actually kept in sacred flocks and some were elevated in status to become temple animals. From the vast collection of ancient Egyptian artwork, evidence exists of several species of birds that are now extinct.

Beekeeping began in Egypt around 2500 BC in the Fifth Dynasty. Egyptians loved honey and they would take great pains to cultivate it. They not only kept bees, but they also actively went out and searched for the honey of wild bees. They would use bee wax for embalming, offerings to the gods, medicines, makeup, and as a bonding agent. They named the honeybee after the bull-like god named Apis because they believed it had similar characteristics. (The historian Herodotus described this bull as being black, with a white diamond on its forehead and two white hairs on its tail. majesty skin)

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