Ancient Egyptian Gardens

Sep 26, 2010

Ancient Egyptian Gardens


Gardens and their requirements are a complex subject. Ancient Egypt has a long and complex history. Combining those two topics produces a subject well beyond the scope of one amateur’s paper. The botanical classifications, irrigation techniques, sacred and medicinal uses of plants, all could be separate papers, and some have occupied whole books. This article attempts only a quick overview.

Throughout the history of ancient Egypt, gardens were prized. There were gardens for every purpose, for pleasure and for medicine, for food and for worship. Above all, there were gardens for shade and coolness. Often the same garden served several purposes at once, for the ancient Egyptians were in many ways a practical people.
They are credited with having the first botanic gardens. Pharaohs, recording their great deeds, listed gardens they had created and expeditions they had sent to far-o lands for trees and exotic plants.
Ordinary people had their own, less elaborate gardens; even poor peasants had their vegetable plots, though these would have been outside of the village. These humble gardeners, or at least the results of their work, were important enough that Horemheb warned his ocials not to take the best of the peasants’ produce.

If a botanic garden is a collection of specimen plants, then Thutmosis  may have created the first one. His Festival Temple at Karnak contains a room whose walls are decorated with carvings of all the plants which he brought back from his expeditions to Palestine and Syria. They included such exotic plants as iris, calanchoe, and arum, in addition to plants common to both areas, such as palms, pomegranates, lettuces, and melons. So far archaeologists have not found the actual garden.

In many cases, we rely on wall paintings, tomb reliefs, or documents for our information concerning the plants of ancient Egypt.
Analysis of pollen grains found in mud bricks from several archaeological sites has provided some information on agricultural crops and on trees (Zahran and Willis). Plant remains in tombs have also given direct evidence of what trees, flowers, and fruits the ancient Egyptians enjoyed and hoped to have with them in the afterlife.

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