Life in Ancient Egypt - How People Lived Along the Nile River


Ancient Egypt, one of history’s first civilizations arose around the Nile River about 5,000 years ago. It lasted for over 2,000 years.

The Nile River was the centre of Ancient Egypt. The annual floods brought rich black soil to the banks of the Nile River and made it possible for farmers to grow crops. The river was also Egypt’s main transportation route.

The ancient Egyptians discovered many things. They invented the first kind of paper from the papyrus plant and were the first people to write in pictures, called hieroglyphs. But they became most famous for building stone structures, called pyramids, in which they buried their pharaohs. They still exist because the dry climate has preserved them for almost 5,000 years.


The people of ancient Egypt

The Egyptian population lived on both sides of the Nile valley and in the delta region. The ancient Egyptians had dark skin and dark hair. Most of them belonged to one of the three main classes. The upper class consisted of the pharaoh and his family, rich landowners, priests and doctors. Traders, merchants and craftsmen belonged to the middle class. Unskilled workers belonged to the lower class and worked on the fields of farms. Slaves were prisoners that the Egyptians took when they conquered foreign countries.


Daily life

Almost no other ancient culture gave women as many rights as Ancient Egypt. They could buy and sell land and goods, and even divorce their husbands. Still, the head of the family was the father. When he died his eldest son became its head.

Most Egyptians couldn’t read or write. Only a few upper class boys and girls went to special schools where they were taught to become scribes. Such scribes wrote official government documents.




Most boys became farmers and craftsmen. They followed their fathers and took on the same jobs. Girls were trained to become mothers and to give birth to children. They learned household chores from their mothers.

Bread made from wheat was the main source of food in Ancient Egypt. Richer families also had vegetables, fish and meat to eat. Middle and lower class people drank beer, the upper classes drank wine. Food was prepared on clay stoves.

Almost all Egyptians wore white clothes. Men wore skirts or robes and women wore skirts or dresses with shoulder straps. While most people went barefoot, richer people wore sandals on their feet. Women were very fond of wearing makeup. They painted their fingernails and put red powder on their lips. They also dyed their hair in many colours. Men and women liked wearing rings and other jewellery.

Egyptian houses were made of dried mud and had flat roofs. Poor people lived in simple huts while the richer people in the cities lived in buildings that had up to three floors. The houses had small windows to keep out the sun and help the house stay cool.

Ancient Egyptians did many different things in their free time. They liked to go swimming and fishing in the Nile River. Hunting crocodiles, lions and other wild animals were popular sports among ancient Egyptians.




The ancient Egyptians believed in several gods and goddesses. The most important god was the sun god Re (or Ra). People prayed to him for good harvests. The most famous goddess was Isis, who was seen as the ideal mother and wife. Her husband Osiris was the ruler of the dead.

Most Egyptians prayed at home. The gods and goddesses lived in great temples. One of the most famous is in Karnak. It consists of over 130 columns that are 25 meters high.

The Egyptians believed in life after death. They preserved people in mummies, so that their bodies would not decay. These mummies were then put into tombs or graves. Clothing, food and other items of their daily life were also put into the grave because the dead person might need them in their afterlife. Pictures of daily life were painted on the walls of such graves.





Most ancient Egyptians were farmers. In a country that had almost no rainfall, Egyptian farmers depended on the Nile River. They built canals to bring water from the Nile River as far into their land as possible. They also prayed that the yearly floods would make their land fertile. The main crops were wheat and barley; some farmers produced dates, grapes and other fruits and vegetables.

Craftsmen had small shops and were very popular in Egypt. They made textiles, jewellery, bricks, pots and furniture. Building materials were limestone and sandstone that came from mines.

Travelling by boat on the Nile River was the main form of getting around. Early boats were made out of papyrus and moved by sticking poles into the water. Later on the Egyptians built sailing boats. On land people travelled with donkeys that could also carry food and other things.

Traders sailed to other neighbouring countries to get goods that they could not obtain in Egypt. They brought gold, ivory, skins, cattle and spices from Nubia, silver and wood from Syria and other areas of south-western Asia.



Egypt’s pyramids are among the oldest buildings in the world. About 90 of them still stand on the Nile River. The three large pyramids at Giza belong to the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Great Pyramid is about 140 metres high and was built with over 2 million blocks of limestone. Next to it is the Great Sphinx, a masterpiece of Egyptian sculptors. It is a stone statue with the head of a person and the body of a lion.


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Related Topics


  • afterlife = the life after you have died
  • ancient = old
  • annual = yearly
  • arose = come up, start
  • bank = the land on the side of a river
  • barefoot =without shoes
  • barley = a plant like wheat that is used for making food and alcohol
  • belong = to be a part of
  • bury = to put a dead person in a grave
  • cattle = cows
  • chore = task, job
  • clay = heavy, sticky earth
  • column = a tall, often round stone that is used to keep a building or temple standing
  • conquer = to invade a country with an army and control it
  • consist of = is made up of
  • craftsman = someone who can do or make special things, mostly with his hands and other tools
  • crop = a plant, like wheat or rice, that farmers grow and sell as food
  • date = a sweet sticky brown fruit with a long hard seed inside
  • decay =to be slowly destroyed and fall apart
  • delta = an area of low flat land where a river divides itself into many smaller rivers before it flows into the sea
  • depend on = need
  • discover = to find out things for the first time
  • divorce = to end your marriage
  • donkey = a small grey animal that looks like a horse, but is smaller and has long ears
  • dye = colour
  • eldest = oldest
  • fertile = good , so that you can produce plants and crops
  • flood = when water covers land
  • fond of = like
  • foreign = here: other
  • furniture = large objects in a house, like chairs, desks, tables etc..
  • goddess = a female god
  • grape = a small round green or purple fruit; you make wine from it
  • grave = tomb
  • harvest = the time when crops are collected and gathered from the fields
  • hieroglyph = symbol
  • item = things
  • ivory = the hard yellow-white material of an elephants tusks (teeth)
  • jewellery = small things that you wear to decorate your body, like rings, necklaces etc..
  • limestone = a type of rock that has calcium in it
  • masterpiece = a famous work of art
  • merchant = same as trader
  • mud = wet earth that has become soft and sticky
  • papyrus = a plant that grows in the water and was used to make paper
  • pharaoh = Egyptian king or queen
  • pole =a long stick made of wood or metal
  • popular = liked by many people
  • population = the people of a country
  • possible = here: as far as they could
  • pot = a container that is round and deep and used for cooking
  • pray = to speak to God and thank him
  • preserve = protect, conserve
  • priest = someone who performs ceremonies in a church
  • prisoner = someone who is arrested by the police and is kept in a cell or other room
  • right = something that you are officially allowed to do
  • robe = a piece of clothing that covers your body; it is often worn for official events
  • ruler = head, leader
  • sandstone = soft, yellow rock that is often used to construct buildings
  • scribe = someone who, in the past, wrote copies of documents
  • sculptor = an artist who makes objects out of stone , wood or clay
  • several = many
  • shoulder strap = a narrow piece of material that goes over the shoulder
  • skin = the outer part of an animal
  • skirt = the bottom part of a dress that women wear
  • slave = someone who is owned and does work for someone else, but does not get any money for it
  • soil = the top layer of earth in which plants and trees can grow
  • source = where something comes from
  • spice = a type of power or seeds that you put into food to give it a certain taste
  • stick = place, put
  • stove =oven, heater
  • textiles = clothes
  • tomb = a structure where you bury dead people
  • trader = a person who buys and sells things
  • unskilled worker = a person who is not trained for a certain job
  • wheat = a plant that you make white bread from