Ancient Egyptians were one of the first civilizations to practice agriculture. They believed that the Nile River was the backbone of their civilization, and they depended on its annual floods for fertile soils to grow crops. Natural disasters such as droughts, famines, wars, etc., would destroy any civilization if no protective measures are taken.
Egyptian history is full of famines and droughts, the most notable among them being the one in 1180 BC by which many people died. A famine relief stela was erected at Sehel Island showing numerous victims who lost their lives due to starvation during this famine.
Years after this famine, another famine struck Egypt around 1630 BC known as the great famine. The famines in Egypt were accompanied by pestilences in their country, which greatly affected the population of the region.
Famine Stela in Ancient Egypt is still in display under the vestibule of Sehel Island Museum (not far from Aswan). It was built by Amenhotep III’s Viceroy of Nubia named Intef. He built it during the reign of Amenhotep III, who reigned from 1390 BC to 1352 BC. The history of famines in Egypt is recorded by the stela inscription depending on which scholars are of opinion that this famine affected all Egyptian territories or only Upper Egypt.
The two zones were divided into administrative units called nomes, which were further divided to the smallest unit, the village. The nomes which constitute Upper Egypt are: Elephantine, Athribis, Letopolis (Gizeh), Lykopolois (Fayum), Cynopolis (Minya), Heracleopolis Magna, Ibis, Thebes, Heracleopolis Parva (El-Hiba), Thinis, Lycopolis (Asyut) etc.
The famines were recorded by the Famine Stela inscription which shows that people died of starvation due to famine in 1708 BC. The words inscribed on this stone are known to be older than the building itself. It is because the words engraved on it are older than Intef who built this stela. The inscription was written by a man called Tuiu meaning a man of unknown origin from Aswan or Elephantine.
Inscription reads as: “His majesty commanded to dig this canal after he had achieved victories in every land, and he decreed to build this lake beside the place of roaring waters in order that it might protect (?) his fields and his harvests against failure, disaster and decay. May he be buried in this lake.”
We can understand from the above lines that King Amenhotep III had ordered digging a canal in order to ensure the protection of his harvests against famine. The inscription goes further to mention the different names of famines which affected Egypt in that period.
Many historians believe that this inscription was written in 1710 BC when another famine struck Egypt after two years of completing this Stela in 1630 BC. This famine can be associated with the great famine in the history of Egypt, which was the first famine recorded in 1630 BC.
The great famine ravaged the whole of Egypt and lasted for seven years during which many people died. Another inscription describes that King Analysis (Anysis means “He who fights like the gods”) had made several military campaigns in Syria to bring back wheat for relief work.
It seems that after ruling for seventeen years, Amenhotep III started his long journey to the kingdom of death. He died in 1411 BC and his son Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) succeeded him as king.