The fig tree has grown in Egypt for thousands of years. This tree gave the ancient Egyptians food to eat and a shady place to rest in the hot sun. In fact, when archaeologists dig up sites in Egypt, it's not uncommon for dried figs to be among the items they find. This attests to the fruit's importance in ancient Egyptian society and culture.
An Ancient Tree
The fig tree was as a common sight in the ancient world, including in Egypt. However, this fruit -- which grew to become such an important item in the ancient Egyptian pantry -- is not indigenous to the country. The fruit originally grew in abundance in Syrian, Persia and Asia Minor. The fig tree most common in Egypt, the Ficus sycomorus, or sycamore fig, has sprouted in Egypt since 3000 B.C.
Ancient Egyptian Diet
Egyptians considered the fig a delicacy. The fruit gained popularity in ancient Egypt as it grew all over the countryside. Its abundance made it a staple food in ancient Egypt along with foods such as garlic, olives and bread. Because of its natural sweetness, the Egyptians also used figs to enhance the flavors of other foods and drinks such as wines. Archaeologists from the University of Pennsylvania have suggested that the fig served as a starter for the yeast that ancient Egyptians would use to ferment grape juice and turn it into wine.
Figs in Tombs
The ancient Egyptians included food and supplies in a person's tomb that they believed would be needed for the journey through the underworld. Wall paintings and archaeological evidence suggest that figs counted among these items. At King Aha's tomb, for example, archaeologists found dried figs among other funerary items.
Egyptian royalty adored the fig and counted it among one of the foods that they served at banquets. Figs, along with palms and grapes, were carried by servant girls at these events to guests who sat on woven mats and enjoyed live music and dance performances. The fig may have also played a role in Cleopatra's death. The story goes that the Egyptian queen was delivered the asp that killed her in a basket of figs.
- Ancient Egypt from A to Z: Food
- Egypt Independent: Endangered Species -- Egypt’s Tree of Love
- British Museum: Oval Lidded Basket of Figs and Dates
- Facts and Details: Ancient Egyptian Food, Beer and Drink
- California Figs: History
- The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago Archives: Death in Ancient Egypt
- Botanical.com: Fig, Common
- History.com: Cleopatra Commits Suicide
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: Ancient Egyptian Herbal Wines
- WebMD Central: The Death Of Cleopatra, A Medical Analysis Of The Theory Of Suicide
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