This seems like a simple question, but I couldn't find an answer that would have used the detail I was hoping. So, the background: I've been going through Bob Brier's 'The History of Ancient Egypt' and in it, he often mentions that the west bank of the Nile was the realm of the dead, and west in general was a metaphor for the dead.

What Mr Brier hasn't mentioned to this point is how this affected the land on the western half. As the floods of the Nile would have extended to both east and west, did the people farm only the "living" part or also the "deadlands" of the west?

General searches on farming provide the crops they used which are not of interest. This site says that the lands of the dead was:

For the ancient Egyptians, the west (specifically the desert west of the Nile) was the destination of the dead.

Implying that the western bank would have perhaps been good for farming though doesn't indicate anything for certain.

In Mr Brier's book, he mentions that military action took place on both sides of the river (including defensive organisations):

Sesostris I (1971–1926 B.C.) was another great king. He built forts in Nubia (the Biblical Kush) to control the gold supply. These mud-brick forts were very impressive. There was one on each side of the Nile to control trade on the river

... and that, in general, the west was a symbol of death:

The second stage was to make sure the voyage to the west was finished safely. Associated with the setting sun, the west was a symbol of death in Egyptian thinking.

However, the PDF that accompanies the audiobook doesn't add any further information on this.

Hence, I'm unable to come to a definitive conclusion as some evidence speaks in absolutes and the rest is unclear. My question, phrased succinctly, is: did traditional Egyptian beliefs (on death and their afterlife) also lead them to not cultivate the west bank of the Nile?

An additional question, if they did indeed farm the west, would be whether grain / crops from the west was less wanted (cheaper?) for having been frown in lands associated with the dead. I don't imagine we have anything along the lines of evidence required to answer this, but I wanted to throw it out there anyways.

  • A possible clue... Commented Feb 19, 2019 at 11:23
  • @LukeSawczak: Fair point. Is the green meant to be inhabited areas? I didn't think to look at the locations of cities, but it's weird to then have one of their capitals in the land of the dead... Is this a misunderstanding between the modern and pre-modern conceptions of death (on my part)?
    – gktscrk
    Commented Feb 19, 2019 at 12:18
  • 4
    "specifically the desert west of the Nile" - to me, this sounds like only the desert is the land of the dead, while the Nile is just used as a landmark of reference - not as the border itself.
    – Annatar
    Commented Feb 19, 2019 at 12:42
  • 4
    The more crucial point in Luke's map is that cities are about evenly distributed East and West of the river. Further, Fayum was West of the Nile. Also, Ancient Egyptians thought of their country as the black land (black from Nile sediments) surrounded by inhospitable desert, identified with the primordial chaos. That West may have been synonymous to death is probably because the entrance to the Duat was presumed to be there (because the sun sets there).
    – 0range
    Commented Feb 19, 2019 at 13:12

1 Answer 1


This website has a section on agriculture and horticulture in Ancient Egypt with reference to the creation and maintenance of irrigation canals ...on either side of the Nile. I would assume that if you have irrigation canals on the west bank you would also have fields and such to utilize the water.

There seems to be a number of references on the site but I'm not sure a historical attribution is given for the siting of the irrigation canals.

  • 1
    Thanks. I took a look, and I agree with your conclusions. I think this, along with the picture from above (or one of better definition), indicating thriving cities on the west bank, is evidence that life took place in both, and that only the desert was the start of the "land of the dead". If you'd like to prop your answer up by a bit, I'd recommend adding some of that information but, as you can see, I've accepted it as it is.
    – gktscrk
    Commented Feb 20, 2019 at 19:21

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