(Much higher levels of population were reached in Greco-Roman times.) Nearly all of the people were engaged in agriculture and were probably tied to the land.In theory all the land belonged to the king, although in practice those living on it could not easily be removed and some categories of land could be bought and sold.It may have been used as a food crop, and it certainly was used to make rope, matting, and sandals.Above all, it provided the characteristic Egyptian writing material, which, with cereals, was the country’s chief export in Late period Egyptian and then Greco-Roman times.Sheep were primarily a source of meat; their wool was rarely used. Desert game, principally various species of antelope and ibex, were hunted by the elite; it was a royal privilege to hunt lions and wild cattle.Pets included dogs, which were also used for hunting, cats, and monkeys.Egypt needed few imports to maintain basic standards of living, but good timber was essential and not available within the country, so it usually was obtained from Lebanon.
At first, relatively little cultural contact came by way of the Mediterranean Sea, but from an early date Egypt maintained trading relations with the Lebanese port of Byblos (present-day Jbail).The eastern desert, between the Nile and the Red Sea, was more important, for it supported a small nomadic population and desert game, contained numerous mineral deposits, including gold, and was the route to the Red Sea. It offered the principal route for contact with Sinai, from which came turquoise and possibly copper, and with southwestern Asia, Egypt’s most important area of cultural interaction, from which were received stimuli for technical development and cultivars for crops.Immigrants and ultimately invaders crossed the isthmus into Egypt, attracted by the country’s stability and prosperity.This productivity made it possible to store large surpluses against crop failures and also formed the chief basis of Egyptian wealth, which was, until the creation of the large empires of the 1st millennium , the greatest of any state in the ancient Middle East.Basin irrigation was achieved by simple means, and multiple cropping was not feasible until much later times, except perhaps in the lakeside area of Al-Fayyūm.