Transport in Ancient Egypt

The Importance of Transportation in Ancient Egypt

The ancient Egyptians relied on boats and ships to travel by water, while on land, they used animals such as oxen and donkeys, which became popular in the first millennium BCE. For overland transportation, appropriate roads had to exist, and land vehicles like carts, chariots, sleds, and chairs were utilized. Some parts of these routes may have been upgraded or paved over time. Transportation of large artifacts such as stone blocks, obelisks, and sculptures required specific methods, equipment, and vehicles.

Transport in Ancient Egypt

Egypt is a sizable nation. From the Mediterranean coast to the First Cataract, it is approximately 1,100 kilometers, or 660 miles, down the Nile. Egyptian warriors, traders, and messengers routinely ventured outside Egypt’s borders to regions of importance, including Syria, Palestine, and Nubia. Thus, Egypt needed dependable transportation to preserve its cultural, political, and economic unity. Egypt’s watercraft were its most significant, most noticeable, and best-documented modes of transportation. But other means of transporting people and things over short and long distances were also employed, and each had a significant function: pack animals, porters, wheeled vehicles, sleds, and even carrying chairs. The establishment and upkeep of integrated transportation networks involving both land and water transportation were also necessary for the regular transportation of grain from the numerous large and small farms spread throughout the Nile Valley, as well as stone from quarries that might be located far from the river. 


The ancient Egyptians used chariots, boats, and animals as well as other modes of transportation for transporting people, commodities.

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Transport in Ancient Egypt

Reed Boats

The first boats to sail the river were most likely reed boats. Simple boats may be made from any kind of reed; however, papyrus was the most often utilized material. Acerus The plant known by its full name, papyrus, may grow to a height of five meters, with each stem having a base diameter of 15 cm. Climate change has caused papyrus to disappear from Egypt, but it was formerly found down the river; by the time of the New Kingdom, however, it was restricted to the Delta. Reeds made of papyrus are flexible but not very strong (unless they stay dry). The green hue of the papyrus in paintings and models illustrating papyrus craft suggests that fresh reeds were utilized rather than dried, however, this might just be an aesthetic tradition. Papyrus, whether dried or fresh, is a finite material for boats. When we consider the papyrus’s lack of durability and the effort required for the finished craft’s operating life, this likely indicates that few, if any, huge boats were built. Papyrus boats are rafts constructed from chopped reeds that are bundled together with rope. These boats got their unique shape when the tapering bundles were tied together and the bow and stern were elevated higher, sometimes at right angles to the water.

Transport in Ancient Egypt

Wooden Boats

Acacia, sycamore, and persea were the natural woods of Egypt, although they all provide very little in the way of lumber. Cedar was brought in from Lebanon during the Early Dynastic Period and produced large boards that might reach up to 20 meters in length. Wooden boat building required the use of rather sophisticated equipment and expert woodworking methods. The advent of wooden boats may be traced back to that period because they were not invented until just before the start of the Dynastic Period. Axes, saws, chisels, and adzes with copper or bronze blades were employed; iron tools were not accessible until the end of the New Kingdom. The ancient boats were known to be capable of towing heavy loads. The Eighteenth Dynasty’s Queen Hatshepsut led a sizable commerce trip to Punt, which may have been modern-day Somalia. The walls of her funeral shrine at Deir el-Bahri (Naville, 1908) bear an illustration of the expedition. Hatshepsut’s boats were around 25 meters long and had fifteen rowers on each side. They were most likely made of cedar. Each has a semi-papyriform hull, and the stern post terminates in a big, ornamental papyrus flower. There is a tiny platform at the stern and bow. The ends of the massive deck beams protrude through the hull above the waterline, and a hogging truss spans the length of the vessel. Some of the boats had a central cabin installed, and cargo was kept both on and below deck.

Transport in Ancient Egypt

We also know that under Hatshepsut’s reign, some of the biggest wooden boats ever built in ancient Egypt—or anyplace in the ancient or modern world—were constructed. Granite obelisks were quarried in Aswan, and huge barges were constructed to convey them to Thebes and the Amun temple at Karnak. Hatshepsut’s funerary temple at Deir el-Bahri has images of the barges painted on its walls. Hatshepsut’s surviving obelisk at Karnak is 29.6 meters high and is one of the largest obelisks ever built. When fully loaded, obelisk barges may have measured over 95 meters in length and 32 meters in width, with a staggering 7,300 tons of displacement.

Two obelisks are depicted in great detail on Hatshepsut’s reliefs of these boats. The question of how many obelisks the barges carried has been debated, but the answer has just been found in an inscription found on a rock in Aswan. Hapuseneb, a Hatshepsut official, claims that he was in charge of getting the two obelisks onto a single boat.


The network of roads

In the Nile Valley, an efficient road network developed alongside the irrigation system relatively early in Egypt’s history. Excavated soil from irrigation canals was used to create embankments on both sides of the ditch, with roads and walkways constructed on top. Travelers felt safer on these elevated roadways since they were well visible from above and were not affected by the floods. The hieroglyph meaning “road” depicts a ditch below with papyrus growing on an embankment.

Desert trails diverged from the road system from the river valley. The majority of paths followed the now-named wadis, which are dry, open valleys with generally flat, solid terrain at their base and few significant obstacles. There were pathways on the east bank of the river that led to the Red Sea, to mines and quarries in the Arabian highlands, and we know they were well-traveled routes because the wayside stones are covered in graffiti from all eras of Ancient Egyptian history. Regularly excavated wells supplied water for both humans and animals. Other routes brought food from Punt and Koptos, turquoise from Sinai, and gold from the mines in Nubia.

Transport in Ancient Egypt

From the basalt quarries at Gebel Qatrani in the Fayum towards contemporary Cairo, there is a remarkable paved ancient Egyptian road that is still in existence. Built from local flagstones and petrified wood, it stretches for around 11.5 kilometers. It is 2.1 m broad in the best surviving areas and entirely straight. It was in use between 2494 and 2184 BC, during the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties of the Old Kingdom, according to artifacts discovered along the route. During this time, basalt was utilized a lot. The stones were hauled by sleds to the Lake Moeris shoreline, where they could be carried by boat.

Additional asphalted pathways have been discovered in the Aswan quarries, which also link the Karnak and Luxor temples in ancient Thebes. Simple wooden platforms may have been used to span smaller irrigation ditches, but boats were needed to cross bigger irrigation ditches or rivers. The roadways in the desert and away from the river valley followed the natural curves, avoiding any impediments that arose from the landscape. Men could travel everywhere donkeys could, therefore paths and roads might be steep and small. Only with the invention of chariots did more flat terrain become necessary. Many of the paths are still visible and in use today across Egypt; for example, one may walk along the same path that the laborers took to go from the settlement of Deir el-Medina to the Valley of the Kings on Luxor’s west bank of the Nile.

Transport in Ancient Egypt
Thebes, Southern Asasif, Tomb of Meketre (TT 280, MMA 1101)

Transportation on foot

As seen by the reliefs, paintings, and sculptures, the majority of ancient Egyptians walked barefoot. However, those with the means to do so wore simple sandals made of leather, palm leaves, or reeds. Most little objects were carried, as is still the case in Egypt today, and tomb models depict servant figures, mostly female, bearing such burdens that they balance on their heads with one hand. A rare wooden Old Kingdom model from Meir, which dates to Pepi II’s reign (c. 2278–2184 BC), depicts a man porter working for Nyankhpepi. He holds a painted chest in front of him and carries a huge basket on his back that is fastened with a strap over his neck and chest, like a contemporary backpack. Two men can carry a chest discovered in Tutankhamun’s tomb thanks to retractable carrying rods installed below. Scenes from the tombs of the Old Kingdom show similar chests. Various objects are brought in offering scenes from tombs; occasionally, several articles are strung together, fastened to opposite ends of a wooden pole, and carried across the shoulders.

Transport in Ancient Egypt
The carrying chair of Ipi as shown in his mastaba tomb at Saqqara

Carrying chairs

Carrying chairs was a socially elite way to move people. Queen Hetepheres, the mother of Khufu, the architect of the Great Pyramid at Giza, and the wife of King Snefru was the owner of one surviving specimen from the Old Kingdom. This item is not a traditional chair; instead, it is a low box that is carried by at least two, if not four, persons and is supported by two poles. As befits a high-status product, the chair is partially gilded and the box has low side panels and a high back. Although it appears tiny and unpleasant, identical chairs may be seen in modern scenarios, with the users reclining on cushions and drawing their legs up to their chests. High-status persons would have chosen to be transported by carrying chairs, at least until the New Kingdom, but, likely, they were only utilized for short distances. those from the Akhenaten era tombs at Amarna, as well as those from Horemheb’s coronation later on, depict the monarch sitting in a more traditional chair or throne (like Tutankhamun’s golden throne), set on a sizable platform, and carried by a minimum of twelve men at shoulder height. In the New Kingdom, carrying chairs were probably only used for certain ceremonial events.

Transport in Ancient Egypt


Some of the oldest depictions of the donkey may be found on slate palettes from the Prehistoric or Early Dynastic Period (c. 3000–2686 BC) when it was first tamed. Donkeys are commonly shown as creatures of burden in tomb reliefs from the Old Kingdom. They are long-lived, self-replicating, and require minimal care. They can even thrive on low-quality feed and little water. They are seen carrying grain sheaves or having net or basket panniers slung over either side of their backs, demonstrating their capacity to move heavy burdens. All long-distance overland transportation relied on the donkey, which traversed the desert paths while transporting not just supplies but also water for both humans and animals. Even though it doesn’t seem like they enjoyed it, donkeys are still used today to transport products over short distances, and their owners ride them. This is unlike the ancient Egyptians. The arrival of horses in Egypt just before the New Kingdom most likely had little effect on donkeys’ significance. Scenes from Ramesses II’s military campaigns depict the army in camp using donkeys pulling panniers filled with supplies and equipment. The donkey continued to be the primary beast of burden, working the fields across the nation and, in a literal sense, carrying the nation’s wealth on its back. The significance of the donkey was not significantly reduced until the camel was brought to Egypt.

Tomb of Userhat, TT56
The horse in the funerary, Tomb of Userhat, TT56


Horses were not indigenous to Ancient Egypt; they were brought throughout the whole ancient Near East during the start of the seventeenth century BC, along with the chariots that went with them. They first emerged in Egypt in 1600 BC, toward the close of the Hyksos era. They were maybe 1.35 meters tall, modest by today’s standards, and had an Arabesque look. The early New Kingdom and the growth of the Egyptian Empire were significantly influenced by the cooperation of horses and chariots. They were given unique names and were cherished and adored items. It is reported that Amenhotep II loved his horses and took a keen interest in their training when he was still a prince. In addition, Ramesses III trained and examined his horses. The Egyptian climate was well suited to horses, and the lush Delta served as a breeding ground for herds. Stud farms prospered, and the Pharaoh received presents of fresh horses from Asian rulers, which enhanced the stock. The majority of the grand estates and palaces had stable blocks connected to them. Horse burials are uncommon, however, Senenmut, a Hatshepsut official (c. 1473–1458 BC), had his horse buried close to his tomb. It was only wrapped in layers of linen and put in a big, rough casket instead of being mummified. The horse had a chestnut tint and was a mare. There aren’t many depictions of horseback riding, with one notable exception being a beautiful image from Horemheb’s tomb in Saqqara from the Eighteenth Dynasty. The horses had reins and bridles, but no stirrups or saddles, but saddlecloths are occasionally seen. Scenes depicting mounted men—possibly soldiers—who are most likely employed as messengers or couriers may also be seen on the walls of the Ramesses III funerary temple at Medinet Habu.

Transport in Ancient Egypt


The Canaanite chariot design was taken up by the Egyptians, who modified it to create lighter and quicker chariots. Two horses pulled chariots, which were utilized for hunting, combat, and aristocratic transportation. When he drew the lines dividing his new city for the deity Aten at Akhetaten, Akhenaten rode his “great chariot of fine gold.” The Pharaohs of the New Kingdom and their army generals quickly realized the full power of the chariot in combat. They served as a mobile firing platform from which projectiles could be fired at the opposition. They worked particularly well against enemies who were dispersed or defeated. .. The monarch was able to stay in touch with his commanders and the various army divisions thanks to the swift vehicles, which also enhanced communication during the war.

The chariots’ bodies are tiny, measuring just 1 m in width and ½ m from front to back. Their floor plans form a “D,” with the straight side of the D forming the rear of the body. This is big enough to accommodate the two adults who are shown standing in several of the surviving reliefs. The monarch is depicted alone, although textual evidence indicates that a driver was present as well. Because the floor was composed of leather thongs, it was lightweight, flexible, and served as a useful shock absorber when the chariot was driven over uneven terrain. The vehicle’s stability was improved by placing the chariot body’s and its occupants’ weight immediately above the axle. The body’s front and sides were constructed from bent wood, and the rails along these areas offered a convenient—and possibly essential—handhold. The sides of chariots meant for military usage were often composed of wood, leather, or laminated linen and decorated with plaster and gold.

Transport in Ancient Egypt


Large construction stones and sculptures were moved with sleds at an early point in Egyptian history; specimens that could have been used for this purpose have been discovered. They have two runners, the fronts of which bend upward, and are composed of robust wood. They were frequently pushed along specially prepared surfaces to facilitate the transportation of big, heavy cargo, either by cattle or by human strength. Sleds were hauled over wooden sleepers that were spaced closely apart to create these “roads,” with water poured in front of the runners to lessen friction. The resulting mud and water mixture made for effective lubrication. Many large construction sites still have examples of these unique roadways, and tomb reliefs depict the lubricating process. It seems improbable that using sleds to move things over unprepared, uneven, or loose sand would have been feasible. At Dahshur, a single Middle Kingdom sled was discovered about burial boats discovered there. Most likely, it was employed to move the boats to their ultimate resting location. Currently housed at Cairo’s Egyptian Museum, the sled is 4.21 meters in length and 0.80 meters in width. Source 


Why was transportation in ancient Egypt important?

The ancient Egyptians have had the good fortune to have a dependable and easily available mode of transportation. A cohesive nation and culture were eventually aided by the Nile River, which not only made the area livable but also facilitated simple communication.

What was the main transportation route in ancient Egypt?

The Nile River served as the main thoroughfare, the ancient Egyptians created an intricate network of boats and barges to move people and products down its length. The Nile furthermore supplied irrigation for agriculture, the foundation of the nation’s economy.

What was the first road in the world?

The world’s oldest paved road still in existence is the Lake Moeris Quarry Road. It originated in Egypt during the Old Kingdom era and moved slabs of basalt from the quarry to a dock near the beaches of the former Lake Moeris.

Did ancient Egypt have the wheel?

Since the Fifth Dynasty, the wheel has been known in ancient Egypt.

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