Research Proposal: The Role of Famine in Ancient Egypt

Various aspects of Ancient Egyptian life could lead to famine. Financial hardships could limit the amount of food a family could buy, while the Nile – the main supply for natural resources – could dry up or flood, resulting in a famine affecting much of the surrounding area. I am interested in pursuing this research because famine has demonstrated physical and figurative affects on communities throughout history. This study will provide insight into the prevalence of the famine in Ancient Egypt. I will observe evidence of the role of famine through various factors to determine the significance (if any) of famine in Ancient Egyptian society.

I plan on researching the prevalence of famine in Ancient Egypt through several different methods. First, I will identify evidence of famine through historical documents and literature, such as written records and prayers. I will also draw evidence from narratives inscribed during the Ancient Egyptian empire, but about an earlier time period in Ancient Egyptian history. Finally, I will use evidence of malnutrition in skeletal remains to indicate famine. I plan on identifying famine time periods by looking for evidence of malnutrition in pathologies, such as cribra orbitalia, porotic hyperostosis, linear enamel hyperplasia in the teeth, and other diseases that present evidence of malnutrition. Since I don’t have any skeletal collections at my leisure, I plan on drawing information from past studies to provide a comprehensive and comparative view of malnutrition and famine in Ancient Egypt.

Most of my sources will be research studies by scholars in Ancient Egypt or bioarchaeology. Evidence from historical documents will come from translated materials. For example, John L. Foster’s Ancient Egyptian Literature: An Anthology presents evidence of famine through historical documents such as prayers, which can give insight into the events of the time period during which it was written. Another example is Paul Barquet’s La stéle de la famine á Séhel. This piece focuses on a famous stela that provides a narrative about a seven-year drought that resulted in famine and political and social instability. Although this recorded information on the stela may not be historically accurate, the story still provides information regarding how Ancient Egyptians saw famine in connection with their own history, and the divine role that famine played in Ancient Egyptian society. Another article that I will be using is Cindy Malnasi’s Paleopathology in Ancient Egypt: Evidence from the sites of Dayr Al-Barsha and Sheikh Said. This articles discusses various pathologies and diseases found in Ancient Egyptian populations that give evidence to malnutrition, and thus can provide support to any skeletal evidence that I wish to use to argue the prevalence famine might have had in Ancient Egyptian society. Through written records, recorded narratives, and paleopathological evidence in skeletal remains, I hope to demonstrate the physical and figurative role of famine in Ancient Egyptian society.


Foster, John L. Ancient Egyptian Literature: An Anthology. Austin, TX: University of Texas, 2001. Print.

Barquet, Paul. La stéle de la famine á Séhel. Institut français d´archaéologie orientale – Bibliothéque d´étude Paris, volume 34. Cairo, 1953.

Malnasi, Cindy. “Paleopathology in Ancient Egypt: Evidence from the Sites at Dayr Al-Barsha and Sheikh Said.” Thesis. University of Central Florida, 2010. Print.

2 thoughts on “Research Proposal: The Role of Famine in Ancient Egypt

  1. This seems like a really interesting research paper. I think that the role of famine has continually served a huge role in shaping the political and social atmosphere in Ancient Egypt. I know when coming across some of my research, which focuses on the new kingdom and the heretic king, Akhenaten, many scholars have found evidence of famine. Many scholars believe that Akhenaten was viewed as such a heretic because famine and disease spread during his reign. Thus many of the pharaohs after him tried to distance themselves from him. This is just one instance of famine affecting politics and religion of Ancient Egypt.

    I also really like the method of your paper. It’s a great idea to look at both historical documents as well as more scientific reports, like the bone records. This way your paper will be balanced by historical sources, which are sometimes politicized, as well as scientific research. I really like the idea of your research paper. Looking at the role of famine in Egypt is one which has use for today. Food shortages are possible for even our time, and it is interesting to examine how ancient civilizations have been shaped by famine.

  2. This topic is pretty interesting. I never really though about famine being such an issue in ancient Egypt but it make sense; with such little natural resources outside the Nile Valley, I can image that many people suffered. I think its a good idea that you’re going to discuss evidence of malnutrition in skeletal remains. I’m interested in seeing what you come up with for this paper. Many people see the ancient Egyptians as strong, advanced people, but often times their actual struggle to survive as a people is over looked. You may want to look into the effects of war and conflict on famine and malnutrition and see if there is any connection. Historical documents will be great sources. I’m also interested in learning, as how Ancient Egyptians saw famine in connection with their own past, and the divine role that famine played in their society. I think you have a very good setup to this paper and I am interested in seeing the end results.

    I only skimmed this article but you may find something useful in it:
    Food: Tradition and Change in Hellenistic Egypt
    Dorothy J. Crawford
    World Archaeology , Vol. 11, No. 2, Food and Nutrition (Oct., 1979), pp. 136-146
    Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
    Article Stable URL:

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