The high degree of civilisation at tained by Ancient Egypt must have involved a considerable amount of buying and selling. Precise records on the point are however scanty. Perhaps the most illustrative -and it is unique of its kind -is a scene in a tomb of the IVth Dynasty which shows men and women exchanging commodities against each other -fish, fish-hooks, fans, necklaces, etc. This scene probably depicts a market in the open air such as is held weekly at the present time in every village.
The system of barter was therefore in use so far as internal trade and commerce were concerned. But a more advanced condition of commercial intercourse is suggested, as regards trade with other countries, by the passage in the Bible which refers to Joseph being sold by his brethren for twenty pieces of silver to "a company of Ishmaelites, coming from Gilead with their camels bearing spicery and balm and myrrh to Egypt". The merchants who bought Joseph for twenty pieces of silver were then familiar with the use of precious metal as a medium of exchange and the passage shows us the populous and fertile Egypt in commercial relation ship with Chaldaea and Arabia.
From the Hyksos period onwards rings of metal, gold, silver and bronze played some part, though probably not a preponderant part, in exchange and formed the standards by which the value of goods was estimated.
In the XVIIIth Dynasty values were reckoned in gold and under the Deltaic Dynasties in silver. Not until the era of the Ptolemies was much use made of coined money.
Corn, as is well known, was the staple product and chief export of Ancient Egypt, especially at times when famine prevailed in other lands. Egyptian papyrus and linen were exported to Phoenicia as long ago as the 10th century B.C.
Of imports, in terms of trade, it is more difficult to speak with certainty. That Ancient Egypt received supplies from abroad is proved and was indeed inevitable. Vessels for instance were fashioned in foreign stone as early as the 1st Dynasty. But such supplies might have been derived by forcible raiding or as tribute of conquered countries as well as by private or state trading.
All silver must have been imported since none is found in Egypt; much of the copper used must also have come from abroad as the copper comes Sinai yielded but little metal. Cedar wood was brought from Lebanon, gold, leopard skins and ivory from the Sudan, spices and incense from Arabia and Somaliland. In the time of Herodotus much wine was imported from Syria and Greece.
As regards industry, i.e. the whole sale manufacturing of commodities for subsequent retailing, -it is, as with trade in Ancient Egypt, more a matter of conjecture than of certainty. The craftsmanship of Ancient Egypt is dealt with elsewhere; much of it must have been performed for the private use of the craftsman or to the order of some wealthy patron. Egypt was not, nor indeed is she today, an industrial country and it is not until the nineteenth century that "industry", in the modern sense of the word, was to become part and parcel of the national economy. There is, in substance, little difference in the exports and imports of Moslem Egypt and those of Pre-Islamic times until the time of Mohammed Ali. Corn continued to be the staple product and export, metals and timber the main imports. but its output was for export.
Mohammed Aly (1769-1849) whose reign, in restoring Egypt to the status of an independent country, was to open wide the gates of progress and prosperity, achieved notable successes in many spheres. He did much more than provide a better field of exploitation of the country's resources: he provided new resources. And the greatest of these is that he introduced the cultivation of the cotton plant.
In 1820 when Mohammed Aly consulted the French expert Jumel on the possibilities of growing cotton in Egypt, the cotton-plant, although grown, was only grown as an ornament in gardens. When however, supervised by Jumel, experiments were made in growing it on a large scale, it was found that cotton grown on Egyptian soil had qualities and characteristics of its own. These special qualities are its fineness, strength, elasticity and great natural twist, ,vhich combined, enable it to make very fine strong yarns, suited to the manufacture of the better qualities of hosiery, for mixing with silk and wool, for making lace, etc. Egyptian cotton also mercerises very well.
The success of the experiment was immediate and complete. At the time of Mohammed Aly's death, Egypt was exporting 87,000 bales of cotton every year. Fifteen years later the figure had reached 439,000 bales and at the present day Egypt exports at the rate of a million and a half bales (500 lbs. each) per year or about 60% of the world's production.
A new era thus dawned for the Egyptian cultivator and Egypt became one of the great cotton-producing countries of the world.
Next to cotton sugar, of which an excellent quality is grown in Upper Egypt, is the most important crop. Much of the sugar is however consumed locally and is therefore not available for export. Corn, onions, beans, rice, lentils and dates are also exported in conside rable quantities. Egyptian eggs are an important element in the country's agricultural exports while of late years a large trade has arisen in Egyptian fruit and vegetables. Oranges and other citrus fruits which until a few years ago were imported into Egypt for local consumption are now grown in such quantities that a surplus is exported to Europe where Egyptian oranges and tangerines are increasingly in demand.
Although no tobacco is grown in Egypt, the cigarette trade, both for export and local consumption, is a very large one. The tobacco is imported chiefly from Greece and Turkey but the blending, the making and the distribution of the finished article is all done in Egypt whose cigarettes liave acquired world-wide renown. Chief among imports are cotton goods and other textiles, coal, iron and steel, timber, tobacco, machinery, alcoholic liquors, petroleum, motorcars, fruits, coffee an livestock.
It is obvious, from her climate, her soil, her topography and, indeed, from the nature of her exports, that Egypt is essentially an agricultural country. But even before what may be called the Renaissance of Egypt (1922 onwards), there were a number of manufactures in the country. In connection with the cotton industry ginning mills were numerous and oil-crushing and calico-weaving were carried out in a number of mills. Upper Egypt had several sugar-crushing and refining factories, and, rice-mills were working in several towns of the Delta.
These and other industries have of recent years assumed great expansion. But the great industrial undertakings of the past twenty years have been those sponsored and financed by a purely Egyptian organisation, financed by an Egyptian Bank: the Misr Bank and the Misr Companies, The Second great war of 1939 had a remarkable effect on Industry in Egypt. It stimulated the industrial consciousness among the Egyptians; new methods were adopted and large factories have been set up to overcome the shortage of foreign supplies; as a result Egypt has gained a great number of well trained and capable industrial hands which to a large extent have been able to keep the home market supplied.
Wise in their generation the organisers of the new industrial life of Egypt did not seek to create something entirely new. On foundations that already existed, on the silk-weaving and cotton weaving mills which, in a small way, had flourished for many years, on the traditions of good workmanship which these small factories had built up, they constructed the textile industry of Egypt.
Cairo, Mehalla-Kobra and Damietta had always been noted for the weaving of silk, cotton and, to a lesser extent, linen. The centre of gravity of the weaving industry has now become concentrated at MehallaKobra which, in the space of a few years, has become a veritable hive of industry. Numerous factories have been erected with the latest modern machinery, the latest modern methods, and the output of textiles is of a standard which bears comparison with high-class imported articles. In the field of transport Egyptian commerce has also made vast strides during the past few years. Several Egyptian steamship companies now effect a regular passenger service between Alexandria and European ports and, during the pilgrim season, between Suez and Djeddah in Arabia. A regular air-service connects Cairo, Alexandria and PortSaid. In the winter season there are daily flights to Upper Egypt and in the summer to Alamein, Mersa Matruh and other sea-side resorts. Cairo is connected by an Egyptian air service, with Palestine, Lebanon, Irak, Cyprus.
Some of the more picturesque industries of Egypt are those that are carried on in the little workshops of Cairo's famous bazaars. Few visitors leave Egypt without acquiring at least one specimen of these crafts that are almost arts. The ornamental wood and metal work, inlayed with ivory and pearl, brass trays, copper utensils, gold and silver ornaments and, in Cairo and the Fayum, the manufacture of ttar of roses and other perfumes, constitute a host of minor but important Egyptian industries.
No sketch however brief of Egypt's trades and industries would be complete without a reference to her chief "invisible export". This is of course the tomst industry and it is one in which Egypt has always excelled. So many factors combine -the beautiful climate, the incomparable wealth of glorious monuments of the past, the high standard of comfort in Egyptian hotels, the health-giving properities of the Egyptian sunshine and, last but not least, the traditional hospitality of the Egyptian people -so many factors then combine to attract and detain the visitor that Egypt's "invisible export" is a cons antly increasing factor in her national economy.