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Ancient Egyptians took hunting seriously. They respected and valued their prey, studied their habitats and habitats, and even worshipped some of them as gods. Stunning tomb paintings and fragmentary manuscripts provide us with a wonderful record of how and what they hunted.

Parts of the green and fertile delta region were preserved for hunting, fowling and fishing. Fleet footed animals in the more arid regions, such as gazelles, antelopes, ostriches and boar, beyond the farmlands allowed for exciting chariot chases, or lazier forms of hunting where hunters lay in ambush near water holes and picked off their thirsty prey with spears and arrows.

Pharaohs were happy to leave the cares of government behind and go on hunting expeditions with their families, courtiers and professional hunters. Their trained hunting dogs are thought to be the ancestors of modern breeds. The atmosphere and enjoyment of one such expedition has been eloquently captured in a fragmentary manuscript named The Pleasures of Fishing and Fowling. It forms a hymn of praise, and tells of Amenemhat II swamp hunting around a lake in Fayum, about 60 miles south west of Cairo, around 1850 BCE. Members of his harem, his children and various deities were among the hunting party.

A much earlier event narrated by the Greek writer, Diodorus, tells how Menes, Egypt’s first pharaoh, almost lost his life on a hunting trip in the Fayum, when his own dogs attacked him near the lake. However, his life was saved by a crocodile, which carried him across the water to safety. As a reward, he declared the lake a sanctuary for crocodiles and founded the city known to the Greeks as Crocodilopolis.

It was more likely that crocodiles were one of the dangers fishers and fowlers were keen to avoid, along with hippopotami, which could overturn a low-lying boat. Professional fishermen generally used nets from a boat, dragnets from shore or bow nets from the narrow banks of the river. Harpoons and spears were also used to catch larger species. Angle fishing was also common, using a hook at the end of a thick hand line cast from a boat or the shore.

Fowling was popular among all classes. A coffin text mentions greylag and green-breasted geese, white-fronted ducks and pintail drakes captured by the deceased. Water fowl flocking by the Nile and in marshland were easy to fell using spears and throwing sticks. Nets allowed them to be captured in larger numbers. Hunters frightened exhausted migrating quail that landed in the Delta after crossing the Mediterranean, into rising and get enmeshed in the nets they had spread in their path.

Ducks and geese were more of a challenge. Fowlers constructed a trap using two huge nets that covered a pool. They placed a decoy in the pool and hid out of sight. When a number of birds landed the fowlers pulled a rope to bring the two nets together and trap the birds in between. All the helpers would have shared in the haul and feasted well after a successful hunt.

 article by Celine Castelino

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