Most travel in Egypt was done on the Nile River. In ancient times the river was used for both transporting people and for all different types of cargo, including slaves. Religious processions were also common on the river. The Egyptians developed different types of boats for different needs. The first boats in Egypt were made from papyrus. These boats were light weight and made from bundles of reeds. The smallest papyrus boats transported two people and were used exclusively for fishing and hunting. The largest of the papyrus boats could transport a small group of people and one farm animal. As early as the Old Kingdom (2,500 B.C.), the Egyptian boat building industry was flourishing, and everyone wanted wooden boats. However, they lacked enough good quality lumber. There was such a shortage of wood that they couldn't even build coffins. Also, it was widely known that the fastest boats were made of pine that came from Syria. The Egyptians traded jewelry in the port city of Byblos, Syria, for pine and cedarwood. At the time, they let it be known that they were looking for copper, silver, and iron.
It was the king and his administrators who decided what they would trade for and with who they would trade. Customs taxes were collected in the port city of Elephantine from boats arriving by way of the Nile River. Taxes were also collected from merchant ships arriving from the Mediterranean Sea. Almost everyone bartered or traded one thing for another. However, silver, copper, and gold were widely accepted as payment. The Egyptians would not have a coinage system until 525 B.C.
The closest Egyptian trading partner was Kush-Nubia. Kush-Nubia was their next door neighbor, and easily accessible on the Nile River. Elephantine served as the trading center where the Nubians brought their own goods and the goods from the tribes from as far away as Central Africa. They Egyptians traded for ivory, monkeys, silver, copper, panther skins, gold, dogs, cattle, and ostrich feathers and their eggs. During ancient times, the expeditions were manned by soldiers. Then, sometime around 2,500 B.C., Kush-Nubia became a colony of Egypt.
During the Greco-Roman Period the Egyptian seaport of Alexandria became the most important trade city in the Mediterranean Sea region. As a result, the city became a mecca for ship building. Before long, a canal was constructed linking Alexandria with the Canopic branch of the Nile River. The canal created an important link to the Mediterranean Sea for Egypt’s domestic products. Overnight the Nile became one of the world's great trading avenues. Spices, gold, and other products could now be moved north to the sea port of Alexandria with ease. Soon, grain became Egypt's most important export. It was shipped to both Rome and Constantinople. At times of extreme famine, both of these cities depended on Egypt to feed their entire population. In addition, Egypt exported spices, ivory, glass, papyrus, gold, textiles, and other luxury items. At the same time, imported goods from other countries raised the standard of living. Greeks living in Egypt could enjoy wine, olives, honey, and fish from their native lands.