The Egyptian Nile – The Beginning Of A Civilization
The Egyptian Nile, called iteru in ancient Egyptian, has been the main source of fresh water for the country since ancient times. The only reason a civilization developed in Egypt is because nomadic tribes could settle along the banks of the river and cultivate the land.
The Nile is the longest river on the planet: approximately 6,670 km (4,160 miles). It runs from eastern Africa up through to the Nile Delta which then empties out into the Mediterranean Sea.
Actually, if you look at it, with its long body that opens up into the many canals that form the triangular delta, it looks like a beautiful ancient Egyptian lotus flower.
Most of Egypt’s population was, and still is, found in cities and villages situated along the banks of the Egyptian Nile.
Ancient Egypt itself was also called the Nile Valley. Even the name for ancient Egypt, Kemet, meaning “black land”, is associated with the black fertile soil the Nile provided for the ancient Egyptians.
And as the Nile flows from the south to the north, ancient Egypt was divided into Upper and Lower Egypt – in relation to the direction the Nile flows.
Flooding of the Egyptian Nile, the Source of Life
As Egypt’s terrain is mainly dry desert, the key of life was the annual flooding of the Nile onto the banks. Almost every year between the months of July and November, the waters would rise and cover the land on both sides.
This annual flooding, or inundation as it is sometimes called, is the first season of the ancient Egyptian calendar. This season is called Akhet, and would produce a very fertile black soil which made for excellent agricultural land. The harvest season, Shemu, would follow.
The ancient Egyptians also irrigated this land with canals to further manage the soil.
There were of course cases in ancient times when there would be too much or too little flooding. This would cause nothing short of a disaster. Famine, disease and death were the result.
A graphic example of these catastrophes is found on the Famine Stela – a stone with an inscription telling the story of a famine caused by a long period of drought during the reign of king Djoser.
The annual flooding actually continued up until the building of the modern High Dam, which holds back Lake Nasser. This provides some stability from the flooding, which, ironically, was what the ancients depended on to live…
It also held back the much-feared crocodiles and hippos.
“He Who Drinks From The Nile”
Whether under control or not, for both the modern and the ancient Egyptians, the Nile still is the lifeline of Egypt. It is the source of life.
Every time I pass over the 6th of October bridge or ride a felucca or other boat on the Nile, I can’t help but think of this. It is what runs in our blood since the time of the pharaohs.
We have a saying in Egypt: “He who drinks from the Nile will always return to it”.
For most Egyptians, we can’t stay away too long, the Nile calls us back…
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