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The Nile River in Ancient Egypt

The Nile River in Ancient Egypt
April 19, 2017 Mahmoud Zakarya

“The Nile River has certainly played a critical role in the history of ancient Egypt. Famous as the longest river in the world, the river got its name from the Greek word Neilos, which means valley. The Nile floods the lands in Egypt, leaving behind black sediment. That’s why the ancient Egyptians named the river Ar, meaning black. The story of the Nile River begins not in the lush coastal lagoons of its Mediterranean mouth, nor at its headwaters high in the cloud forests of Rwanda, but in the Western Desert of Egypt. Here, there is no Nile. There is no water. It is a Martian landscape, inhabitable except for a few scattered oases. It is a Saharan playground for dust storms and locusts, where shovel-snouted lizards dance on two feet to avoid the scorching sands of mid-day. This is Egypt without the Nile. Small wonder, then, that the Ancient Egyptians prized and venerated the Nile River. It was their umbilical cord. Even today, a common Egyptian blessing is: “May you always drink from the Nile.” From its cooling waters came perch fish bigger than the fisherman. From its loamy riverbanks came mud used for bricks and papyrus for books and boats. Every year, when the Nile River flooded and saturated the parched land in water and life-giving silt, the Egyptian farmers Trade and Transportation on the Nile River You might be tempted to ignore the stubby structures of frontier Aswan, known in Ancient Egypt as Swenett. You might focus on the more impressive pillars of Cairo and the temples of Giza – but there would be no pyramids and no shrines without little ol’ Aswan and the Nile River. Dhow on The Nile River near Aswan Dhow on the Nile River near Aswan


Aswan is hot. It receives essentially no rain. Ever. Daytime temperatures hover over 100 degrees six months out of twelve. The only source of water is the Nile, less than half a mile in width. But Ancient Egypt considered Aswan indispensable for its special granite, a rock called Syenite. Rough-hewn blocks were chiseled from raw stone, loaded onto barges, and shipped down the placid Nile River to the halls of the god-king pharaohs. During flood season, this trip would take about two weeks, for there was not a single cataract to delay the trip. During the dry season, the same trip would take about two months. Ships would return bearing cargo and men, their sails fattened by northern trade winds. The Nile River was Ancient Egypt’s highway. There were no semi-trucks, no Amazon Prime 1-day shipping offers. There was only water. No bridges spanned the Nile’s girth in ancient times. Only boats could plow the surface and skim across the channel measuring 20-40 feet deep. Around 4,000 B.C., the Ancient Egyptians first lashed bundles of papyrus stalks together to make rafts. Later, craftsmen learned to build wooden ships using local acacia wood. Some of these boats could carry cargo up to 500 tons. That’s as much as 125 elephants! Where boats could no travel over desert sands, Egyptians rode camels from one hidden cistern to another.15241367_1603398386634902_5402459573830562987_n

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