“Lightmaker who comes from the dark
Fattener of herds
Might that fashions all
None can live without him
People are clothed with the flax of his fields
Thou makest all the land to drink unceasingly, as thou descendest on thy way from the heavens.”
Ancient Egyptian Hymn to the Nile Flood
It was the Nile river which enabled the ancient Egyptian civilization to become what it was – one of the greatest of ancient civilizations. The river would flood once a year, bringing fertile soil, life giving resources to the desert. The Egyptians revered the Nile, and even had a celestial counterpart for it in the night sky – the Milky Way.
The Nile is the longest river in the world, flowing 6695km (4184 miles). There are two main rivers which flow from the south into what is referred to as the Nile Proper, the Blue Nile, and the White Nile. The White Nile is the longer of the tributaries, but the Blue Nile is the main source of water and fertile soil. A third river, the Atbara, flows into the Nile just north of Khartoum in the Sudan but it contributes less than one percent to total water flow.
The White Nile is so named because of the light coloured clay sediment suspended in the water giving the river a light gray colour.
The White Nile contributes about sixteen percent of the total water flow in the Nile. This doesn't sound like much, however the White Nile as a more steady flow of water which keeps the Nile proper from running dry in April and May, supplying about eighty percent of the Nile's water during these months.
The origins of the White Nile are in deep central Africa, as far south as southern Rwanda. The river flows north through Tanzania, Lake Victoria, Uganda and into Southern Sudan.
The second part is from Lake Nasser, the world's second largest man-made lake. Lake Nasser is where the Nile's waters are held back by the Aswan High Dam constructed in 1970: at which time the Nile's annual floods which had occurred for thousands of years, ceased.
The annual flooding of the Nile had taken place for thousands of years. Waters of the Blue Nile would begin to rise when the heavy rainfall season began in Ethiopia. The floodwaters would reach the Sudan by May.
In July, the floods reach the Aswan High Dam in Egypt. The Nile's water continues to increase. By August, averages are over twenty feet at Khartoum. The Nile peaks about mid September.
The ancient Egyptians called the Nile “Aur” or “Kem” which meant black, after the fertile black soil brought to them by the river and it was around the Nile that their lives focused. Even the ancient Egyptian calendar was based on the Nile, composed of twelve months of thirty days each. Their year was divided into three seasons, each based on cycles of the river.
The first season was Akhet, the “inundation.” This was when the layers of fertile soil were deposited along the flood plain. Akhet was followed by Peret, the “growing season.” The third season was Shemu, the “drought” or “harvest season.”
Stability of the Egyptian civilization was predominantly due to the Nile. In addition to the fertile soils, the Nile was a source of transportation, allowing intense trading with other countries, providing Egypt with economic stability.
The Nile even played a major role in the spiritual lives of the Egyptians. The god Hapi personified the Nile River, his name meaning “Running One.”. Hapi was the son of Horus, and though male, was often pictured as having full breasts and large belly, symbolizing the fertility of the Nile. Statues and carvings of Hapi often showed him pouring water from a vessel, or carrying offerings of food.
In the Middle Kingdom, during the Ramesside period, a hymn, praising Hapi was written: "Hail to you Hapi, Sprung from earth, Come to nourish Egypt…Food provider, bounty maker, Who creates all that is good!…Conqueror of the Two Lands, He fills the stores, Makes bulge the barns, Gives bounty to the poor."
Hapi and the Pharaoh (who represented the gods here on Earth) were though to control the flooding of the Nile. In return for the life giving water and soil, peasants would grow crops and send a portion of the harvest to the Pharaoh in thanks for his generosity.
Throughout its long history, the Nile River gave life and prosperity to the Nile Valley. It literally controlled the growth of civilization. Now, man has taken control of the river itself with the Aswan Dam. There are no more floods in the Nile Valley but the legacy of this event is evident in the many archaeological sites still standing in Egypt, built so long ago that even the stars in the skies have changed.
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Kathy Miles, Author, and Chuck Peters, Systems Administrator
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