The Ancient Nile Valley: Civilizations, Region & Facts

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  • 0:42 Ancient Nile River Valley
  • 1:31 Ancient Civilizations…
  • 2:06 Egypt
  • 3:15 Nubia
  • 4:24 Fast Facts
  • 5:03 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore the ancient Nile Valley and the Nile River, which is its lifeline. Arguably the longest river in the world, the Nile supported some of humankind's first complex civilizations.

Ancient Lifeline

When was the last time you have been to a river? They can provide a place for a much-needed swim in the dog days of summer, a bounty for fishing enthusiasts, or even a cold drink of water, depending on the river's pollution levels. Although some shipping and commerce still happens on our largest rivers, many today are merely hotspots for recreation.

Despite our uses for rivers today, rivers of the ancient world were vital to humankind's earliest civilizations. The Nile River created the conditions in the Nile River Valley region that encouraged the flourishing of some of humankind's earliest sedentary cultures.

Ancient Nile River Valley

Although the Nile's water flow is now controlled by the Aswan Dam, constructed first in 1902 and added to in the 1960s and 1970s, the river's seasonal flooding was extremely important to ancient Egyptian civilization. After the monsoon rains had fallen near the Nile's headwaters, the river flooded from June through September. Often flowing over its banks several feet, the Nile deposited layers of silt and dirt rich in nutrients and natural fertilizers on the surrounding land. This created excellent agricultural land along the banks of the Nile, an area that otherwise would have been desert. Humankind harnessing the bounty of this fertile area encouraged the earliest areas of sustained settlement and civilization.

Ancient Civilizations of the Nile

The ancient civilizations that prospered along the banks of the Nile are recognized as some of the oldest in human history, alongside those in the Tigris-Euphrates, Indus, and Yangtze River Valleys. The Nile's quickly northward flowing waters not only created the agricultural land that made civilization possible but provided an easy route for trade between regions up and down the river. Small-scale culture and civilization began in the region around 6000-5500 B.C.

Egypt

Ancient Egypt is one of humanity's oldest civilizations. Coalescing out of the smaller cultures residing alongside the river, historians consider the Egyptian period to have begun after the union of Upper and Lower Egypt, the Southern and Northern Nile River Valley, respectively, and the beginning of the Old Kingdom, sometime between 3100 and 3050 B.C. The power of the pharaohs and the overall wealth of the kingdom waxed and waned for nearly three millennia, with intermittent periods of strife and civil war in between more prosperous times.

The most iconic achievements of Egyptian civilization are the towering pyramids at Giza, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Egyptian control over the Nile River Delta began to fail for the last time as a result of Assyrian invasions from the east and Nubian invasions from the south in the eighth century B.C., and most Egyptian lands were annexed by Persia in the sixth century B.C. Egypt later became a vassal state of Alexander the Great's growing Macedonian Empire.

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