The Nile's Impact on the Development of Egyptian Civilization

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  • 0:00 The World's Longest River
  • 0:24 Food and Agriculture
  • 1:35 Transportation and Protection
  • 2:06 Religion, Worldview &…
  • 3:19 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

This lesson explores the impact of the Nile on the rise of Egyptian civilization, including its influence on agriculture, transportation, protection, politics and culture.

The World's Longest River

At about 4,132 miles, the Nile is the longest river in the world. While there is some dispute as to its true source, many agree that it starts at Lake Victoria in Uganda, where it is called the White Nile, and flows northward to the Mediterranean Sea. As we shall see, in ancient Egypt it was important to live near the Nile for many reasons.

Food and Agriculture

When you think about flooding in a region, you probably conjure up images you've seen on the news showing a community ravaged by rivers rising higher than expected. Perhaps you remember seeing people seeking shelter on the tops of vehicles or on roofs of houses surrounded by water.

By contrast, in ancient Egypt this flooding, or inundation, occurred on a regular basis and came with some major positives. For example, flooding was definitely a good thing for those relying on the waters to nourish crops in the fertile soil that would result in the delta.

While the flooding was not always perfect - sometimes it was too high and sometimes it was not high enough - the people were able to rely on this form of nourishment for the land. The desire to better predict the annual inundation even led to developments in astronomy and the creation of a calendar.

Beyond plentiful crops, the Nile offered other food for the people. For example, if you asked what's for dinner in ancient Egypt, you'd be more likely to find fish on your plate than other animal protein. This nutrition allowed the people to thrive and the population to grow, supporting the rise of a large and more organized civilization.

Transportation and Protection

For the ancient Egyptians, the Nile River served as a major means of transportation. Goods could be traded along the routes provided by this waterway. This led to the development of a variety of vessels, from small craft to large military ships.

The river's positioning was also protection from those who could bring harm to the people of this region. A river as wide as the Nile was not the easiest to tackle in battle. A ready populace could fight back from a position of strength.

Religion, Worldview, and Social Cohesion

Historians believe that the Nile's cycle of inundation and destruction followed by renewal of life influenced the way that ancient Egyptians thought about the fate of human beings beyond death. Ancient Egypt is considered the first culture of this era to believe in an afterlife. Gods were associated with this cycle as well, with Osiris linked to the land's fertility and Hapi with the inundation itself.

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