Digital reconstruction of the Nile River from Assassin’s Creed Origins.

The Nile: How One River Helped Build a Civilization – 10 Amazing Facts

(Read the article on one page)

The Nile River spans almost 4,175 miles (6719 km), crosses nine countries throughout Africa, and is widely regarded as the longest river in the world. While all this might be considered common knowledge, the winding waters of the famous river have many intriguing facts that you might not know. Here are ten of the most fascinating ones.

The Nile River in Egypt.

The Nile River in Egypt. (Michael Gwyther-Jones/ CC BY 2.0 )

1.      Without the Nile, the Ancient Egyptian Civilization May Never Have Existed

The Nile River was considered the source of life by the ancient Egyptians and played a vital role in the country's history and rich culture. The river was also a very important factor in the socioeconomic development and success of ancient Egypt. Without the Nile River, the great ancient civilization may have never existed, since rainfall was almost non-existent in Egypt and the Nile River was the only source of moisture to sustain crops.

Burial chamber of Sennedjem, Scene: Plowing farmer.

Burial chamber of Sennedjem, Scene: Plowing farmer. ( Public Domain )

2.      The Real Source of the Nile River Remains Unknown

Some might tell you that Lake Victoria, Africa’s main lake, is the source of the Nile River. Others will say the Kagera River and its tributary the Ruvubu, having its headwaters in Burundi, is the real source. The truth is, however, that the source of the Nile River remains a mystery to this day.

3.      The Nile “Highway”

The Nile River was the highway that joined the country together and was essential for trade and transportation. Up until the 19th century, travel by land was virtually unknown in the region. Ships and boats were the main means of transporting people and goods around the country.

An ancient Egyptian boat. ( Public Domain )

4.      Nile, The Life-Giver

Other than providing water, the Nile offered an excellent soil for growing food, which is the main reason why so many Egyptians lived near it. Locals used spears and nets to catch fish and trap different birds that flew close to the surface of the water.

4th Dynasty of Egypt painting: Trapping (harvesting) birds; Plowing fields.

4th Dynasty of Egypt painting: Trapping (harvesting) birds; Plowing fields. ( Public Domain )

5.      Contributing to the Production of Papyrus

So much of what we know about ancient Egypt comes from the plethora of written records left behind on papyrus. The Nile was responsible for providing this papyrus. It came from the reeds growing on the side of the river. 

Egyptian peasants harvesting papyrus, mural painting in Deir el-Medina (early Ramesside Period).

Egyptian peasants harvesting papyrus, mural painting in Deir el-Medina (early Ramesside Period). ( Public Domain )

6.      The Flooding of the Nile

Melting snow and heavy summer rain within the Ethiopian Mountains sent a torrent of water, causing the banks on the River Nile in Egypt to overflow in this flat desert land, causing massive floods every year. The reason why it does not flood now is because of the construction of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960’s.

A view of Aswan High Dam.

A view of Aswan High Dam. (Frostie 2006/ CC BY SA 2.0 )

7.      Akhet: The Inundation

Until the Aswan High Dam was built, the yearly inundation of the Nile happened between June and September, in a season the Egyptians called akhet: the inundation. This was seen by the Egyptians as a yearly coming of the deity Hapi, bringing fertility to the land. The goddess of the flood was the goddess Mehet-Weret, “The Great Flood.”

Hapi, shown as an iconographic pair of genii symbolically tying together upper and lower Egypt.

Hapi, shown as an iconographic pair of genii symbolically tying together upper and lower Egypt. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )

8.      Osiris: The Nile’s Most Sacred God

Despite Hapi being the local deity in a way, the god most closely associated historically and culturally with the Nile was Osiris, who was killed by his brother Seth on the riverbank and then became the king of the Underworld. For that reason, the Nile River was an important part of Egyptian spiritual life as well. The Egyptians believed that it was the passageway between life and death. That’s why all Egyptian tombs are built on the west side of the Nile - the west was considered the place of death since the sun god Ra set in the west each day.

Osiris with an Atef-crown made of bronze in the Naturhistorisches Museum (Vienna).

Osiris with an Atef-crown made of bronze in the Naturhistorisches Museum (Vienna). ( CC BY SA 3.0 )

9.       A Popular Ancient Sport was Played on the Nile’s Waters

Ancient Egyptians practiced a popular river sport - water jousting. Modern knowledge of this sport comes from studying ancient Egyptian tomb reliefs, thus it is limited. These depictions show that vessels held a small group of men, each one wielding a long pole. While most of the crew used theirs to maneuver the boat, a few of them would stand upright, wielding their poles to knock opponents off their respective boats.

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Myths & Legends

Open Book Photo
A legend is a tale regarded as historical even though it has not been proven, and the term “myth” can refer to common yet false ideas. Many myths and legends describe our history, but they are often treated skeptically. This is because many of them, while explaining a phenomenon, involve divine or supernatural beings.

Human Origins

Noah's Sacrifice - watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot
The imperfect state of archaeological researches in the Near East impedes any definite identification of the original race or races that created the earliest civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt. According to Gordon Childe, however, the predominant racial element in the earliest graves in the region from Elam to the Danube is the ‘Mediterranean’.

Ancient Technology

Opinion

The ancient and mysterious Sphinx, Giza, Egypt.
In 1995, NBC televised a prime-time documentary hosted by actor Charlton Heston and directed by Bill Cote, called Mystery of the Sphinx. The program centered on the research and writings of John Anthony West, a (non-academic) Egyptologist, who, along with Dr. Robert Schoch, a professor of Geology at Boston University, made an astounding discovery on the Great Sphinx of Giza in Egypt.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article