The Nile Valley – Ancient Egypt


Photograph of the Nile Valley - Ancient Egypt chapter opening spread from the book called African Icons

Excerpt from the African Icons Book chapter: The Nile Valley, Ancient Egypt

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert … Near them, on the sand
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies ….”
Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1792 – 1822

The Gift of the Nile

The cycle of the seasons and annual flooding of the Nile River gave not only the gift of rich topsoil and fertile lands to Ancient Egypt, but also predictability and stability. These were crucial to what came later – the keeping of time and records, the creation of numbers and a calendar. In time this lead to the amassing of agricultural surpluses such as had not been seen before, creating great wealth which in turn led to great power.

Finally there was a sense of an order to all things earthly and heavenly and from that was derived a religious underpinning of the culture as strong as any that has ever been. And it was that religious foundation that set Ancient Egypt apart from everything that came before and everything that has come afterwards.

The entire society worked as one for the glorification of the pharaoh and to help him achieve immortality in the afterlife. Death, even more than life, gave the Egyptians of old their unflagging sense of meaning and order.

At the Temple of Horus at Edfu and that of Sobek, the crocodile god at Kom Ombo, there are “nileometers”: stone-lined wells connected to the Nile by tunnels. From these the priests could determine the extent of the flood each year, how much land would be inundated and later be good for planting, and therefore how big the crop yield would be and how much tax to levy each year. It was all carefully controlled by the gods.

Photograph of Abu Simbel facade from the book called African Icons

When first you stand and gaze in wonder at the Great Pyramids, as with all the many wondrous ancient temples of the Nile Valley, you cannot help but imagine that only superhumans or extraterrestrials could have created such marvels.

There are many works detailing this, some with extremely complex mathematical models showing all manner of relationships between the pyramids and the stars, the shape and dimensions of the earth, even its temperature. The reality is that the ancient Egyptians knew an awful lot, and probably taught the Greeks most of what they knew.

Research shows that it took just a few very earthly qualities and quantities to accomplish these great feats: namely, enough time, enough money and enough labour.

Photograph of Feluccas on the Nile from the book called African Icons

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