Geography is Destiny


The Greek historian Herodotus called Egypt “the gift of the Nile,” by which he meant that Egyptian civilization owed its very existence to the Nile River’s annual, July-November flooding and the concomitant fertile, black mud left on its banks. The ancient Egyptians were aware that their survival depended on the Nile’s cyclical movements, and as such held the waters in deep reverence. One ancient hymn to the Nile reflects this reverential awe:

Hail to thee, O Nile! Who manifests thyself over this land, and comes to give life to Egypt! Mysterious is thy issuing forth from the darkness, on this day whereon it is celebrated! Watering the orchards created by Ra, to cause all the cattle to live, you give the earth to drink, inexhaustible one! Path that descends from the sky, loving the bread of Geb and the first-fruits of Neper, You cause the workshops of Ptah to prosper!

Without the Nile, Egypt would be indistinguishable from the arid, desert wastes that flank its Western and Eastern boundaries. But with the Nile, Egyptians were able to sustain their agricultural way of life, planting wheat, barley, and corn seeds in the wet soil, providing food for people and livestock alike. The Nile also acted as a natural barrier to invasion: the aforementioned deserts to the West and East, the Delta to the North with its inhospitable-to-harbor marshy coastline, and the boulder-filled rapids to the South called cataracts difficult to cross by boat.

Miscellany: students took an open-note quiz on Friday.