Physical Effects of the Nile on Ancient Egyptian Life
For ancient Egyptians, the Nile River was a fundamental aspect of their daily lives. The thriving culture that sustained ancient Egypt for thousands of years was dependent on the yearly inundation of the river's floodwaters, and the culture suffered whenever they fluctuated. The Nile physically affected the ancient Egyptians in many other meaningful ways due to its physical characteristics. In addition, ancient Egypt was affected by the type of labor available to those dwelling near the its banks.
1 Impact of the Inundation
The yearly rise and fall of the Nile River is directly responsible for the development of ancient Egyptian society. The Nile served not only as a source of food, but of water. Dependence on the annual inundation was keenly felt during times of drought or flooding, causing uncertainty, famine or extreme hardship in the ancient Egyptians' daily life. For example, a series of low inundations through the years 2250 to 1950 B.C. dried out Lake Moeris and led to the collapse of the Old Kingdom civilization.
2 The Nile's Shifting Course
The course of the Nile River has never been static, and researchers estimate that its channel moved laterally from two to nine thousand kilometers every thousand years throughout antiquity. Ancient Egyptians had to shift their towns to match the new riverfront, abandoning old structures when they became too far away from the river to retain their usefulness. The river also flooded structures, as evidenced by the excavation of a submerged temple of the god Khnum, with inscripted stones dating somewhere between 945 to 524 B.C.
3 Risks of the River
One danger faced by ancient Egyptians near the Nile was the possibility of contracting waterborne disease. Schistosomiasis (known as snail fever) is an example, caused by contact with flatworm infested waters. Malaria is another parasitic infection carried by mosquitoes dwelling in the river's habitat, and evidence for the illness was even found in entombed mummies such as King Tutankhamen. Other hazardous Nile denizens included crocodiles, hippos and venomous snakes.
4 Trades Exclusive to the Nile
The Nile River's presence dictated the labor available to the ancient Egyptians. Besides farming, people also hunted the wildlife that populated the riverbanks during the periods before domestication became commonplace. Egyptians also developed watercraft in order to use the Nile for transport, although the river's cataracts required overland transport of goods along the river's length in Upper Egypt. The harvest and manufacture of papyrus from the Nile was a key fixture in the development of writing and directly impacted Egyptian life with record keeping, accounting and writing religious texts.