Modern Egypt , or called the United Arab Republic, is roughly a square situated in the northeast corner of Africa. It is bounded on the north by the Mediterranean Sea, on the west by Libya, on the south by Sudan, and on the east by the Red Sea and the State of Israel. The boundaries of ancient Egypt are somewhat harder to define because they had many different boundaries, depending on their strength as a nation at the time. The eastern boundary of Egypt was called the “brook of Egypt”. This is known today as the Wadi el’Arish. It was a low-lying area that was a natural run-off for the rains that came in the rainy season. It was also the lower part of Israel. They recognized Israel as a natural land bridge between the continents and were trying to continuously extend their borders beyond the Wadi to control as much of Israel as they could.
The map directly below shows the different Oasis’ in the desert, where the Nile River flows, and where the Wadi el-‘Arish is (upper right side) that the Egyptians were continually trying to cross so that they could control Palestine.
Egypt is actually a river oasis in the desert. For life-giving water, Egypt depends wholly upon the Nile. The importance of the Nile to Egypt’s existence is reflected by the words of Herodotus, who was a fifth century B. C. Greek Historian. He wrote that Egypt was the gift of the Nile.
The ancient Egyptians actually treated the river as a god. They called it by the name Hapi. This was a male-female figure who symbolized the power and inherent forces of the Nile. The Nile would rise because Hapi willed it and would fall if Hapi was displeased. The Egyptians even had songs they would sing to Hapi to keep him pleased so bad things wouldn’t happen.
The Nile is the world’s longest river. It is twice as long as the Mississippi and flows 4,145 miles from the equator through the parched desert lands of North Africa to the Mediterranean Sea. It was not until the nineteenth century A. D. that explorers established that the Nile has two sources. The White Nile rises from the 8,500 foot mountains of Rwanda and Burundi, just south of the equator. The torrential rains from these mountains fill lakes Victoria, Albert, and Edward. The White Nile passes through gigantic Lake Victoria, the jungles of Uganda, and plunges down mighty Murchison Falls before meandering through the marshy Sudd and emerging into the Sudan desert. The Blue Nile rises from the 6,000 foot highlands of Ethiopia. It passes through Lake Tana, cascades over Tessisat Falls, and plunges through a 4,000 foot gorge before gliding into the sand-duned desert of Sudan. The Nile’s two branches join just north of Khartoum, Sudan’s capital. From here the river still has 1,850 miles to flow before reaching the Mediterranean.
As it continues its journey, the Nile passes over six cataracts, or stretches of rapids where the river crosses ledges of hard granite. At each of these the riverbed drops an average of sixty feet. The Nile passes over its last cataract just beyond the Aswan Dam, which holds back the waters of Lake Nasser. Here the river is about half a mile wide. The Nile flows on at about three knots, which is barely walking speed, to Cairo, where is spreads out to more than a mile wide. Beyond Cairo, it splits into a multiple of canals and waterways that flow another hundred miles to the Mediterranean and irrigate the green triangle of delta along the way.
Unlike many rivers, which fluctuate considerably in response to rainfall, the Nile is noted for its reliable flood pattern. The ancient Egyptians invented a 365-day calendar so that they could anticipate the annual inundation of rainfall. Before the erection of modern dams and flood-control devices, the river would begin to rise in July, and reach its peak in October. At this point it covered most of the land in the Nile Valley and delta area. It would then start to recede until March, when spring planting would take place.
The flooding of the Nile was extremely important to Egypt’s economic prosperity. It softened the ground, watered the soil, and deposited a new layer of rich alluvial soil, that was deposited by the river which came from the rich African highlands. A “good” flooding meant abundant crops and prosperity, and a low one meant a poor harvest and sometimes hunger. It was rare for the river to rise to such extreme heights as to destroy the dikes and houses along its way.
Egypt was regarded as a haven from famine because of the reliable waters of the Nile. The river was essential to more than Egypt’s agriculture, for the people depended upon it as their main highway between Upper Egypt and the delta. Barges floated on it bearing such products as the fine, quarried granite that was used for Egypt’s temples. Other boats hauled commodities from the delta to ancient Thebes. The Nile Valley extends from the first cataract at Aswan to the base of the delta at Memphis. This was a distance of about 600 miles. The valley is bordered by cliffs that rise from the flood plain. The distance between these cliffs varies from 10 to 30 miles, with 6 to 10 miles of this being cultivated. Only this part of the valley and the delta are suitable for agriculture. This area amounts to about 6 or 7 percent of Egypt’s land mass, with the rest being desert.
Because the country is situated in the North African desert, it is known for its hot sun, with little cloud cover to protect the inhabitants from it burning rays. Ra, the sun god, was worshipped by the ancient Egyptians. In ancient times and even today the sun is used for making sun-dried mud-bricks. This is a basic building material for the Egyptians. In a land of little rain, these bricks can last for years and still be strong.
Egypt’s rainfall is not very much. The delta receives some rain during the winter months; Alexandria, on the Mediterranean coast receives about 7 inches annually, Cairo receives about 1 inch a year. The lovely date palms in the vicinity of Memphis are a dirty, dusty green because they don’t get rain often enough to keep them clean. Aswan, 120 miles south of ancient Thebes, receives virtually no rain.
Almost every drop of water used by the Egyptian people comes from the Nile.
The same sea-to-land breeze observed in Israel appears along the Mediterranean coast of Egypt. This breeze continues up the Nile Valley, filling the sails of the small boats transporting goods and people on the river. The the desert dust storms, or khamsin, may occur from March to June. These are the result of tropical air from the south moving northward and meeting cooler air. This is accompanied by a sharp increase in temperature and a drop in relative humidity, which can cause gale force winds.
The map below shows where both of the sources of the Nile start, the cataracts, and the different lakes it runs through.