The River Nile: Why Was It So Important To Ancient Egypt? - An Intro For Kids
Updated: Jun 20
The River Nile runs right through the centre of Egypt, but why was it so important to the Ancient Egyptian people?
Ancient Egypt was divided into two lands; Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt.
Oddly, Upper Egypt is in the South and Lower Egypt is in the North. This looks strange when viewed on a map, with Lower Egypt located at the top of the country and Upper Egypt on the bottom. But the location of these two kingdoms makes sense when you consider the River Nile.
Unlike the majority of rivers that start in the North and flow South, the Nile does the opposite - it starts in the South and flows Northwards. So when the Ancient Egyptians named their two kingdoms, they placed Upper Egypt in the South because that's where the river begins (the "top" of the river) and Lower Egypt in the North because that's where the river ends (the "bottom" of the river).
Most of the land in Egypt is desert, but because the Nile flooded fairly reliably every September, there was fertile soil along the banks of the river. This meant the soil here was rich enough to grow healthy crops, including flax, wheat and papyrus. They called these rich, black soils the "Gift of the Nile" because without it their livelihoods would suffer and they would have little food.
The Egyptians measured the height of the River Nile’s annual flood with the brilliantly named ‘Nilometer’. This handy contraption allowed them to make an accurate guess about how many crops would grow that year.
The Ancient Egyptians believed that if the Nile did not flood, then they must have displeased their gods who would punish them with crop failure and famine.
We found the following book very handy in researching this article.
If you'd like to learn more about Ancient Egypt then it's well worth a look.
Horrible Histories: Awesome Egyptians by Terry Deary
The Ancient Egyptians grew lots of food in the fertile soil next to the River Nile, such as vegetables (cabbages, onions, cucumbers, etc) and fruits (figs, melons, etc). But the most important crop was wheat, which they used to make bread and beer. They would grow wheat before anything else, immediately after the flood waters receded.
The Egyptians would also go fishing in the Nile using spears and nets to catch food. In this way, the Nile was still used to gather food even when it was in flood and no crops could be grown or harvested.
The lush plants growing in the fertile land around the banks of the Nile also attracted animals. This made it a great location for hunting - a popular sport of the Pharaohs who liked to show their prowess by taking down large beasts.
The crops that the Ancient Egyptians grew in the fertile land along the Nile were used for much more than just food.
A crop called Flax was transformed into a linen that was used to create clothing. Making the linen was a very long process, so rich nobles received the finer, softer threads that took longer to make.
Papyrus also grew along the banks of the Nile. The most well known use of Papyrus was to create paper for writing on. In fact, Papyrus paper worked so well, it was even used by the Ancient Greeks and the Ancient Romans.
But Papyrus also had other useful functions. It could be used to make cloth, which worked particularly well as a sail for boats. It was also used to create rope, mats, baskets and even sandals.
Because the Nile was essential for live to thrive in Ancient Egypt, most of the large and important cities were built close by to the river. This meant the population of these cities had easy access to all of the amenities the river supplied; drinking water, a place to wash, a place to work.
It also meant that the Nile became a major highway for boats transporting people and goods from city to city. Building materials, such as limestone blocks or dried mudbricks, would be transported to building sites throughout Egypt by boat on the Nile. The wheat that was grown on the banks of the Nile would be shipped along the river to be traded. In short, the Nile became the main thoroughfare for people's life and work in Ancient Egypt.
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