The Origin and The Rise of The River Nile

‘Egypt is an acquired country, the gift of the River’ (doran tu Potamu), so said Herodotus, the father of history. Many ancient philosophers asserted that the Nile was superior to the other rivers of the world – that it was in a class by itself. Very few physical facts of antiquity received more discussion than the annual inundation of the river Nile. The Greek geographer and historian Strabo stated of the river that ‘its rising, and its mouths were considered, as they are at the present day, amongst the most remarkable, the most wonderful, and most worthy of recording of all peculiarities of Egypt’. Greek philosophers were so intrigued by the regularity of the floods of the Nile that some believed that the river had been created along with the world, and that reason only could explain its peculiar characteristics. It was considered to be too vast and remarkable to have had the same origin as other rivers, and that is why one reason was sometimes advanced for its origin and another for the other rivers of the world. The present chapter deals exclusively with the various theories put forward on the origin and rise of the special and almost ‘legendary’ river, the Nile.

By Asit K. Biswas, Chapter 6 of the book: History of Hydrology, 1970, North-Holland Publishing Company, Amsterdam.

Chapter online