The Nile is the longest of the great African rivers. The White Nile rises in the Nyanza lakes, flows due north, and receives the waters of the Blue Nile near the modern town of Khartum. The course of the river is broken from this point by a series of five rocky rapids, misnamed cataracts, which can be shot by boats. The cataracts cease near the island of Philp and Upper Egypt begins. It is a valley about five hundred miles long and about thirty miles wide.
The strip of cultivable soil on each side of the river averages, however, only eight miles in width. Not far from modern Cairo the hills enclosing the valley fall away, the Nile divides into numerous branches, and the delta of Lower Egypt begins. The sluggish stream passes through a region of mingled swamp and plain, and at length by three principal mouths empties into the Mediterranean.
Egypt owes her existence to the Nile. Lower Egypt is a creation of the river by the gradual accumulation of sediment at its mouths. Upper Egypt has been dug out of the desert sand and underlying rock by a process of erosion centuries long. The Nile once filled all the space between the hills that line its sides. It now flows through a thick layer of mud which has been deposited by the yearly inundation.
The Nile begins to rise in June, when the snow melts on the Abyssinian mountains. High-water mark, some thirty feet above the ordinary level, is reached in September.
The inhabitants then make haste to cut the confining dikes and to spread the fertilizing water over their fields. Egypt takes on the appearance of a turbid lake, dotted here and there with island villages and crossed in every direction by highways elevated above the flood. Late in October the river begins to subside and by December has returned to its normal level.
As the water recedes it deposits that dressing of fertile vegetable mold which makes the soil of Egypt perhaps the richest in the world.
People could live and thrive in Egypt. The soil produced after irrigation three crops of grain, flax, and vegetables a year. The clay of the valley and easily worked stone from the mountains near-by furnished building materials. The hot, dry climate enabled the inhabitants to get along with little shelter and clothing. The Nile provided them with a natural highway for domestic trade. Such favoring; circumstances allowed the Egyptians to increase in numbers and’ to gather in populous communities. At a time when their: neighbors were still in the darkness of the prehistoric age, the Egyptians had entered the light of history.