The Importance of the Nile River

One of the things that has fascinated me the most from our readings so far on Ancient Egypt has been the importance of the Nile River in the development of Egyptian society. While I do not adhere to the notion that the environment completely shapes the development of a society, it seems to me that the successful development of Egyptian culture and society nevertheless does have a great amount to do with the environment in which the Egyptians lived. The rise of extremely powerful empires was not seen in some of its neighbors, for example the Berbers to the West. While it is of course true that access to the Nile River Valley did not in itself guarantee that Egyptian civilization would become as complex as it was, I argue that without the resources made available by the Nile River, the Egyptians would have never been able to do many of the things that they did.

Individual creativity and intelligence of course did play a role in how complex Egyptian society would become, but intelligence counts for nothing if you don’t have the resources to act on that intelligence. Except for the several Oases that exist, the Eastern and Western deserts remained sparsely peopled, with little of the habitation and construction that characterized the lands closer to the river valley.

Because the annual inundations of the Nile River resulted in extremely fertile soil in the floodplains of the river valley, the Egyptians were able to develop farming and cultivate the area. Cultivation of this nature would have allowed for their population to grow, leading to more complex, eventually state-level society. However, without the crops produced by Egyptian farmers, this society could not be maintained. Thus, once again, while a complex and powerful civilization is not destined to come into existence due to the conditions of its environment, it can’t come into existence without abundant resources either. The Nile River Valley and the conditions it created was perhaps the greatest factor in allowing Egyptian civilization to flourish for so long, and to flourish at all.