The River Nile is about 6,670 km (4,160 miles) in length and is the longest river in Africa and in the world. Although it is generally associated with Egypt, only 22% of the Nile’s course runs through Egypt.
In Egypt, the River Nile creates a fertile green valley across the desert. It was by the banks of the river that one of the oldest civilizations in the world began. The ancient Egyptians lived and farmed along the Nile, using the soil to produce food for themselves and their animals.
Countries it flows through
Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan, Burundi, Egypt
Approx 6,695 kilometers
Number of tributaries
Burundi, central Africa
Egypt into the Mediterranean Sea
- Where is the River Nile? Location of the
- Where is the source of the River Nile? Source
- Which two main rivers flow into the River Nile? Map of the Nile river
- Why did the Ancient Egyptians live near the River Nile?
Why live near Nile?
- Why was the Nile River so important to the Ancient Egyptians? Why important?
- What else did the Nile provide for the Ancient Egyptians?
- What was the area next to the River Nile Called?
Black land and Red land
- When did the Nile flood? Flooding
- Why did the Nile Flood?
- Why does the Nile not flood now ?
- Who was the Nile God? God
- Interesting facts about the River Nile
Facts about the Nile
The River Nile is in Africa. It originates in Burundi, south of the equator, and flows northward through northeastern Africa, eventually flowing through Egypt and finally draining into the Mediterranean Sea.
Map of the River Nile from space
Notice that the land is green on either side of the Nile.
Lake Victoria, Africa's biggest lake, is generally thought of as the source of the River Nile. On the northern edge of the lake, water pours over a waterfall, known as Ripon Falls, into a narrow opening which some people believe is the beginning of the River Nile.
The true source of the River Nile
Ripon Falls may be the starting-point of the river, but the many streams that flow into Lake Victoria could claim to be the true source.
Much of Lake Victoria is surrounded by mountains with streams tumbling down into the lake. The largest tributary of Lake Victoria is the Kagera river. The Kagera and its tributary the Ruvubu, with its headwaters in Burundi, is now considered to be the true source of the Nile. It is from here that the Nile is measured as the world's longest river.
The River Nile is formed from the White Nile, which originates at Lake Victoria and the Blue Nile, which originates at Lake Tana in Ethiopia. These rivers meet in Sudan and then go on their long journey northwards towards the sea.
The White Nile is a lot bigger than the Blue Nile, but because of losses along the way the it only contributes about 15% to the flow of the combined Nile. The Blue Nile, rising in Ethiopia, contributes about 85% to the flow of the Nile that passes through Egypt to the Mediterranean.
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Most Egyptians lived near the Nile as it provided water, food, transportation and excellent soil for growing food.
Ancient Egypt could not have existed without the river Nile. Since rainfall is almost non-existent in Egypt, the floods provided the only source of moisture to sustain crops.
Every year, heavy summer rain in the Ethiopian highlands, sent a torrent of water that overflowed the banks of the Nile. When the floods went down it left thick rich mud (black silt) which was excellent soil to plant seeds in after it had been ploughed.
The ancient Egyptians could grow crops only in the mud left behind when the Nile flooded. So they all had fields all along the River Nile.
Find out about Egyptian Farming
Reeds, called papyrus, grew along side the Nile. The Egyptians made paper and boats from the reeds.
Find out about Egyptian Writing
The Nile also gave the ancient Egyptians food. They used spears and nets to catch fish. They would also use the nets to catch birds that flew close to the surface of the water.
Another way the Nile helped the ancient Egyptians was in trade. The Nile was the quickest and easiest way to travel from place to place.
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This area was known as the Black Land. Further away from the river was the Red Land, a region of inhospitable desert.
The River Nile flooded every year between June and September, in a season the Egyptians called akhet - the inundation.
Melting snow and heavy summer rain in the Ethiopian Mountains sent a torrent of water causing the banks of the River Nile in Egypt to overflow on the flat desert land.
The construction of the Aswan Dam in the 1960's meant that from 1970 the annual flood was controlled.
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Hapi was the Nile god. Honouring a god was very important, so when a flood came the Egyptians would thank Hapi for bringing fertility to the land.
The Nile River is the longest river in the world.
The Nile flows into the Mediterranean Sea.
The largest source of the Nile is Lake Victoria.
The Nile has a length of about 6,695 kilometers (4,160 miles).
Its average discharge is 3.1 million litres (680,000 gallons) per second.
The Nile basin is huge and includes parts of Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Congo (Kinshasa), Kenya.
The name Nile comes from the Greek “neilos”, which means valley.
The Ancient Egyptians called the river Ar or Aur (black) because of the colour of the sediment left after the river’s annual flood.
A fantastic resource about the Nile.
Fact File of the River Nile
Click here to find out about shaduf
The people of ancient Egypt grew everything they needed to eat.
The pharaoh got the rich peasants to do the farm work on the rich lands.
Most villagers were farmers. Farmers lived in towns too, along with craftworkers, traders and other workers and their families.
Egyptians grew crops such as wheat, barley, vegetables, figs, melons, pomegranates and vines. They also grew flax which was made into linen.
The most important crop was grain. The ancient Egyptians used grain to make bread, porridge and beer. Grain was the first crop they grew after inundation (flooding season). Once the grain was harvested, they grew vegetables such as onions, leeks, cabbages, beans, cucumbers and lettuce.
Farmers planted fruit trees and vines along paths, to give shade as well as fruit.
The Egyptians grew their crops along the banks of the River Nile on the rich black soil, or kemet which was left behind after the yearly floods. The fertile soil was ideal to grow healthy crops.
Egyptian farmers divided their year into three seasons, based on the cycles of the Nile River:
Akhet - the inundation (June-September): The Flooding Season.
No farming was done at this time, as all the fields were flooded. Instead, many farmers worked for the pharaoh (king), building pyramids or temples. Some of the time was spent mending their tools and looking after animals.
Peret (October-February): The Growing Season.
In October the floodwaters receded, leaving behind a layer of rich, black soil. This fertile soil was then ploughed and seeded.
Shemu (March-May): The Harvesting Season.
The fully grown crops had to be cut down (harvested) and removed before the Nile flooded again. It was also the time to repair the canals ready for the next flood.
The main farming seasons were the:
- growing season
- harvest season.
In the growing season all the crops were planted. The harvest season was the time when crops were cut and gathered.
Reapers cut the ripe corn with wooden sickles edged with sharp flints. Women and children followed behind the reapers to collect any fallen ears of corn. Cattle were used to trampled over the cut corn to remove the grain from the ears. Then the grain was tossed into the air so the breeze blew the light useless chaff away.
Read more about harvesting
Every June, the Nile flooded. This was known as the flooding season. During this time the farmers would mend tools or make new ones. People would go fishing for food or extra money.
Ancient Egyptians had simple farming tools such as winnowing scoops, hoes, rakes, flint-bladed sickles and ploughs.
They had both hand ploughs and ones pulled by oxen. The ploughs were used to turn the soil.
Wall painting of a hand plough
Another piece of equipment used by farmers was the Shaduf. See further down the page.
The majority of the tools were made entirely out of wood, or a combination of wood and stone, however, some copper tools have also been found, indiscating that they had some metal tools too.
Once the floods receded and the fields dried, the plants would wither and die. The mud that the Nile left behind needed lots of watering in the hot sun. The ancient Egyptians tried to trap as much flood water as possible, so they did not have to constantly get water from the river.
They built mud-brick reservoirs to trap and hold the water. They also had a network of irrigation canals that filled with water during the flood and were refilled from the reservoirs.
To lift the water from the canal they used a shaduf. A shaduf is a large pole balanced on a crossbeam, a rope and bucket on one end and a heavy counter weight at the other. By pulling the rope it lowered the bucket into the canal. The farmer then raised the bucket of water by pulling down on the weight. He then swung the pole around and emptied the bucket onto the field.
Wall paintingof a shaduff
|Shaduf (shadoof) is a machine to move water from a lower place to a higher place.|
Animals were very important to Egyptian farmers. Animals helped them with jobs like trampling in the seeds, pulling the plough, eating unwanted grain or wheat and providing the Egyptians with food and drink. They kept animals such as cattle, goats, pigs, ducks, cows, and geese.
Peasants also hunted for antelope in the desert beyond the hills and fishing in the Nile.