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The Flood

Ancient Egyptian Year

Flooding of the Nile next to the Giza Pyramids

What: The annual flooding of the River Nile
Where: Throughout Egypt’s fertile soils next to the Nile and through the Delta
When: Beginning of Egypt to 1960s with the building of the Aswan High Dam in the 20th Century

Flooding of the Nile throughout Isis Temple on Philae Island

Hapi, Goddess of the Flood & Fertility

 

Where: She was believed to have lived in a Cave at the Source of the Nile near Swenett, which is modern Aswan
Cult Centre: Her Cult Centre was in Elephantine, at the 1st Cataract of the Nile
Who: Her Priests were involved in rituals to ensure the steady levels of flow required from the annual flood which, as you can imagine, was crucial to the yearly flooding of the Nile to the correct amount. Too high a Flood would ruin crops whilst not enough water flooding over the fields would bring a drought creating the same effect
Symbol: The Goddesses symbol was a Lotus plant
Depicted as: Figure with a big belly and large drooping breasts, wearing a ceremonial false beard, with blue or green skin to represent water

The Seasons 

New Year

Goddess Isis cried tear of sorrow for her dead husband Osiris and created the Flood

Season of the Inundation “The Akhet”

  • Usually from mid-August to September
    The Nile would burst its banks and cover the floodplain
  • September to October
    The Nile waters receded leaving behind a rich deposit of extraordinary fertile black silt

Season of Emergence “The Peret”
Usually from January to May

  • January to February was the First of Peret
  • February to March was the Second of Peret
  • March to April was the Third of Peret
  • April to May was the Fourth of Peret

 

Season of Harvest “The Shemu“ or Low Water
Usually from May to September

  • May to June was the First of Shemu
  • June to July was the Second of Shemu
  • July to August was the Third of Shemu
  • August to September was the Fourth of Shemu

How did they use the Nile?

The Egyptians would not have existed without the Nile as it provided them with

Food: Rainfall could not be counted on to provide sufficient water for the farming of crops so the annual Flood was critical

The Egyptians would also catch Nile fish and bird life

Trade: The Nile was the quickest and easiest way to travel from place to place

How the Nile water was measured

The Priests used Nilometers to predict the coming Flood. This was part of their magical prowess as most Nilometers were kept away from the population and were generally within the boundaries of Temples, such as Kom Ombo Temple.

The water was measured by one of 3 types of Nilometers; each was marked with Cubits which today equates to half a meter. Depending on the Nilometer depended on which level of Cubit they wanted to see marked. A lower level of Cubits could lead to drought and then famine and a higher level of Cubits could mean a catastrophic flood.

Elephantine Island’s Nilometer was considered the most important as, being near Egypt’s southern border, it was the first to know when the annual Flood was detected and what the annual Flood would bring.

The Flood’s Yearly Cycle in detail

Aswan – Height 13.7m 
Beginning of June: Rise began at the 1st Cataract
June to Beginning of July: Steady increase continued
Middle of July: Reached its Peak flow
Middle of July and August: Continued in its rise
Beginning of September: Water levelled out for 3 weeks
October: Often a 2nd Rise
End of October to May: Steady lowering of water until reaching its lowest level


Luxor/Thebes – Height 11.6m
Flooding began approx. 3 days after Aswan


Cairo/Memphis – Height 7.6m
Flooding began approx. 4 days after Luxor/Thebes

Flood Areas
The Black Land Found near the Nile and named after the colour of the soil once the Flood had deposited the black silt. The Red Land Found further inland and was the region of inhospitable desert.

Using the River for Food
The Ancient Egyptians understood how to maximise the use of the river water by building canals throughout their agricultural fields. This allowed them to dam and dyke the water to their needs. This allowed between 2 to a maximum of 12 million people to be adequately supplied with food.

End of the Floods
The Flooding and the Nilometers became obsolete with the completion of the Aswan High Dam.