May 1, 2012

The Geography of Ancient Egypt 450 BC

Egypt - Ancient Egypt Geography
Egypt, as Herodotus tells us, is the gift of the Nile, and the Nile once dominated the country even more than it does today, as these first writers show. The rising of the Nile was as significant as the changing of the seasons in other parts of the world in fact, it created its own seasons for Egypt as its waters provided for both the land and its people. This chapter concludes with a brief look at some of the people of Egypt and their dress and Rudyard Kipling’s view of the travelers and foreigners drawn to the country.

Geography of Ancient Egypt
The Geography of Egypt, c. 450 B.C.
Herodotus

What they said of their country seemed to me very reasonable. For anyone who sees Egypt, without having heard a word about it before, must perceive, if he has only common powers of observation, that the Egypt to which the Greeks go in their ships is an acquired country the gift of the river. . . . Egypt Geography

The following is a general description of the physical features of Egypt. If you take a cast of the lead a day’s sail off-shore, you will get eleven fathoms, muddy bottom which shows how far out the silt from the river extends. The length of the Egyptian coastline (defining Egypt, as we usually do, from the gulf of Plinthine to Lake Serbonis which lies along the base of Mount Casius) is sixty schoeni the schoenus being an Egyptian measure equivalent to sixty stades. The people there who own very little land measure it by fathoms; those not so poor, by stades, or furlongs; those with much land in parasangs; and those with vast estates in schoeni. The parasang is equal to thirty stades, the schoenus, as I have said, to sixty. Thus the coastline of Egypt is 3600 stades in length (about 420 miles).

From the coast inland as far as Heliopolis just about the same distance as along the road from the altar of the Twelve Gods in Athens to the temple of Olympian Zeus at Pisa the country is broad and flat, with much swamp and mud. In point of fact these two distances from Heliopolis to the sea, and from Athens to Pisa are not exactly the same, but very nearly; careful reckoning would show that they differ by only fifteen stades.

Southward of Heliopolis the country narrows. It is confined on the one side by the range of the Arabian mountains and ancient Egypt Geography Facts which run north and south and then continue without a break in the direction of the Arabian Gulf. In these mountains are the quarries where the stone was cut for the pyramids of Memphis. This is the point where the range changes its direction and bends away towards the Arabian Gulf. I learnt that its greatest length from east to west is two months’ journey, and that towards the eastern limit frankincense is produced.

On the Libyan side of Egypt there is another range of hills where the pyramids stand; these hills are rocky and covered with sand, and run in a southerly direction like the Arabian range before it bends eastward. Above Heliopolis, then, for a distance of four day’s journey up the river, Egypt is narrow, and the extent of the territory, for an important country, is meagre enough. Between the two mountain ranges the Libyan and the Arabian it is a level plain, in its narrowest part, as far as I could judge, not more than about two hundred furlongs across South of this the country broadens again .... Ancient Egypt Geography Facts .

From Heliopolis to Thebes is nine days’ voyage up the Nile, a distance of 81 schoeni or 4860 stades (552 miles). Putting together the various measurements I have given, one finds that the Egyptian coastline is, as I have said, about 420 miles in length, and on the distance from the sea inland to Thebes about 714 miles. It is another 210 miles from Thebes to Elephantine.

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