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The River Nile

The Nile River is the reason that the ancient Egyptians developed their civilization. The surround areas of Egypt are desert and the Nile River brought water and rich soil that could be used to fertilize and grow crops. The Nile River is considered to be the longest river in the world at 6,853 km and flows in a majority of northeastern Africa.

When we see pictures of the Nile, we might think of it as one huge long river, but it actually has two sections that are called ‘tributaries’. These are smaller rivers that run separately and then merge into one river. The names of the tributaries are called the White Nile and the Blue Nile.

The White Nile is:

  • The main stream of the Nile River.
  • Longer and increases in an area of Africa known as the Great Lakes region.

The Blue Nile is:

  • The real reason that the annual floods bring dark rich soil to Egypt’s farming areas.

The Nile River flows completely through the desert and then ends in what is called a ‘delta’ in Egypt. On its final journey it empties out into the Mediterranean Sea.

Scientists have not agreed on where the source of the water comes from that feeds the Nile River. Some thought it might be Lake Victoria which is one of Africa’s largest lakes. But that lake has a number of feeder rivers that they didn’t think affected the Nile. Others think it might be two the feeder rivers themselves that meet near the Rusumo Falls on the border of two African countries: Rwanda and Tanzania.

In the times of ancient Egypt there were heavy annual rains near both the White and Blue Niles. The large amount of water from the rain caused both tributaries to fill and move the water into the Nile River. The flooding was the expansion of so much extra water before it had a chance to empty into the Mediterranean Sea.

The Egyptians knew the time of the year that the Nile River would flood. They depended on the flooding to bring extra water and the rich soil and dirt that fertilized the fields for growing crops. Since the rains happened almost at the same time every year, the Egyptian civilization and everyday life was based on the flooding of the Nile, the planting and harvesting of the crops. The Nile flooded the area for about three months and then it had time to empty out into the Mediterranean Sea and return back to its normal size and flow.

The Nile River was used by the ancient Egyptians to travel in boats for trade to other areas. It was also used to transport items to the various sections of the Egyptian kingdom. It is thought that many of the stones used for the pyramids and the great buildings in Egypt were ‘quarried’ (dug out from the natural rock) and then loaded onto barges and sailed to the location of the new buildings.

Pharaohs had beautiful fancy ships built for themselves to travel up and down the Nile for pleasure and relaxation. The Nile River supplied Egypt with a way to have commerce as well as being the source for their crops.

Since the Nile River was so important to ancient Egyptian life, they added it as part of their religion. They believed the Nile River was the river way that was taken from life to death and then to enter the afterlife. The east was looked at as the place of growth and birth and the west was part of death. This is the same idea as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. In the Egyptian religion it was the way their Sun god Ra, traveled to birth, life, death and then to be reborn each day. This is why all of the burial tombs for the Egyptians are on the west side of the Nile.

The ancient Egyptians based their calendar on the three cycles of the Nile River. Each season was four months, each month thirty days.

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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
(4,160 miles)

Number of tributaries



Burundi, central Africa


Egypt into the Mediterranean Sea

  1. Where is the River Nile? Location of the
  2. Where is the source of the River Nile? Source
  3. Which two main rivers flow into the River Nile? Map of the Nile river
  4. Why did the Ancient Egyptians live near the River Nile?
    Why live near Nile?
  5. Why was the Nile River so important to the Ancient Egyptians? Why important?
  6. What else did the Nile provide for the Ancient Egyptians?
  7. What was the area next to the River Nile Called?
    Black land and Red land
  8. When did the Nile flood? Flooding
  9. Why did the Nile Flood?
  10. Why does the Nile not flood now ?
  11. Who was the Nile God? God
  12. 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.

Further Infomation

Nile River
A fantastic resource about the Nile.

Fact File of the River Nile



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