Impact of the Nile River on Ancient Egypt

In the thousands of years after the end of the last Ice Age, North Africa had a much wetter climate than it does today. Over time, the climate became drier as the wetlands turned into the Sahara Desert we know today. The land became dry and difficult for human societies to live in. In the midst of the desert, however, was a flowing river called the Nile.

The Nile supported and allowed life to thrive in the grueling climate. The earliest inhabitants along the river found that the river provided many sources of food, and more importantly, discovered an annual 6 month period where the Nile flooded. The brown layer of silt that the Nile left when it receded was full of nutrients that allowed for farming to occur. Through the use of irrigation canals, agriculture was born which paved the way for the emergence of Egyptian civilization.

This painting depicts the vitality the Nile River brings to the arid climate. Without it, Egyptian civilization could not have existed.

The inhabitants utilized the Nile to adapt to the changing environment. Instead of roaming the land, they saw the opportunity the Nile provided them through agriculture. Similar to how the Mayans developed Neolithic techniques through maize, beans, and squash in the tropical climate of Guatemalan rainforests, early Egyptians were able to grow wheat, beans, and cotton on the banks of the Nile. By determining when the Nile flooded, the river proved to be a sustainable way to live life.

The flooding of the Nile was not a perfect occurrence. This gave rise to the belief in the gods and a highly stratified social structure. At the top of the social structure were gods such as Ra and Osiris because the Egyptians believed that they controlled the universe. The Egyptians tried their best to please the gods because if they were happy, then the Nile would flood producing an abundance of crops and preventing famine. After the gods came the pharaohs in social status. The Egyptian people believed the pharaoh to be a god in mortal form. They had absolute power over the dominion which required protection through the help of government officials and soldiers. The rest of the people’s status went in the order of scribes, merchants, artisans, farmers, and finally slaves.

This wall painting depicts the King Tutankhamen with Egyptian gods Anubis and Nephthys. King Tutankhamen ruled from 1333- 1323 BCE.

This social stratification was necessary for a civilization as large as ancient Egypt to function. Slaves were utilized to build infrastructure, farmers produced the food for the society, and the other social levels contributed by either governing, defending, or producing commodities for the civilization. Social mobility was possible in ancient Egypt though. Sending sons to schools to learn how to read and write could make it possible for them to become a scribe, boosting social status.

Ancient Egyptian civilization was created and greatly influenced by the Nile River. The flooding of the Nile was sustainable but not perfectly reliable, creating the belief in gods and social stratification. The Nile River provided sustenance to Egypt for around 3000 years. In 332 BC, Alexander the Great conquered Egypt and Ptolemaic period of Macedonian rule began.



Further Readings:

Terracotta Army Archaeology

On March 29, 1974, two farmers in the Shaanxi province of China inadvertently discovered thousands of life-sized terracotta figures. The warriors were created to accompany and protect their emperor in the afterlife, each one exhibiting different characteristics than the last. Thousands of bronze weapons were also dispersed throughout the warriors. By unearthing these artifacts left by the Qin dynasty, modern society is able to learn just how complex and intricate ancient Chinese society was.

Archaeologists rely on the record of Han dynasty historian Sima Qian for answers to the terracotta army. According to Sima Qian, over 700,000 slaves, indentured servants, and prisoners of war were forced to construct the figures. The power and authority that emperor Qin Shi Huang had over his dominion can immediately be inferred from this record. What doesn’t immediately come to mind, however, is how the society functioned during construction of the army. In order for 10 years and the labor of 700,000 people to be justified, there needed to be specialization among the populace.

An overview of the terracotta army. The army is buried in three pits with Pit No. 1 being the largest.

Slaves created the terracotta army, farmers grew the food, and metallurgists crafted the weapons. In other words, the society could not have existed if everyone was creating the army; each person had a specific niche that helped the society as a whole. Because of this, China during the Qin Dynasty can be referred to as one of the first examples of a state society.


To this day, archaeologists are pondering the techniques utilized to create the warriors in such a relatively short period of time. Some hypothesize that the entire army was created by a single artisan. Others say that an assembly line was used to pump out soldiers. A 2014 study conducted by researchers at University College London analyzed ears from 30 warriors to determine if they were different from each other. No two ears analyzed were alike inferring that the soldiers were different, however further testing needs to be done in order to support the theory.

Archaeologists were also puzzled as to how the bronze weapons found in the pits were manufactured. It was believed that an assembly line was used to create the immense amount of weapons, however, a recent study of 40,000 bronze arrowheads show that they were produced in independent workshops. By using X-ray fluorescence, the scientists discovered unique chemical signatures on the arrowheads. When these signatures were placed on a digital map, the scientists were able to determine that each arrowhead came from a single workshop, trumping the idea of an assembly line.

An assortment of bronze weapons found in the pits of the terracotta army.

By studying artifacts, modern society can learn a great deal about life in the past. Modern technology is only enhancing the immense knowledge we can obtain from these artifacts. By simply observing the warriors, we are able to determine the existence of a state society and through X-ray fluorescence, we can debunk the theory of an assembly line. Future developments in archaeology can help us uncover more secrets from the past.


Jarus, Owen. “Terracotta Warriors: An Army for the Afterlife.” LiveScience.  28 Nov. 2016. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.

Jennifer, Pinkowski. “Chinese terra cotta warriors had real, and very carefully made, weapons.” The Washington Post26 Nov. 2012. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.


Further Readings: