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On a historical map of the Mediterranean region, locate the Mediterranean and the Red Seas, the Nile River and Delta, and the areas of ancient Nubia and Egypt. Identify the locations of ancient Upper and Lower Egypt and explain what the terms mean. On a modern map, identify the modern countries of Egypt and Sudan.

Area in blue is the Mediterranean Sea.
Area in blue is the Mediterranean Sea.

Focus Question: Where was ancient Egypt and what were ancient Upper and Lower Egypt?

Topics on the Page
Ancient Egypt
The Nile River
  • The Cataracts of the Nile
The Nile Delta
Ancient Nubia
Upper and Lower Egypt
Egypt and Sudan on a Map

Ancient Egypt

primary_sources.PNGHerodotus' Description of Egypt and the Egyptians

map-ancient-rome-2.jpgClick here to view places on this interactivemap of Ancient Egypt and explore its geographical history. You can also view an Egyptian timeline and take quizzes to test your knowledge!

Geographic challenges of Egypt

Click here for a some fast facts about Ancient Egypt from National Geographic.
Multimedia.pngClick here for a Crash Course video about Ancient Egypt.

The Nile River

Map of Africa, showing the course of River Nile in red.
Map of Africa, showing the course of River Nile in red.

The Nile river has long-shaped the Egyptian landscape and significantly effected the Egyptian culture that would come to form around it.

The nutrient-rich silt deposited by the Nile's seasonal floods made the soil surrounding the Nile river valley extremely fertile and self-replenishing, which allowed for seasonal agriculture without soil exhaustion. This unique feature of the Nile has made Egyptian civilization unique in the richness of its agricultural wealth. After it's conquest by Rome, Egypt quickly became known as the "Breadbasket of the Roman Empire".

Farming on the Nile became more commonplace following the end of the Ice Age (which caused the formation of the Sahara Desert itself) at about 10,000 BC, and agriculture expanded greatly from about 4500 BC onward.

It cannot be stressed enough that the Nile was the heart of Egypt. If there was a problem, say a severe drought, the ramifications are catastrophic. Such a drought occurred nearly 4,200 years ago and brought about the end of the Old Kingdom in Ancient Egypt. This most effectively illustrates the importance of the Nile in that a massive drought brought about a new age in Egyptian History.

  • Starts from mountains and lakes in modern day Uganda and flows north to the Mediterranean Sea.
    • Sailors could float north with the current or sail south against the current
  • Annual flooding deposits nutrient rich silt, making the flood plains around the river incredibly fertile.
  • Common crops along the river are Sorghum (a type of grass that can provide grain or syrup) and millet
  • The longest river in the world (as long as the width of America, for comparison)
Multimedia.pngShort video about the Nile River for kids.

Multimedia.pngShort video from the BBC about how the Nile helps people survive with a lesson activity.

Click here for an article from USA Today about the importance of the Nile River today.

The Nile Delta

Link here for information on the 5 Largest Rivers in the World

  • About 100 miles south of the Mediterranean Coast in Egypt, the Nile forms into a River Delta.

River Delta- A geographical formation where a river branches out into smaller waterways to form a triangle (In the Greek alphabet, a triangle is the letter "Delta") before emptying out into a body of water. For information on how a River Delta is formed, click here.

The branching delta provides the largest swath of arable land and it is no accident that today--as in ancient times--the delta is home to a large share of Egypt's population.

The Cataracts of the Nile

Murchison Falls, a cataract on the Nile.
Murchison Falls, a cataract on the Nile.
The Nile has six distinct cataracts, which are white water areas (sometimes waterfalls), not generally navigable by boat.
The locations of the six cataracts.
The locations of the six cataracts.

  • Ancient settlements sprang up around these cataracts as important trade centers (as anyone passing by boat would be forced to bypass the cataract).
  • Cataracts have historically served as boundaries between the Upper and Lower Egypt.

Click here for more information on Cataracts and their impact on how the Nile shaped Egypt.

Multimedia.png BBC documentary: The Story of the Nile

Multimedia.pngThe Nile A short and wonderfully descriptive lecture by Dr. David Neiman

Ancient Nubia (for more go to 7.13)

1837 copperplate lithograph map of Ancient Egypt, Nubia and Abyssina
1837 copperplate lithograph map of Ancient Egypt, Nubia and Abyssina

Original Settlement-
Nubian settlements first appeared in 5000 BCE. At this point, the Nubian culture shared many similarities with Naqadan culture of Upper Egypt.

Ancient Nubia, also called Kingdom of Kush by the Early Egyptians, is called Sudan today.
  • As with Egypt, Upper Nubia is the southernmost portion, whereas Lower Nubia is the northernmost.

Nubian Society-
  • Nubia is sometimes referred to as the "Trade center of the ancient world." It was famous for its trade in gold, ebony, ivory, exotic feathers, copper, precious metals and slaves.
  • Due to it's importance in trade, Egypt built forts along the Nile in Nubian territories.
  • While Nubia was conquered at various times by Egypt (and with a few attempts at Egyptian colonization), Nubia also conquered Egypt to found the 25th Dynasty.
  • Despite a scattered history of warfare and invasion, Nubia and Egypt maintained long periods of peaceful and mutually beneficial cultural exchange through much of the history of the two kingdoms.

primary_sources.PNGClick here to see a Gallery of Artifacts from Ancient Nubia: Egypt's Rival in Africa from the University of Pennsylvania Museum.

Nubian Population Shifts-
Using changes in pottery and other indicators, Archaeologists split the early inhabitants of Nubia into "A-Group", "B-Group", and "C-Group", though there is a great deal of debate over what caused the shifts between these groups. Opinions range from migration and invasion to changes in the standard of living.


"The "blackness" of Kushite art and culture, which once generally negated its interest for Americans, is now precisely what makes it so interesting for them." Learn more about racism surrounding the rediscovery the Ancient Nubian people here.

Learn more about the Black Pharaohs and their relationship with Egypt as well as other Nubian wonders here.

Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt

external image 293px-Ancient_Egypt_main_map.png

Upper Egypt vs. Lower Egypt- Egypt was commonly understood to be a union of two lands, Upper and Lower Egypt. Due to the northern flow of the Nile, Upper Egypt is actually the southern section of the two. (Note: This is often a source of confusion).

Unification of the two kingdoms- Upper and Lower Egypt were different Kingdoms with their own crowns and kings for a long period until their unification by a Pharaoh known as Narmer in the 31st century BCE. (A breakthrough archaeological find came with the discovery of an artifact known as the "Narmer Palette", which has a pictorial representation of Narmer's conquest of Egypt)
  • The Egyptian Historian Manetho (3rd century BCE) referred to the first unifying Pharaoh by the name of "Menes". However, James E. Quibell, a British Archaeologist dubbed the unifying Pharaoh by the name of "Narmer" with his discovery of the "Narmer Palette". Another example in a long list of archaeological Imperialism, the common understanding of the first Pharaoh became Narmer after the finding of the British archaeologist in defiance of the longstanding claims of the Egyptian Historian.

Click here to find out more on the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt.

Egypt and Sudan on a Modern Map
Egypt, in orange, and Sudan, in green.
Egypt, in orange, and Sudan, in green.

Additional Resources

map-ancient-rome-2.jpgUniversity of Texas modern Egyptian maps .

An overview of Ancient Egypt from the BBC Ancient Egypt and the Modern World

Ancient Egypt
map of ancient egypt.jpg

Modern Egypt


Images obtained from Wikimedia Commons 14 June 2011