2.4 Egyptian Civilization

The fertile lands of the Nile River Valley attracted Stone Age farmers. In prehistoric times, migrating people reached Egypt from the Mediterranean area, from the hills and deserts near the Nile, and from other parts of Africa. In time, the Nile Valley became the birthplace of a powerful civilization that depended heavily on the control of river waters.

Painting of statues in shallow body of water, with several ancient people moving a large mass in the dirt and reeds.

These statues at Thebes stood in front of a temple destroyed by the Nile's flooding. Egyptians learned to control the flooding and use the Nile for agriculture as well as transportation.


  • Understand the ways in which geography helped shape ancient Egypt.
  • Explain how Egypt grew strong during the New Kingdom.
  • Describe the ways in which religious beliefs shaped the lives of ancient Egyptians.
  • Explain how the Egyptians organized their society.
  • Outline the advances that the Egyptians made in learning, the arts, science, and literature.

Key Terms

  • cataract
  • delta
  • dynasty
  • pharaoh
  • vizier
  • Hatshepsut
  • Thutmose III
  • Ramses II
  • Amon-Re
  • Osiris
  • Isis
  • Akhenaton
  • mummification
  • hieroglyphics
  • papyrus
  • decipher
  • Rosetta Stone

Geography Shapes Egypt

The Rich Nile Valley

“Egypt,” said the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, “is wholly the gift of the Nile.” Without the Nile, Egypt would be just the barren desert that surrounds the river. But while the desert protected Egypt from invasion, it also limited where people could settle.

In ancient times, as today, farming villages dotted the narrow band of land watered by the Nile. Beyond the rich, irrigated “Black Land,” generally no more than 10 miles wide, lay the “Red Land,” a sun-baked desert that stretches across North Africa. Farmers took advantage of the fertile soil of the Nile Valley to grow wheat and flax, a plant whose fibers were used for clothing.

Benefits of Nile Flooding

The Nile rises in the highlands of Ethiopia and the lakes of central Africa. Every spring, the rains in this interior region send water racing down streams that feed the Nile River. In ancient times, Egyptians eagerly awaited the annual flood. It soaked the land with life-giving water and deposited a layer of rich silt, or soil.

People had to cooperate to control the Nile floods. They built dikes, reservoirs, and irrigation ditches to channel the rising river and store water for the dry season.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments