Inundation

Inundation of the Nile near GizehIn a dry land such as Egypt, water was of primary importance. Indeed, without it no life is possible. Egypt has therefore been described as the gift of the Nile. Of equal importance, however, was the annual inundation of the Nile, which began in July as the result of heavy rainfall in Ethiopia. The inundation transported fertile mud onto the banks of the river and enabled agriculture to take place. The Egyptian year began with the inundation, which coincided with the first appearance of the star Sothis (Sirius) at daybreak after a long period of invisibility. The rising of the land out of the receding waters was identified by the Egyptians with the creation, when the primeval hill emerged from the waters of Nun. It was also thought that the waters of the Nile came from the waters of Nun. The Egyptian calendar was thus based on the Nile inundation. The first season was the inundation ('akhet'), followed by a period of sowing and germination ('peret') and by the dry season ('shemu'). However, this ‘administrative' calendar did not always coincide with the natural year, which it lagged by a single day every four years. Indeed the two calendars only coincided once every 1460 years. There are various texts in which the Egyptians bemoan the fact that natural events, such as the inundation, occurred in the wrong season. The god of the inundation was called Hapi, who was usually depicted as a fat man with pendulous breasts, with his body painted blue and with a number of water plants on his head, symbols of plenty and of fertility.