The ‘Landscapes’ of Ancient Egypt

Intellectual Reactions to the Environment of the Lower Nile Valley
  • Michael Herb
  • Philippe Derchain
Part of the Studies in Human Ecology and Adaptation book series (STHE, volume 4)


La nature est le vis-à-vis que la culture s’est inventé pour se donner une contenance. Comme les dieux – ou Dieu – pour échapper au vertige de la toute-puissance de son imagination.

Philippe Derchain

The specific landscape of the valley of the river Nile played an important role in the development of the civilisation of ancient Egypt. At first sight describing this habitat seems to be a simple matter. Using topographical criteria we can say that the inner structure of the Lower Nile Valley is clear. Also there is an abundance of ancient sources we may analyse to obtain information dealing with the landscape occupied by the Ancient Egyptians over more than three millennia from around 3200 bc to ad 400. However, when considered in more depth the situation turns out to be more complicated. There is no proof that an Egyptian in the time of the pyramid-builders of Giza (2579–2486 bc) used the same epistemic structures or applied the same terminologies as his later historical companion of the Ptolemaic period (332–330 bc). Quite to the contrary it would be a rather unexpected result if concepts, technologies, and economic practices related to the environment remained unchanged over a period of 3000 years. Between 3200 bc and ad 400 Egyptian society and culture changed, as did its habitat both in a physical as well as in a conceptual sense. There was a multiplicity of intellectual reactions to the environment they lived in, and so it is more appropriate to speak about the ‘landscapes’ of Ancient Egypt. In contrast to other studies in this volume this chapter deals with a wealth of sources stretching over millennia of intense production of physical environmental features, meaning(s), and symbols.It is the aim of this contribution to offer a first impression of the manifold dimensions of the theme. First we describe the country from a geographical point of view trying to produce an objective point of reference. Then we introduce some very common Egyptian words which have been used over a long period of time designating the land in order to obtain ideas concerning a few basic landscape conceptualisations. In a third step we have a look at an epigraphic programme of a tomb of the Old Kingdom and analyse the way in which it mirrors the environment. Finally we speak about a religious theory of the structure of the world which in the opinion of the Ancient Egyptians resembles the environment of the river oasis of the Lower Nile Valley, that is, the landscape of Ancient Egypt.


Northern Wall Western Wall Ancient Egyptian Eastern Wall Riverine Environment 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Abu al-‘Izz, M.S. (1971). Landforms of Egypt. American University of Cairo.Kairo:Google Scholar
  2. Baines, J. (1985). Fecundity Figures. Egyptian Personification and the Iconology of a Genre. Aris & Phillips.Warminster:Google Scholar
  3. Baines, J. (1989). Communication and display: The integrating of early Egyptian art and writing. Antiquity, 63, 471–482.Google Scholar
  4. Baines, J. & Málek, J. (1980). Atlas of Ancient Egypt. Phaidon.Oxford:Google Scholar
  5. Bard, K.A. (Ed.) (1999), Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt. Routledge.London/New York:Google Scholar
  6. Barta, W. (1963). Die altägyptische Opferliste von der Frühzeit bis zur griechisch-römischen Epoche. Münchner Ägyptologische Studien, 3.Bruno Hessling.Berlin:Google Scholar
  7. Bietak, M. (1975). Tell el-Dab c. a II. Der Fundort im Rahmen einer archäologisch-geographischen Untersuchung über das ägyptische OstdeltaÖsterreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften.Denkschriften der Gesamtakademie, IV. Wien:Google Scholar
  8. Bonneau, D. (1993). La régime administratif de l’eau du Nil dans l’Égypte grecque, romaine et byzantine. Brill Academic.Leiden:Google Scholar
  9. Butzer, K.W. (1976). Early Hydraulic Civilization in Egypt. A Study in Cultural Ecology. University of Chicago Press.Chicago:Google Scholar
  10. Dunham, D. (1935). A ‘palimpsest’ on an Egyptian Mastaba Wall. American Journal of Archaeology, 39, 300–309.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Erman, A. & Grapow, H. (1957a–e). Wörterbuch der aegyptischen Sprache I-V. Akademie-Verlag.Berlin:Google Scholar
  12. Fitzenreiter, M. & Herb, M. (Eds.) (2006). Dekorierte Grabanlagen im Alten Reich. Methodik und Interpretation. Internet-Beiträge zur Ägyptologie und Sudanarchäologie, 6. Golden House.London:Google Scholar
  13. Gardiner, A.H. (1957). Egyptian Grammar. Oxford University Press for the Griffith Institute.Oxford:Google Scholar
  14. Harpur, Y.M. (1987). Decoration in Egyptian Tombs of the Old Kingdom. Studies in Orientation and Sciene Content. Studies in EgyptologyKegan Paul.London, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  15. Herb, M. (2001). Der Wettkampf in den Marschen. Nikephoros. Beiträge zu Sport und Kultur im Altertum. Beihefte, 5. Olms-Weidmann.Hildesheim:Google Scholar
  16. Herb,. M. (2006). Ikonographie – Schreiben mit Bildern. Ein Essay zur Historizität der Grabdekorationen des Alten Reiches. InFitzenreiter & MHerb (Eds.), M. Dekorierte Grabanlagen im Alten Reich. Methodik und Interpretation, (pp. 111–124). Internet-Beiträge zur Ägyptologie und Sudanarchäologie, 6Golden House.London:Google Scholar
  17. Ibrahim, F.N. (1996). Ägypten. Eine geographische Landeskunde.. Wissenschaftliche Länderkunden, 42Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.Darmstadt:Google Scholar
  18. Jacquet-Gordon, H.K. (1962). Les noms des domaines funéraires sous l’Ancien Empire.. Bibliotheque d’Étude, 34IFAO.Kairo:Google Scholar
  19. Kahl, J. (1994). Das System der ägyptischen Hieroglyphenschrift in der 0.-3. Dynastie.. Göttinger Orientforschungen, IV. Reihe: Ägypten, Band 29Harrassowitz Verlag.Wiesbaden:Google Scholar
  20. Kanawati, N. (1980). The Rock Tombs of El-Hawawish. The Cemetery of Akhmim I. Aris & Phillips.Warminster:Google Scholar
  21. Lapp, G. (1986). Die Opferformel des Alten Reiches unter Berücksichtigung einiger späterer Formen.. Deutsches Archäologisches Institut Abteilung Kairo, Sonderschrift, 21Philipp von Zabern.Mainz:Google Scholar
  22. Lichtheim, M. (1973). Ancient Egyptian literature. A Book of Readings I: The Old and Middle Kingsdoms. University of California Press.Berkeley/Los Angeles/London:Google Scholar
  23. Osborn, D.J. (1998). The Mammals of Ancient Egypt. The Natural History of Egypt, 4.Aris & Phillips.Warminster:Google Scholar
  24. Said, R. (1993). The River Nile. Geology, Hydrology and Utilization. Pergamon Press.Oxford/New York:Google Scholar
  25. Sauneron, S. (1963). Le temple d’Esna II. Publications de l’Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale. IFAO.Kairo:Google Scholar
  26. Seidlmayer, S. (2001). Historische und moderne Nilstände. Untersuchungen zu den Pegelablesungen des Nils von der Frühzeit bis in die Gegenwart. Achet: Schriften zur Ägyptologie, A.1.Verlag.Berlin:Google Scholar
  27. Sethe, K. (1914). Urkunden der 18. Dynastie. Verlag.Urkunden des aegyptischen Altertums, IV. Leipzig:Google Scholar
  28. Shaw,. I. (1993). Málek (Ed.), JEgypt: Ancient Culture – Modern Land University of Oklahoma Press.Norman: pp. 12–27.Google Scholar
  29. Simpson, W.K. (1992). The Offering Chapel of Kayemnofret in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. William Kelly Simpson.Boston:Google Scholar
  30. Smith,. H.S. (1979). Ruffle, JGaballa & G.A. Kitchen (Eds.), K.A. Glimpses of Ancient Egypt. Studies in Honor of H.W. Fairman Aris & Phillips.Warminster: (pp. 161–166).Google Scholar
  31. Smith, W.S. (1981). The Art and Architecture of Ancient Egypt. Revised with Additions by W.K. Simpson. Yale University Press.London/New York:Google Scholar
  32. Stricker, B.H. (1956). De overstroming van den Nijl. Brill Academic.Leiden:Google Scholar
  33. Wiebach, S. (1981). Die ägyptische Scheintür. Morphologische Studien zur Entwicklung und Bedeutung der Hauptkultstelle in den Privat-Gräbern des Alten Reiches.. Hamburger Ägyptologische Studien, 1. PhD thesisVerlag.Hamburg:Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Herb
    • 1
  • Philippe Derchain
  1. 1.Department of GeographyUniversity of BonnBonnGermany

Personalised recommendations