Climate Change, Nile Floods and RIARIA

In this contribution, I aim to shed light on the complex interaction between climate, riparia and the course of Egyptian civilization.

I examine in the first part the characteristics of the floodplain and its dynamics in response to climate change and in the second part, the cultural history of Egyptian civilization as a human achievement by farming communities in an unpredictable environment.

Although climatic fluctuations have been a principal catalyst for cultural change, the course of Egyptian civilization was primarily the result of social processes.

We cannot underestimate the role of an elite who may have in the beginning served as coordinators and managers of aggregates of communities banded together in order to minimize the risk of unpredictable floods and their consequences for riparia.

The elite developed an ideology of divine kingship buttressed by monumental architectural structures and did not have much to do with centralized management of irrigation.

However, for a brief moment, after a catastrophically low Nile caused by a global climatic event ca. 4200 BP, a new dynasty undertook major hydraulic projects but they were subsequently destroyed by high floods.

It was not until the Ptolemaic period that such state-sponsored hydraulic projects were undertaken but they also suffered fromdestruction by high floods.

The Romans continued to repair such structures.

Climatic events attested around the Mediterranean during the Roman period would have contributed to fluctuations (100-200 year scale) which would have caused variations in Nile flood discharge and hence agricultural production.

Since Rome depended on food supply from Egypt, low agricultural yield would have adversely affected Rome.


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