The River Nile has become synonymous with the ancient civilisation that is Egypt. The Nile is the longest river in Africa; and at one point in history, it was even erroneously considered the longest river in the world. That accolade now belongs to the Amazon in South America.

The Nile was an important part of the spiritual and economic life of the ancient Egyptians. Hapi was the god of the annual floods. In Egyptian mythology, both Hapi and the pharaoh were believed to control the way the Nile flooded each year.

Hapi was greatly celebrated among the Egyptians. He was hailed as “Lord of the Fish and Birds of the Marshes” and “Lord of the River Bringing Vegetation”.

Each year when the Nile flooded, Egyptians praised the arrival of Hapi. Since the annual flood provided fertile soil in a desert region, Hapi symbolised fertility. He was depicted with a plump stomach and large female breasts due to his ability to bring a rich and nourishing harvest. His skin was either blue or green in colour.

Hapi’s fertile nature even led him to be considered the father of the gods. He was considered a caring father who helped to maintain the balance of the cosmos in an orderly and harmonious fashion.

It was held that he lived within a cavern at the supposed ‘source’ of the Nile near Aswan. Hapi was not considered the god of the Nile, but of the annual inundation.

The flooding of the Nile has been celebrated in Egypt for thousands of years. Whenever Hapi came, the flooded river would leave behind black silt as water levels returned to normal. The silt was rich in minerals and vitamins and it allowed crops planted in it to flourish.

The annual inundation was what allowed Egyptians to successfully grow crops in the desert. Even though the floodplain only constituted a tiny fraction of Egyptian land, it was incredibly fertile.

The prosperity of the year was entirely dependent on how much silt the floods left behind. If the floods did not cause the levels to rise that much; then there would be a deficit in that year. Grain was stored in prosperous years in case of drought. Economic planning was born.

Limestone slab showing the Nile flood god Hapi. (Image Credit: Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin)

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