Richard Lepsius.

Letters from Egypt, Ethiopia, and the peninsula of Sinai online

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above Semne, Eussegger says, that all may be passed in
' Russegger, Reisen, Bd. i. 258.


boats without difficulty for about six -^'eeks, or two montlis
in the year. This is the case also at the cataract or rapid of
Assuau. But between 'Wadi Haifa and Dale, with some in-
considerable spaces of free navigable water, in the ordinary
state of the river, there is an almost uninterrupted series of
rapids. We have no measurement of the height of Dale
above "Wadri Haifa, near to which the second great cataract
of the Nile occurs ; but this is the part of the river's course
where the fall is greatest, and from Semne to Dale there are
about 4-5 miles of this more rapid fall.

From Dale to Xew Dongola, a distance of 35 G-erman, or
about 168 English miles, only three rapids are marked on
Eussegger's map — the highest being at Hannek, about 26
English miles below New Dongola. New Dongola being
806 English feet above the sea, and the distance from that
place to the rapid of Hannek being 26 miles only, we may
with probability estimate the surface of the river at the rapid
of Hannek at 780 feet above the sea. Now, "Wadi Haifa
being 522 feet, we have a difference of height, between these
two last-named places, of 258 feet ; and the length of the
river's course between them being 236 miles, we have an
average fall of 13 '12 inches in a mile ; that is, in the part of
the river's course where nine rapids occur, in the provinces
of Batn-el-Hadjar, Sukkot, and Dar-el-Mahass, where the
river flows over granite and other plutonic rocks ; gneiss,
mica-schist, and other hard rocks, which Eussegger considers
to be metamorphic. But between Semne and the head of
the second cataract at AVadi Haifa, there is not a continuous
rapid stream ; for Hoskins says, that about two miles above
that cataract, the river has a width of a third of a mile, and,
when he passed it, the water was scarcely ruffled^.

Erom the rapid of Hannek to Abu Hammed the distance
is 329 English miles, and the difference of altitude is 246
English feet. AYe have thus an average fall in that distance
of 9"00 inches in a mile.

^ Travels in Ethiopia, p. 272.


Thus, in the 776 miles between Abu Hammed and Philffi,
we have an average fall of the Nile

Of 900 inches iu a mile, for a distance of 329 miles.

Of 1312 236 ...

or 5-30 96 ...

Of 12-00 115 ...

Of the Breadth, Depth, and Velocity of the Nile, in Xubia.
Our information is very scanty respecting the breadth and.
depth of the river, either at the time of lowest water or
during the inundations. About two miles above Phila^, it ia
stated by Jomard^ to be 3000 metres, or neariy two English
miles wide. At the second cataract, or rapid of Wadi Haifa,
it spreads over a rocky bed of nearly two miles and a quarter
in width (2000 klafter)-, but contracts above the rapid to a
third of a mile. Eussegger also states, that the Nile, near
Boulak, in Lower Egypt, is 2000 toises, nearly two-and-a-
half English miles in breadth, and yet that it is considerably
wider in some parts of Southern Nubia ; but Burckhardt
says that the bed of the Nile in Nubia is, in general, much
narrower than in any part of Egypt. Near Kalabsche, about
30 miles above Pliila?, the river runs through a gorge not
more than 300 paces wide, and its bed is full of granite
blocks. It shortly afterwards again ^N-idens for some dis-
tance ; but near Sialla, 78 miles above Phila?, it is contracted
by the sandstone hills on both sides coming so near each
other, that the river's bed is again not more than from 250
to 300 paces wide. It is about 600 yards broad about two
miles above the second cataract near "Wadi Haifa, but ia
again very mucli contracted in the rocky region of Batn-el-
Hadjar. At Aulike it is only 200 paces broad-^

I have not met with any measurements of the depth of
the river in any part of its course in Nubia ; but Hoskins

1 Description de TEgj-pte. — Separate Memoir, entitled " Description
de Syene et des Cataractes."

2 Kussegger, Bd. ii. 3 Thl. 85. ' Russegger, Bd. ii. 3 Thl. 76.


describes it as being so shallow at the island of Sais, 327
miles above Philae, on the 9th of June, which would be before
the commencement of the inundation, as only to reach the
knees of the camels^. Near Derr, about S6 miles below the
Cataract of Wadi Haifa, Norden, in January, found the river
so shallow that loaded camels waded through it, and his boat
frequently struck the ground. In May, i3urckhardt found
the river fordable at Kostamne, 53 miles above Philse ; and
Parthey states, that between Philse and the island of Bageh,
to the west of it, the river is so shallow before the commence-
ment of the inundation, that it may be waded through^.
Burckhardt says, that from March to June the Nile-water,
in Nubia, is quite limpid^. Miss Martineau, who visited
Nubia in December and January, speaking of the river above
Philae, says, that it " was divided into streamlets and ponds
by the black islets. A\^here it was overshadowed it was dark-
grey or deep blue, but when the light caught it rushing be-
tween a wooded island and the shore, it was of the clearest
green*." At the second cataract she describes the river as
" dashing and driving among its thousand islets, and then
gathering its thousand currents into one, proceeds calmly in
its course^.

Although we have no accurate measurements of the velo-
city of the Nile in Nubia, we may arrive at an approximate
estimate of it by comparing its faU with that of a river well
known to us.

I have stated the fall of the Nile in different parts of its
course to be 5-30, 900, 1200, and 13-12 inches in a mile.
The fall of the Thames from Wallingford to Teddington
Lock, where the influence of the tide ends, is as follows :

1 Travels, p. 257.

' Wanderungen durch das Nilthal, von G. Parthey, Berlin, 1840. 378.
Travels, pp. 9 and 11. * Eastern Life, i. 10^. ^ lb. 144.




1 From Walling-ford to Reading: Bridge

From licading to Henley Bridge

From Henley to Marlow Bridge

From Marluw to Maidenhead Bridge
Fruin Maidenliead to Windsor Bridge

From Windsor to Staines Bridge

From Staines to Cliertsey Bridge

From Cliertsey to Teddington Lock ..



Fall in


per Mile.

Miles. F.

Feet. in.

23- 16


125-11 !

" 111 general, the velocity may be estimated at from half a
mile to two miles and three-quarters per hour ; but the mean
Telocity may be reckoned at two miles per hour. In tlie
year 1794, the late Mr. Eennie found the velocity of the
Thames at Windsor two miles and a half per hour^."

It will thus be seen that the velocity of tlie Nile is pro-
bably greatly inferior to that of the Thames ; for it appears
that, except during the inundation, for more than half the
year the depth is inconsiderable. The average fall when
greatest, that is, including the province of Batn-el-Iladjar,
where the rapids chieily occur, is considerably less than that
of any part of the above course of the Thames; so that there
must be long intervals between the rapids where the fall
must be far less than 13 inches in a mile. The breadth of
the Nile is vastly greater ; but supposing the depth of the
water to be the same as that of the Thames, on account of
the friction of the bed, the greater breadth would add very
little to the velocity. If we assume the average deptli of the
Thames in the above distance to be 5 feet, and that it flows
with an average velocity of 2 miles in an hour, and if we as-
sume the average depth of the Nile in that part of its course
where the fall is 13*12 inches to be 10 feet, when not swoUen

* Rennie, Report on Hydraulics, in the Fourth Report of the British
Association for the Advancement of Science, 1834, p. 487.


by the rise, the velocity would be 2j miles nearly in an houri,
if the fall were equal to that of the Thames. "We shall pro-
bably come near the truth, by assuming the velocity of the
Nile on this part at 2 miles in an hour. That it must be
considerably less in the other divisions of the course I have
named, and especially in that part immediately below the
second cataract, where the average fall is only 5'30 inches for
a distance of 96 miles, is quite evident.

The power of a river to abrade the soil over which it flows,
so far as water is by itself capable of doing so, must depend
upon its volume and velocity, and the degree of hardness of
the material acted upon. The power is increased when the
water has force enough to transport hard substances. But
even transported gravel has little action on the rocks with
which it comes in contact, when it is free to move in running
water, unless the fall be considerable, and, consequently, the
velocity and force of the stream great. When stones are
firmly set in moving ice, they then acquire a great erosive
power, cutting and wearing down the rocks they are forcibly
rubbed against ; but this condition never obtains in Lower
Nubia, as ice is unknown there.

Geological Structure of Lower Nubia.

One kind only of regularly stratified rock occurs in the 776
miles from Abu Hammed to Philse ; viz., a silicious sandstone,
similar to that which occurs to a great extent on both sides
of the Nile in Upp^r Egypt, and which Eussegger, after a
very careful examination of it there, considers to be an equi-
valent of the greensand of the cretaceous rocks of Europe.
The tertiary nummulite limestone, so abundant in Egypt,
has not hitherto been met with in Nubia.

The Nile fiows over this sandstone for nearly 426 miles
of the entire distance, but not continuously. At Abu Ham-
med, it flows over granitic rocks, and these continue from

1 I state this on the authority of my friend, W. Hopkins, Esq., ef


that place for about 120 miles. There is then about 215
miles of the sandstone, which is succeeded by igneous and
raetamorphic rocks, that continue for 195 miles without any
interruption, except a narrow stripe of sandstone of about
15 miles near Amara. It is in this region of hard igneous
rocks that nearly all the rapids occur, between that of Hannek
and the great or second cataract at Wadi Haifa. From the
latter place there is sandstone throughout a distance of about
19G miles, and then commences the granitic region of the
Cataract of Assuan, through winch the ^Xile flows about 35
miles. Thus we have about 350 miles of igneous and meta-
morphic rocks, and about 426 of sandstone.

The general hard nature of the igneous and metamorphic
rocks, over which the Nile flows for about 155 miles above
Semne, and for about 40 immediately below it, will be recog-
nised by my naming some of the varieties described by
Russegger, viz., granites of various, kinds, often penetrated
by greenstone dykes ; sienite, diorite, and felspar porph^-riea ;
gneiss, and clay slate, penetrated by numerous quartz veins.

The siliceous sandstone is very uniform in its character ;
and in Xubia, as in Egypt, the only organic bodies wliich it
has as yet been found to contain, are silicified stems of wood.
Occasionally, as in the neighbourhood of Korusko, inter-
stratified beds of marly clay are met wity .

When, therefore, we take into account the hard nature of
tlie siliceous sandstone, the durability of which is shown by
the very ancient monuments of Eg}'pt and IN'ubia, that are
formed of it, and the still greater hardness of the granites
and other crystalline rocks, it is manifest that the wearing
action of a river flowing over so gentle a fall, can scarcely,
be appreciable. If the occasional beds of marh^ clay occur
in the bank of the river, they may be washed out, and
blocks of the superincumbent sandstones may fall down;
but such an operation would have a tendency to raise rather
than deepen the bed of the river at those places ; unless the
transporting power of the stream were far greater than can
» Kussegger, Bd. ii. 1 Thl. 569 to 584.


exist with so moderate a fall, especially in tliat part of the
river below Semne, where, for 96 miles, it is not more than
5-3 inches, and for 115 miles below that, not more than
12 inches in a mile. Even if we suppose the river to have
power to tear up its bed for some distance above Semne and
below it, as far as the rapid of Wadi Haifa, it is evident that
the materials brought down would be deposited, except the
finest particles, in that tranquil run of 96 miles, which may
be almost compared to a canal. The drains in Lincolnslnre
are inclined 5 inches to a mile^ AVlien the annual inunda-
tions commence, the water of the Nile comes down the
rapid at Assuan of a reddish colour loaded with sand and
mud only ; whatever detrital matter of a larger and heavier
kind the Nile may have brought with it, is deposited before
it reaches that point.

From all these considerations, therefore, I come to the
conclusion, that the bed of the Xile cannot have been exca-
vated, as Professor Lepsius supposes, since the date of tlie
sculptured marks on the rock at Semne. He says, " Es liisst
sich kaum eine andere Ursache fiir das bedeutende Fallen
des Nils denken, als ein Auswaschen und Ausholen der
Katakomhen'' By the word Katakomhen- he can only mean
natural caverns in the rock ; but such caverns are rarely, if
ever, met with in sandstones, and only occasionally in lime-
stones. If the course of the Nile were over limestone in-
stead of sandstone, we could not for a moment entertain the
idea of a succession of caverns for 200 miles beneath its
bed, sometimes two miles in width, the roofs of which were
to fall in ; and where the igneous rocks prevail, this explana-
tion is wholly inapplicable.

But besides the objections arising from the nature of the
rocks, and the inconsiderable fall of the river, there is still
another difficulty to overcome. It is to be borne in mind, that
this lowering of the bed of the Nile, from Semne to Assuan,
is supposed to have taken place within the last 4000 years.

j^ Eennie, Report cited above, p. 422.
' See note, p. ."ill.

Al'PilNDIX. 525

Between the first cataract at Assuan and the second at Wadi
Haifa thert^re numerous remains of temples on both banks
of the Nile, some of very s^reat antiquity. " From AVadi
llalla to Philie," says Parthey, "there is a vast number of
Egyptian monuments, almost all on the left bank of the
river, and so near the water that most of them are in imme-
diate contact with it^" AVe may rest assured that the
builders of these would place them out of the reach of the
highest inundations then kno^vn. Although we have many
accurate descriptions of these monuments, the heights of
tlieir foundations above the surface of the river are not often
piven ; they are, however, mentioned in some instances. I
sliall describe the situations of some of these buildings rela-
tively to the present state of the river's levels, :uul shall
begin with those on the island of Phila\

This island, according to the measurements of General von
Prokesh, is 1200 Paris feet (1278 English) in length, and
420 (-tl?) in breadth, and is composed of granite. Lancrot
informs us, that, '' a I'epoque des hautes eaux. Tile de Philae
est pen eleve audessus de leur surface, mais lorqu'elles sont
abaissees elle les surpasse de huit metres." It was formerly
surrounded by a quay of masonry, portions of which may be
traced at intervals, and in some places they are still in good
preservation. The south-west part of the island ia occupied
by temples. According to Wilkinson, the principal build-
ing is a temple of Isis commenced by Ptolemy Philadel[)hus,
who reigned from 2S3 to 247 years before Christ ; and he
adds, that it is evident an ancient building formerly stood on
the site of the present great temple. Lancrot, in referring
to this more ancient building, says : — " II y a des preuves
certaines d'une antiquite bien plus reculee encore, puisque
des pierres qui entrent dans la construction de ce meme
grand temple, sont des debris de quelque construction ante-
ri.uire." Kossellini considers that it was built by Necta-
uebus. The first king of Egypt, of the Sebennite Dynasty

' Parthey, 318.


of that name, ascended the throne 374 years B.C., the second
and last ceased to reign about 350 years B.c.i ^

Eossellini^ informs us, that on the island of Bageh, oppo-
site to Philae, there are the remains of a temple of the time
of Amenophis II., and a sitting statue of granite represent-
ing him. He was a king in the earlier years of the 18th
Dynasty, which, according to the Chevalier Bunsen^, began
in the year 1638, and ended in 1410 B.C.

GrATJ^, in describing a temple at Debu, about 12 miles
above Philae, which he visited in January, and consequently
during the time of low water, states that he discovered under
the sand, at the edge of the river, the remains of a terrace
leading towards a temple.

A short distance north of Kalabsche, about 30 miles above
Philae, at Beil-nalli, Eosselliui^ speaks of a small temple in
the following terms : — " Among the many memorials that still
exist of Eamses II., the most important, in a historical poiat
of view, is a small temple or grotto excavated in the rock !"
and Wilkinson mentions it " as a small but interesting
temple excavated in the rock, of the time of Eamses II.,
whom Champollion supposes to be the father of Sesostris
or Eameses the Great''." He was the first king of the 19th
Dynasty, which began in the year 1409 B.C.'''

G-au^ thus describes a monument at G-erbe Dandour : —
" La chaine de montagnes qui borde le Nil est, dans cet en-
droit, si approchee du lit de ce fleuve, qu'il ne reste que tres
peu d'espace sur la rive. Cet espace est presque entiere-
ment occupe par le monument, et la riviere, dans sea de-
bordemens, arrive jusqu'au pied du mur de la terrasse."

1 Russegger, Reisen, Bd. ii. 300 and 320. Lancrot, Description de
I'Egypte, Memoire sur I'ile de Phila?, 15 — 58. Rossellini, I Monumenti
dell'Egitto edella Nubia. Monumenti del Culto, 187. Wilkinson's
Thebes and General View of Egypt, 466. Smith's Dictionary of
Greek and Roman Biography, Arts. Ptolemy, Ph. and Nectauebus.

* p. 187.

3 iEgyptens Stelle in der Weltgeschichte.— Drittes Buch, 122.

* Antiquites de la Nubie, p. 6.
^ Tome iii. parte ii. p. 6.

^ Thebes, &c. p. 482. 7 Bunsen, as above. s p, 9.


Parthey informs us that the temple of Sebua is about 200
feet distant from the river, in which distance there are two
rows of sphinxes, and that the road between them, from the
temple, ends in wide steps at the water's edge ; and he adds
that Champollion refers this temple to the time of Eamcses
the Greati.

It thus appears that monuments exist close to the river,
some of which were constructed at k^st 1400 years before
our era; so tliat taking the time of Amenemha 111. to be,
as Professor Lepsius states, 2200 years B.C., the excavation
of the bed of the Nile which he supposes to have taken place,
muat have been the work, not of 4000 years but of 800. 11"
the erosive power of the river was so active in that time, it
cannot be supposed that it then ceased ; it would surely
have continued to deepen the bed during the following 3000

At aU events, the buildings on the island of PhilaB demon-
strate that the bed of the Xile must have been very much the
same as it is now, 2200 years ago ; and even a tliousand
years earlier it must have been the same, if the foundation of
tlie temple on the island of Bageh, opposite to Phila\ be near
the limit of the highest rise of the Nile of the present time ;
so that there could be no barrier at the Cataract of Assuan
to dam up the Nile when they were constructed ; and thus
the deafening sound of the waterfall recorded by Cicero and
Seneca must still be held to be an exaggeration.

The existence of alluvial soil, apparently of the same kind
as that deposited by the Nile, in situations above the Cataract
of Assuan, at a level considerably above the highest point
which the inundations of the river have reached in modem
times, to which allusion is made by Professor Lepsius, has
been noticed by other travellers, and even at still higher levels
than tho^^e he mentions. Whether that alluvial soil be iden-
tical with, or only resembles the Nile deposit, would require
to be determined by a close examination, and especially with
regard to organic remains, if any can be found in it. There
» Wanderungen, &c. 334.



is no eyidence to sbow that it was deposited during the his-
torical period, and it may be an evidence of a depression and
subsequent elevation of the land antecedent to that period.
It may not be of fresh-water origin, but the clay and sand,
or till, left by a drift wliile the land was under the sea. For
remote as is the antiquity of Nubia and Egypt, in relation to
the existence of the human race, it appears to be of very
modern formation in geological time. The greater part of
Lower Egypt, probably all the Delta, is of post-pliocene age,
and even late in that age ; and the very granite of the Cata-
ract of Assuan, that of which the oldest monuments in Egypt
are formed, and which, in the earlier days of geology, was
looked upon as the very type of the rock on which the oldest
strata of the earth were founded, is said to have burst forth
during the later tertiary period. "We learn from Eussegger,
that the low land which lies between the Mediterranean and
the range of hills that extends from Cairo to the Eed Sea at
Suez, and of which hills a nummulite limestone constitutes a
great part, is composed of a sandstone which he calls a
" Meeresdiluvium," a marine diluvial formation, and con-
siders to be of an age younger than that of the sub-appen-
nines^. This sandstone he found associated with the granite
above Assuan, and covering the cretaceous sandstone far into
Nubia. It appears, therefore, that, in the later ages of the
tertiary period, this north-eastern part of Africa must have
been submerged, and that very energetic plutonic action was
going forward in the then bed of the sea. The remarkable
fact of the granite bursting through this modern sandstone is
thus described by Eussegger :

" We arrived at a plateau of the Arabian Chain south-east of Assuan.
It is about 200 feet above the bed of the Nile, and consists of the lower
and upper sandstone, which are penetrated by innumerable granite
cones from 20 to 100 feet in height, arranged over the plateau in parallel
lines, very much resembling volcanic cones rising from a great cleft.
The sandstone is totally altered in texture near the granite, and has all
the appearance as if it had been exposed to a great heat. ' I cannot
refrain,' he says, 'from supposing that the granite must have burst, like

^ Eeisen, Bd. i. s. 273.


a volcanic product, through long wide rents in the sandstone, and that,
in this wav, the conical hills were formed'.' "

An eruption of a true granite during the period of the sub-
appennine fonnations, one possessing the same mineral striie-
turt^ as that we know to hare been erupted during the period
of the palaeozoic rocks, would be a fact of so extraordinan^ a
kind, that its age would require to be established on the
clearest evidence, and especially by that of organic remains
in the sandstone.

HaWng thus ventured — I trust without any want of the
respect due to so eminent a person — to reject the liypothesis
proposed by Professor Lepsius for the liigh levels of the Nile
at Semne, indicated by the sculptured marks ho discovered,
it may perhaps be expected that I should ofter another more
probable explanation. If in some narrow gorge of the river
below Semne, a place had been described by any traveller,
where, from the nature of the banks, a p:reat landslip, or even
an artificial dam, could have raised the bed to an adequate
height ; that is, proportionate to the fall of the river, as it
was more distant from Semne, a bar that, in the course of a
few centuries, might have been gradually washed away, I
might have ventured to suggest, such a solution of the pro-
blem. But without any information of the existence of such
a contraction of the river's channel, or any exact knowledge
of the natural outlets aud dams to running water along the
250 miles of the Nile Valley, from Semne to Assuan, it
would be idle to offer even a conjecture. These marks are
unquestionably very difficult to account for, in the present
imperfect state of our knowledge of the structure of that por-