For many ancient civilizations rivers were the main means of transportation. This is evidenced by the early voyages of explorers and later on, European colonization of Africa, Asia, and the Americas. The colonial masters not only used the vast waters of the seas and oceans to reach the shores of other continents, but also to transport labor (slaves) and raw materials back to Europe for industrial use. In this regard, rivers, such as the Congo and the Nile, played a role in accelerating industrial revolution in Europe and other parts of the world.
Nevertheless, the most significant role that rivers played was in promoting the agrarian revolution during the early centuries. This was especially the case among civilizations existing in arid and semi arid regions like Persia, the Levant, the Maghrib, Mesopotamia, and Egypt, where rivers provided the major source of water for irrigation-based agriculture (Watson, 1974). In ancient Egypt, the waters of the river Nile were the major source of livelihood in ancient, where it was used to grow wheat, the Egyptians’ staple food crop.
The flooding cycle of the river Nile symbolized the renewal of life, and was significant in determining planting seasons. The Egyptians’ culture and economic activities were so tied to the rising and falling levels of the river Nile that they used its depth to measure “the economic and civilized conditions of the country” (Hassan & Rasheedy, 2007, p. 27). In addition, the importance of the Nile to their survival prompted the Egyptians to preserve its water by forging good relations with those countries through which the river passed. As Hassan and Rasheedy observe in African Sociology Review, the source of the Nile river (in Uganda) and its passage through Sudan is the single most factor that strengthened Egypt’s ties to the African continent, despite being an Arab nation.