The history site, Mr Dowling says:

About 450BCE, a Greek historian named Herodotus called Egypt the “Gift of the Nile” because the Egyptian civilization depended on the resources of the great river.

Meanwhile, history site Mr Donn says:

Each spring, snow on the mountains would melt. The Nile River would flood. This was a very good thing. When the flood waters receded, they left behind fertile soil. Crops could easily be grown in this black, rich soil. The ancient Egyptians called this soil the "The Gift of the Nile".

I always thought that the Egyptians call the soil as the "Gift Of The Nile", not the country.

Did Herodotus call all of Egypt the gift of the Nile?

  • @Oddthinking , thank you for the great edit. One way I look at this is: If it refers to soil , then "the soil is the gift of the Nile to Egypt" ; If it is the country , then "Egypt is the gift of the Nile to .... whom ?".
    – Prem
    Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 15:33
  • I fear you are trying to apply logic where it isn't applicable. Even if what you say is completely logical, it doesn't mean Herodotus didn't say it, or that the phrase wouldn't have come to mean Egypt over time.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 16:18
  • @Oddthinking , yes, I agree, and that is why my Doubt arises. "Did Herodotus say it; Did it morph over time into something else" : Below answer by DavePhD seems to indicate that Herodotus referred to only the soil (or more correctly, the Delta) and it has been through a few misinterpretations and mistranslations to the present meaning.
    – Prem
    Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 16:38

2 Answers 2


The 1786 article Memoirs of Baron de Tott in The Monthly Review volume 73 says:

Herodotus, in calling Egypt the Gift of the Nile *

and gives the original Greek text in a footnote at the bottom of page 246

There is a further explanation in Hecataeus and Herodotus on "A Gift of the River" Journal of Near Eastern Studies Vol. 25, No. 1 (Jan., 1966), pp. 57-61

According to this article, which provides a much more complete quotation, the meaning is not the whole of Egypt, but the delta. The river created the land of the Nile delta.

  • DavePhD, thanks for digging this up , +1. It is coming closer to the actual words used by Herodotus, but it is still not clear whether he called it that, or whether the footnote is simply "the Gift of the Nile" in Greek, not specifying the soil or the whole of Egypt, or whether this 1786 article is giving the accurate translation. Best Proof would be the whole sentence (or paragraph) where he says something like either "this soil is the gift" or "this country is the gift".
    – Prem
    Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 15:26
  • @Prem ok, I added more to the answer
    – DavePhD
    Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 15:34
  • thanks for the more complete picture. Paraphrasing the given source : It seems to indicate that Herodotus was "not including the whole of Egypt in his reference" , though the other view has "arisen due to the misinterpretation". It may be lost forever now, but I wonder what the Egyptians Priests said, which Herodotus translated into Greek and we finally have it as "Gift of the Nile".
    – Prem
    Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 16:37
  • The 1786 article quoted Herodotus from memory, and wrongly. The correct quotation is in my answer: "gift of the river", not "gift of the Nile".
    – fdb
    Commented Apr 11, 2016 at 10:04
  • @fdb I agree, but I already have the article "A gift of the River" cited and say it provides a much more complete quotation.
    – DavePhD
    Commented Apr 11, 2016 at 12:21

What Herodotus actually wrote is: “For even if a man has not heard it before, he can readily see, if he has sense, that that Egypt to which the Greeks sail is land deposited for the Egyptians, the river's gift—not only the lower country, but even the land as far as three days' voyage above the lake, which is of the same nature as the other, although the priests did not say this, too.” (Herod. 2.5.1) This seems to indicate that he regarded the fertile land along the Nile to be “the river’s gift” (δῶρον τοῦ ποταμοῦ), not the whole of Egypt, desert and all.

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