Book Review-‘The Medieval Nile: Route, navigation and landscape in Islamic Egypt, by J. P. Cooper

By Deborah Cvikel, published October 2020


Herodotus (History, 2.5) named Egypt as the ‘gift of the river’. Cooper (p. 1), believes that Herodotus’ description suggests a rather passive Egypt, while in reality it was an active society interacting with the environment — the Nile, in which the main component was river navigation. Therefore the title and subtitle of this book convey its content well; the Nile stands at the centre of a multilayered maritime investigation based on historical study in combination with geographical, economic, social and cultural factors. This multiple historical interpretation is chronologically limited to the Arab-Islamic era, starting with the Islamic conquest of Egypt (ad 639–642) and ending in the fifteenth century. It rests on two principal parameters: geographical changes in the Nile’s route and its socio-economic and political consequences and causes.

The book is based on the interpretation of two main primary sources: the merchant and Fatimid missionary Ibn Hawqal writing in the tenth century and the Spanish-Islamic scholar al-Idrisi writing in the twelfth century. Cooper further incorporates into his analysis accounts of Muslim and Christian travellers, maps and charts of the period investigated and beyond, and meteorological and hydrological data…

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Filed under: Antiquity | Other (Early Modern) | Mediterranean
Subjects include: Science & Exploration

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