Rivers are spectacularly beautiful things. They shape the world around them in the physical sense, in that they carve valleys and over time shift masses of land to one side, turning what would otherwise be lifeless deserts into vibrant habitats for countless flora and fauna.
But rivers also have a considerable impact on the development of human societies. Like other animal, humans visit rivers to fish, and so building settlements alongside them would have provided a sustainable source of food in the days before supermarkets. They would have also provided a route for trading vessels, as well as invading fleets and leisure vessels.
Five rivers stand out as being of historical significance. Let’s take a look at some of them.
This river is the longest in the world, beginning from a source near lake Victoria and flowing northward toward the Mediterranean, where it spreads into a famous delta. For the ancient Egyptians, it was a source of life in an otherwise quite arid climate. The first permanent settlers began to appear along its banks around 6,000 BC. Being of such significance when it comes to food, it’s hardly surprising that so many of the Ancient Egyptian’s religious mythos centres around the river. The Nile remains of special importance to modern Egypt.
During the first century, the Roman playwright Seneca the Younger, owned land in Egypt. As an outsider, he provided a written perspective which helps us to understand life on the river. In particular, he noted the early white-water canoes of Ancient Egypt, who gave the appearance of drowning, such was the violence of the river. Visitors to Egypt today will find a visit to the river almost unavoidable.
This river is among the most famous in the world, thanks to its preponderance in American cinema and literature. It’s the longest river in North America, and has witnessed an enormous amount of history. Native American peoples would be among the first to independently domesticate and cultivate plants for themselves, some 6,000 years ago. Native American tribes still inhabit the Mississippi basin, albeit in smaller numbers.
Naturally, life around the mighty river would alter for good with the arrival of explorers from both Britain, Spain and France. Spanish explorers would reach the river first, in 1541, and would not be followed until the late 17th century by other European explorers.
The Thames is another river whose impact on the modern world has been enormous. Early Roman settlers to Britain recognised the river’s potential as a means of getting goods to and from the continent. Around the site where Tower Bridge now stands, the river was shallow and possible to ford with relative ease – but just a few hundred metres downstream, the waters became deep enough for larger boats to find their way into the river.
Today, the Thames represents among the best ways to see the sights that the capital has to offer. River Thames cruises present the opportunity to see the Palace of Westminster, the Globe Theatre, and the London Eye from an entirely new perspective. You might even book a big occasion on a boat – some of the best London wedding reception venues can be found floating along the Thames.
This river has seen its fair share of history over the years. It’s the longest river in Western Asia, commencing from what is now Turkey and winding its way through modern Syria and Iraq before meeting the Tigris and spilling out into the Persian Gulf.
In the Ancient world, the Euphrates and the Tigris represented the borders of Mesopotamia. As well as providing a means of feeding the populace and trading with other nations, the two rivers also provided Mesopotamian people with a measure of defence against would-be invaders. When you don’t have the luxury of being an island nation, such things can make the difference between prosperity and collapse!
The Rhine runs through Germany, winding its way northward through modern Belgium and the Netherlands and emerging into the North Sea. It’s second only to the Danube when it comes to sheer size, and it’s littered with fortifications built by the Holy Roman Empire, for whom the river was an especially important trade route. Unlike many other long rivers, the rhine allows ships to navigate their way far inland, which has made it especially useful for the civilisations which have inhabited Europe over the centuries. It featured heavily in the operatic works of Richard Wagner, and has since become strongly identified with German nationalism.