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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Bride of the Nile: A Legend About Ancient Egypt


By Priscilla Adum




About the Legend

Legend says that in Pharaonic times, as part of an important festival celebrated in Egypt, a young virgin was chosen from among the most beautiful women in the land and was thrown into the Nile as a sacrifice to the river god Hapi. The goal was to ensure that the waters of the Nile would continue to flow and flood abundantly. She was known by Egyptians as the Bride of the Nile.

In later times, the human sacrifice was replaced by a clay effigy in the form of a girl, which was thrown into the Nile yearly to appease the god.

This festival and the custom of choosing a young virgin to represent the Bride of the Nile was mentioned by Egyptian historian Al Maqrizi (1364-1422), who wrote that the custom was practiced in Egypt until the arrival of Islam. At that time, the Caliph Omar Ibn El Kattab banned the pagan ritual.

Tourists in Egypt reported seeing the ritual of throwing the clay effigies into the Nile as late as the 1700's and 1800's.

This legend is still widely believed by Egyptians today.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: This image was created by Wilhelm Gentz. It appeared on page 196 of Egypt: Descriptive, Historical, and Picturesque Volume 1 by Georg Ebers. Published by Cassell & Company, Limited: New York, 1878. Its caption was Sacrifice to the Nile.

Recently, however, some historians have disputed that this festival ever existed, saying that the ancient Egyptian civilization was peaceful by nature, they hated violence, and they did not practice human sacrifice. These historians attribute the legend to propagandists in ancient times who used the story as justification to colonize and rule Egypt.

Egyptology researcher Bassam el Shamaa has asserted that the story about the young virgin being thrown into the Nile was actually invented by the Greek historian Plutarch, and the story then spread to Egypt from Greece.

This article discusses el-Shamaa's reasons for challenging this legend:

A blogger named Mogg Morgan also critiques this legend:

Bride of the Nile



The 1963 film Arous Al Nil (Bride of the Nile)

A 1963 film titled Arous Al Nil (Bride of the Nile) built its story line around this legend. It starred Rushdie Abaza as an engineer who is sent to the South of Egypt to search for petroleum and Lubna Abdel Aziz as the mythical Bride of the Nile.

She appears before him, attempting to stop him from desecrating the land, but she ends up falling in love with him. In one scene, she arrives at his wedding just as the dancer is performing, and she causes mischief among the wedding guests. The dancer in this wedding scene is Suheir Magdy, a 1960's dancer who appeared in a handful of films during that decade.

The movie is somewhat reminiscent of Samia Gamal's film Afrita Hanem (The Genie Lady). Coincidentally, Rushdie Abaza was Samia Gamal's real life husband.

You can watch a video clip of the wedding scene here:

Bride of the Nile Movie Poster



Additional Comments

This article was originally posted on Facebook on April 17, 2013 by Priscilla Adum, on her Academia de Danza Arabe Priscilla Adum page. It is posted here on this page with her permission.

A man named Bernard M. Adams copied and pasted it word-for-word on his own blog without permission or attribution on August 13, 2013. If you have seen Adams' blog, please be aware that he was not the original author, nor did he have the original author's permission to copy her research onto his own blog.





About the Translator

Priscilla is a dancer of Lebanese heritage who enjoys researching the Golden Era of Egyptian dance. She owns a collection of more than one hundred classic black and white Egyptian films which is continually expanding.

Priscilla has also gathered a large library of dance related articles and clippings from Middle Eastern magazines and newspapers, many of which she has translated from the original Arabic to both English and Spanish.

Priscilla currently resides in Central America where she is a dance instructor. 




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