“Fear God; fear the Bogaze”: the Nile mouths and the navigational landscape of the Nile Delta, Egypt.
Cooper, John P.
Taylor and Francis
© 2012 Society for the Medieval Mediterranean
The demise of the Canopic and Pelusiac branches of the Nile in the ninth-tenth centuries AD left the Nile with only two major Delta branches – the Dumyāt (Damietta) and Rashīd (Rosetta) – debouching directly into the Mediterranean Sea. Navigational conditions at the mouths (sing. būghāz) of these remaining branches were treacherous. The encounter of river and sea brought about a clash of fluvial and marine currents, wave fields and winds, all in an environment of perennially shifting sandbanks. The result was a navigational tumult that threatened shipping, and indeed often wrecked vessels, as a broad spread of historical and traveller accounts attest. These problematic conditions had a formative effect on the navigational landscape of the Nile-Mediterranean interface. On the western fringe of the Delta, Alexandria remained the port par excellance of Egypt. Not only did the city have a superior maritime port, but its connection with the Nile hinterlands via the seasonal and state-maintained Alexandria canal, as well as via Lakes Abū Qīr and Idkū, allowed vessels to avoid the hazards of the Rashīd mouth. The treacherous mouth also meant that the eponymous city of Rashīd failed to gain prominence as a port until the Alexandria canal fell out of use in the Ottoman period. In the eastern Delta, similar conditions at the Dumyāt branch prompted navigators to take an alternative route to the sea via Tinnīs, an island city in modern Lake Manzalah that connected to the Dumyāt branch through the physically smaller Tinnīs branch, and which linked to the sea through relatively calmer lake mouths. It was only in response to Crusader attack that Tinnīs yielded to Dumyāt as the premier port of the eastern Delta. This paper brings together historical, archaeological, meteorological and hydrological data to offer a new understanding of the navigational context of Egypt’s medieval Mediterranaean ports.
This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Al-Masāq on 18 June 2012, available online: http://wwww.tandfonline.com/10.1080/09503110.2012.655584.
Al-Masāq, 2012, Vol. 24, Issue 1, pp. 53 - 73