by Caroline Lawrence (author of the Roman Mysteries)
The ancient Romans thought of Egypt quite differently than we do today. (Click the map on the right to get a bigger image of upside down Egypt)
The Delta was the fertile triangular area where the Nile branched out to flow into the sea. When you look at Egypt upside down, this triangle resembles the capital letter delta from the Greek alphabet. (In Roman Egypt most people spoke Greek, the lingua franca of the early Roman Empire.)
To a first century Roman, the Delta was Lower Egypt and the Nile Valley was Upper Egypt. If you went 'upriver' you were travelling south and 'downriver' was north.
To an ancient traveller everything on the right bank travelling upriver was 'Libya' and everything on the left bank (the eastern bank) was 'Arabia'.
The current always flowed downriver, from Aswan to Alexandria, but the wind conveniently blew upriver or south. Wherever a ship is shown in Egyptian wall paintings and carvings – or as a model – you can tell which direction it's travelling. If its sail is up, it's probably travelling upriver. If there is no sail, it's probably going with the current, downriver towards Alexandria.
A 'cataract' is the place where a river changes level. It can be anything from some fast water to an enormous waterfall. Traveling from Alexandria upriver, you could sail for over 700 miles before coming to a cataract. The first cataract marked the southern border of Egypt. It was located at Syene (modern Aswan). Beyond the first cataract was Nubia, the Land of Gold.
P.S. To see 12 Fun Facts I learned at Giza, go HERE. And A Day in Old Cairo caused me to come across a sharp-nosed fish, but miss out on seeing a Seth animal. And we visited a Pharaonic Village, too.
Want to read an exciting mystery set in Roman Egypt? The Scribes from Alexandria is out in a new paperback edition now. You can also get it in Kindle format and as an abridged audiobook! (Perfect for primary schools studying Egypt in Key Stage 2.)