The Pharaonic Origins of the
Nilometer of Rodah (1952)

by Ètienne Drioton

Amice Mary Calverley
Ètienne Marie Felix Drioton (1889 –1961)
The Nilometer of Rodah at Cairo, which still exists, is recorded in Ludwig Borchardt’s study of the Nilometers, and has often been discussed by Egyptologists. Here we make available as a pdf download the full text of the article in French by the Egyptologist Étienne Drioton (1889-1961), who was Director General of Antiquities of Egypt from 1936 to 1956 and in 1957 became Chief Curator at the Louvre. It was Drioton who by his decisive action preserved the Coptic Gnostic texts of Nag Hammadi, and Drioton was unquestionably a great and distinguished figure in the history of Egyptology. This article appeared in the Bulletin de l’Institut d’Égypte, Volume XXXIV, Cairo, 1952, pp. 291-316. The three main illustrations have been scanned separately in higher resolution and inserted additionally into the pdf, each as a separate page. Figure 3 is a 1952 map showing the location of the Island of Rodah (on the map spelled Roda) apparently drawn by Drioton himself. Figures 1 and 2 are the mythological scenes accompanying ancient texts relating to the Inundation of the Nile. Figure 1 is an illustration accompanying Chapter 149 of The Book of the Dead (Édouard Naville’s 1886 edition), and Figure 2 is from a version of the Book of the Dead preserved in the Funerary Papyrus of Soutimès published in 1877 by Paul Guieysse-Lefébure (Plate XXII-XXIII). These scenes and their accompanying texts are remarkable in that they relate the level of the Nile with Anubis, who is shown in an erect and dominant position in the scenes. Figure 2 accompanies a text which says of the serpent shown at the front of the illustration that he appears ‘in the two caves of Elephantine, at the Gate of the Nile’. Elephantine Island near Aswan also had a famous Nilometer. The texts mention the ancient place name ‘the hill of Kheraha’, which is generally thought by Egyptologists to refer to the site later known as the Fort of Babylon in the Old Town of Cairo, as shown on Drioton’s map in Figure 3, very near to the Rodah Nilometer. However, there appears to be some confusion because ‘the necropolis of Kheraha’ is also mentioned and apparently associated with the place name of Busiris. There were two places named Busiris (the Greek form of the name) in ancient Egypt, one a town in the Delta, and the other a smaller settlement adjoining the Giza Plateau. Busiris is described by Pliny as being beside the Sphinx, and hence is presumably the site of the modern village of Nazlett el Sammann. The Egyptian name of this Gizan Busiris was Djedu, which means ‘ghosts’, clearly an appropriate name for a village beside a vast necropolis. As Giza was the site of the Great Necropolis, near but not at the site of Old Cairo, a close study of the texts and of any related evidence is required to be clear about the mythological implications concerning the surprising and unexpected role of Anubis in relation to the Inundation of the Nile, to the Nile god Hapi, and to Nilometers. This is not the place for such an analysis.  But Drioton’s extensive discussion of the place names in his article contains much suggestive material for further study, both mythological and topogaphical.

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