The Nile River valley has produced a large number of legends that are held by the peoples living along its banks of as well as many others. Some legends were invented to explain things that were unknown, whereas others were invented to help build public support for imperial expansion. Ancient Egypt was a mystery before
the second half of the 19th century, and this helped perpetuate legends. Because of the large number of legends about the Nile and the peoples and cultures found along its banks, this essay will begin in Egypt and proceed up the river to its sources. Many early European Christian pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land also visited Egypt, and for them the pyramids of Giza were the grain silos of Joseph in the Old Testament. This was one among many legends that grew out of ancient Egypt. Others were that the pyramids and the major monuments were built by Hebrew slaves at the time of Moses.
These legends are easy to understand but are not based on any investigation but on summary conclusions based on ignorance. In the early Islamic period, it was thought the pyramids of Giza were great storehouses of wealth. The ‘Abbasid Caliph Ma’amun (ruled 813–833 CE) had an entrance dug into the side of the Pyramid of Cheops because of the legend it harbored great treasure; none was found. In more recent times, the pyramids—in particular, the three on the Giza plateau—have been linked to belief in extraterrestrial life forms because the structures were built at a time when the Egyptians seemed not to have the technology to build them. Believers argue that the perfect alignment of the pyramids along the four principal directions, their neat lines, and their astronomical alignments meant no human from so early a period in time could have built them. This belief ignores the long history of royal tombs before the pyramid period and instead picks up the idea that elements of Egyptian cosmology and astronomy are events the human eye cannot see. In popular American culture, the film Stargate (1994) and the subsequent TV series of the same name (1997–2007) perpetuated the legend of ancient astronauts.