Comparison of the civilization of Mesopotamia and Egypt
The civilization of man is a process that has taken thousand of years to be where it is today. Initially man led a nomadic hunter and gatherer lifestyle before evolving to attain the civility we are in today. Civilization was not just a unique process that happened in one particular part of the world; rather it took place in various places. The two civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia were such civilizations, which were quite unique of each other yet they had qualities that were similar even though others were different.
(Oliphant M 33)
These two civilizations along with the civilizations of India and China appeared 5,000 years ago and one characteristic that defined all of them was that they existed along the banks of large rivers. In the Mesopotamian civilization, the major rivers within which it existed were the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The Egyptian civilization on the other hand took place along River Nile; they were actually called river civilization for this fact.
However besides this particular similarity their difference came about by how each responded to the rivers. (Oliphant M 36)
The name Mesopotamia was derived from the fact that it developed between two rivers; the Tigris and the Euphrates, the name means “between rivers”. The economic development in this region was realized through irrigation canals because the areas were arid. Mesopotamia played a significant trade role between Asia Minor, Syria and the Mediterranean area. (Algaze G 45) Egypt’s territory on the other hand was situated along Nile River. The Egypt territory was divided into Upper Egypt kingdom and Lower Egypt kingdom.
Two different people occupied the area of Mesopotamia they included the Assyrians who occupied North of Mesopotamia (Assyria) and the southern part was inhabited by the Akkadians and Sumerians. Power used to alternate between the two. (Algaze G 45)
The Egyptian and the Mesopotamian societies engaged in extensive trading although there was a difference in tone. Mesopotamia was a comparatively difficult environment thus was very difficult to manage. This called for certain technological advancements compared to the Egyptian society. The Mesopotamian trade was more extensive and depended mostly on commercial law and merchant class.
In both civilizations the political power was strong with an all powerful king who controlled everything. The king was the commander in chief of the army and he had the responsibility of passing laws and also possessed religious functions. To manage his possession the king had a retinue of civil servants to manage the kingdom. (Baines J & Jaromir M 20)
The Pharaoh was the king of Egypt and he had all the powers including possession all land. Passing of laws, supervising trade and leading the army in war were some of his major roles. The Egyptian society regarded the Pharaoh as a god and never touched or looked him in the eye and believed in his magical powers. The kingdom was a dynasty and the heir to the throne when the king died was the first born son. In Mesopotamia the king and his family made up the aristocracy and owned much of the land including the high positions in the Army. (Algaze G 45)
The societies in both instances were stratified with the king and the nobility occupying the highest strata. This particular group was the most privileged and possessed most of the land. Next were the priests, in Mesopotamia the priests were highly honored and lived in temples and performed all the religious rites. (Postgate, J.N 7)
They were also wealthy and owned large tracts of land because they cooperated with the kingdom. In Egypt they possessed thousand of servants and slaves. In Mesopotamia, besides land they also possessed craft workshops. Scribes were a privileged group of civil servants in Mesopotamia and undertook such tasks as managers, cub bearing or acted as couriers. (Postgate, J.N 7)
In Egypt there was a prime minister or the Vizier whose responsibility was to aide the Pharaoh govern the country. The scribes were the only people in Egypt who could read and their main responsibilities included writing of official documents plus tax records and keeping the accounts of the royal palace. (Baines J & Jaromir M 18)
In Mesopotamia the remaining population was further divided into two: first were people with rights and slaves who did not have any rights at all. Some of the free people included peasants who rented land possessed by the nobles and the king. They paid taxes or parted with a portion of the harvest. The free people also included craftsmen who were divided into goldsmiths, perfumers, carpenters or weavers and worked in workshops. (Postgate, J.N 7)
Men owned women; therefore the women never worked and if they did were paid half of what their male counterpart earned. Other professions that existed in Egypt included craftsmen, merchants and soldiers and sailors. . (Baines J & Jaromir M 17)
In Egypt the rest of the population was composed of peasants who were very poor and lived along the river bank in small and brick houses. The peasants worked in the lands that were owned by the king or the noblemen and priests. In exchange they were given part of the harvest but paid tax as well. They contributed immensely in the construction of the pyramids especially when the Nile flooded. (Baines J & Jaromir M 14)
The lowest cadres of the population in both civilizations were slaves who were owned by the king and were treated as objects.
The Mesopotamian culture lacked the concern for the preparation of the after life, which the Egyptians adored, thus the pharaoh’s were preserved in tombs that were in the pyramids. The Egyptians were polytheistic with the sun being the main God.(Baines J & Jaromir M 14)
Both civilizations contributed in a great way to the modern civilization we have today especially in astronomy, art, writing geometry and agriculture.
Algaze, Guillermo: The Uruk World System: The Dynamics of Expansion of Early Mesopotamian Civilization” (Second Edition, 2004) p 45-67
Baines, John, and Jaromir Malek: Atlas of Ancient Egypt. Abingdon, England: Andromeda Oxford, 1980 p 12-23
Oliphant, Margaret: The Atlas of the Ancient World: Charting the Great Civilizations of the Past. London: Ebury. 1992 33-54
Postgate, J.N. Early Mesopotamia, Society and Economy at the Dawn of History. London: Routledge, 1992 6-18
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