Homework 5 Score 9

Adam Tcharni
September 11, 2008
Mr. Del Re
AP World History Homework # 5
H.W. #5 Read Bentley: 31-48, 59-80; Stearns: 16-20 - Mesopotamia Civilized
Compare the main features of Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations. What did the two
civilizations have in common as early civilizations? Discuss their main differences in values
and organizations
From their prosperous foundations at the world’s most recognized river valleys, to
their inevitable downfall at the hands of superior enemies, both the early civilizations of
Mesopotamia and Egypt truly set the basic principles of a stable society that future
civilizations would build their empires upon. Although similar in many ways, including their
choice of location, agricultural success, hierarchal as well as patriarchal societies, extensive
trade and transportation systems, and constant warfare with neighboring civilizations, Egypt
and Mesopotamia have significant differences. Historical evidence has thoroughly
distinguished government systems, protection from enemies, religion, writing, labor
specialization, and architecture between the two societies. While supplying us with the birth
of civilization, these two societies may as well have given us the first controversies between
societies and their numerous concepts and values.
As early civilizations that did, for the most part, thrive at similar times, supported by
the fact that these civilizations have traded, they have a lot in common. Both Egypt and
Mesopotamia had chosen to establish their civilizations near not only river valleys, where
they have the convenience of water for irrigational (agricultural) and personal needs, but also
fertile land that when combined with the river water, would provide them with successful
vegetation. As a matter of fact, if it wasn’t for the idea of both civilizations to settle in such a
strategic location, then they would have never acquired the surpluses that they needed in
order to trade and expand as a society. Mesopotamians had the help of the Tigris-Euphrates
Rivers, while Egypt had the Nile. Both civilizations manipulated their environment to fit their
economical needs such as establishing irrigational systems, dams, and canals that helped
bring water to the source of their crops. As both societies flourished due to their agricultural
success, populations grew which eventually developed extremely common social
organization in both societies. Indeed, the time of specialized labor that arose might have
been different in terms of the kind of metallurgy since Mesopotamians were more advanced
in bronze while Egyptians were with iron, but specialized labor did nevertheless arise and
create a hierarchy and patriarchy in both societies.
It is clear, historically, that Mesopotamia had social classes from evidence of kings
and their nobles, priests that seemed to assume power below them, and then the free
commoners, dependant clients, and of course slaves. Although not very beneficial for the
lower classes, a concept of hierarchy would allow for people to rise to the top of society to
possibly take over if necessesary or simply to keep Mesopotamian civilization wealthy.
Egypt, alike, had a distinguished social class system, one beautifully supported by the
available evidence of how houses in Egyptian societies were decorated; rich ones had, of
course, expensive furniture and decorative rugs and pictures, while those of commoners were
simpler. This applied to grave sites as well. The only difference between the hierarchies was
the fact that Egypt had more of a governmental one--a pharaoh to control all of the land,
bureaucratic advisors in the cities to abet, and then the commoners and slaves. Rise in
complex labor also promoted patriarchal societies. Both societies simply had a belief that
men controlled everything--the labor, the land, public affairs, and even the household. Men,
as a matter of fact, rose to such high class, especially in Egypt, that the monarchial
government of Egypt would often become democratic so that men could give their insight on
laws and decisions.
As the specialized labor in both societies produced a wide variety of goods, such as
bronze and iron, Mesopotamia and Egypt began to trade extensively with neighboring, as
well as foreign lands. Egypt, who traded also for their lacking natural resources, traded with
their nearby civilization Nubia, for many products such as gold, ivory, ebony, and wine.
Wood was another commodity Egypt looked excitedly towards. Mesopotamia alike, traded
with places like Anatolia and Phoenicia for mostly textiles and tin, around 1810 B.C. Even
for nearby trade, both civilizations were able to create adequate transportation, whether it was
the wheel, or the horse and chariot, brought over, actually, to both Egypt and Mesopotamia
from the Hittites. Surprisingly still, despite such evident prosperity and successful trade,
Egypt and Mesopotamia had many conflicts with neighboring peoples. Egypt constantly
fought with Nubia over land, as stated between 3100 B.C. and 2600 B.C. Mesopotamia was
constantly attacked by numerous cultures, such as the Assyrians, the Hittites, and at times,
Anatolians. Whether resulting in a victory or defeat, the constant warfare warned both
societies to create strong militaries that would be able to protect them. Mesopotamia, which
completely has no natural barriers, was especially susceptible to constant assault.
As initial civilizations in the history of the world, Egypt and Mesopotamia have to be
alike. However, in order to lead to many different cultures, there have to be arguable
differences between the two societies. One of the most prominent differences between the
two societies is the organization of the government or governing body in that land. Since
Mesopotamia did have many city states as well empires, their government included many
different kings and nobles, and occasionally priests. Many kings and nobles deemed
convenient to such an un-united society. Egypt, who oppositely was very united and carefully
organized into kingdoms, had one major king, the pharaoh, who had many different
bureaucracies all over Egypt that would report back to him about government issues like
taxes. This type of government kept Egyptian officials on track of what was going on, an
important contribution to its expansion.
Religion was also disputable between the two societies. It can indeed be said that they
both worshiped deities to support them in their fight for successful surplus, and that they both
believed in afterlife. But the religion in Egypt, based upon these concepts, was much more
developed. The only historical evidence that Mesopotamia has of religious transactions
would be the Epic of Gilgamesh, the construction of ziggurats, and the occupation of priests.
Mesopotamians did not have identities for their gods, other than just the wind or the sun, as
Egyptians did. Egyptians meticulously named each god and gave them a story and meaning,
supported by the many pictures on tombs and inside the pyramids. The extensive belief in
gods, and their very intriguing practice of embalming and mummification all led up to the
fact that Egypt believed in an after life.
What severely distinguished Mesopotamia from Egypt was the fact that Egypt was
much more unified, and kept under control, as oppose to a Mesopotamian society where
different empires rule every century, and famous cities like Ur, Uruk, Sumer, and Babylon
are constantly under attack (although this is more due to the lack of natural barriers in
Mesopotamia.) While Egypt, although initially divided, became united in 3100 B.C. under
King Menes who unified Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt, Mesopotamia had different empires
ruling different city-states everywhere. Their un-unified civilization could fundamentally lead
back to the fact they did not have a very centralized government. In 2370 B.C., Sargon and
the Akkadians took over Sumer; Hammurabi and his people established an empire in
Babylon in 1792 B.C.; Assyrians took over most of Mesopotamia in 1300 B.C. It is clear that
these regional empires have discouraged Mesopotamia from thriving united, while Egypt was
cleverly organized into three kingdoms, each covering a time period in Egyptian history.
Writing was another clear difference between these two foundational societies. Mesopotamia
had a very developed, unique style of cuneiform. Various clay tablets, mostly from the city of
Ur, show the distinct wedge shaped figures that the Mesopotamians had created.
Astonishingly, with such an advanced writing system, they should have had a more organized
society. Egypt, conversely, had more of a pictograph based system called hieroglyphics
which they used on cave painting and pyramids.
The final differences that lay between Mesopotamia and Egypt are basically those
that deal with artistic, architectural, and militaristic concepts, important concepts that can
have a big impact on society. For example, the fact that Egypt was more of an iron producing
society while Mesopotamia was already experienced in bronze making gave Mesopotamia a
better economy and supplies, hence forth the many commodities that the Hittites had (they
were Mesopotamian society.) Mesopotamia did have impressive architectural institutes, such
as ziggurats, and their many tablets, but no one could have surpassed Egypt’s pyramids. For
ten years at a time, slaves in Egypt’s organized hierarchy worked on each of these pyramids,
crafting them for the pharaohs. The pyramids showed peoples fear for pharaohs, and the gods
(since pharaohs were considered gods) but perhaps it even showed nationalistic views.
Mesopotamia and Egypt have clearly defined what a civilization is and should
contain through their similarities, which have worked out well towards the success of their
societies, and through their differences and the mistakes that countless numbers of more
civilizations would examine. Through issues like government, arts, writing, agriculture, and
religion, Mesopotamia and Egypt have showed how it is that societies come to flourish, and
of course how they inevitably face their end, no matter how alike or different to one another.