Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia – What’s the Difference?
The ancient Egyptians and the Mesopotamians shared many traits, but differed as well, despite emerging around the same years. The Egyptians, a religiously optimistic people, set up a bureaucratic government that eventually reflected their social system. In Mesopotamia, where life was not viewed as optimistically, the more diverse social system led to a decentralized political system. Evidence shows, however, that both societies trusted in an afterlife, established a unique writing structure and excelled significantly in the arts and sciences.
Mesopotamia, unfortunately, did not have a seasonal flooding from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which would force them to create an organized agricultural system. This would explain their negative view of the afterlife and the general mood of the gods. Egypt, nevertheless, stood along the fertile soils of the Nile River valley, which provided a familiarized flooding. This allowed the Egyptians to see the universe as orderly and beneficial. So sacred this afterlife that they believed in preserving the body at death for the journey to the afterlife by the process of mummification. The Mesopotamians, fearing to disappoint the gods, believed that their purpose was to serve the gods and thus religion played a more important role in government. Priests, for example, were much more prominent than in Egypt. No matter the situation, both civilizations thrived in agriculture.
Both communities had a social system broken down into three groups. King Hammurabi’s law declared these three groups: the free landowning, containing royalty, priests, and officials; the dependent farmers and artisans; and the slave class, who were usually prisoners of war. Temple leaders were considered royalty and controlled large estates along with the Lugal (king). While male dominance existed, women did have rights in Mesopotamia. They could own land and business and could trade, but child rearing was preferred. Women eventually lost social standing from the spread of agriculture and the rise of the middle class. Social class in Egypt was less pronounced: consisting of the king and his officials; the lower level officials, priests, farmers, and professionals; and the peasants at the bottom. The peasant class executed much of the agricultural labor, since slavery was limited. Obesity, as in many ancient civilizations, was a sign of wealth and status. Female subordination to man is apparent in Egypt as well. Women yet had slightly more rights. This included owning property, inheritance and the ability to will property to whomever.
A king of some sort ultimately ruled both Egypt and Mesopotamia. Egyptians were governed by a bureaucracy, where the pharaoh was the supreme ruler, followed by his appointed officials. The officials were chosen by merit, rather than by heritage as in Mesopotamia. The pharaoh was viewed as god on earth, granted with the responsibility to ensure welfare and prosperity. The palace was in control of long distance commerce as well as collecting taxes to put towards construction and the army. Priests, on the other hand, did not play a big role in politics as in Mesopotamia. The two centers of power in Mesopotamia were the temple and the palace of the king. The temple and the palace were usually the center and surrounded by agricultural lands, known as a city state. These city-states developed independently and traded among themselves. The theocratic king was called the Lugal and was responsible for property rights, defense, and the law. Slightly different from Egypt, the Lugal was only the representative or mediator of the gods.
Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia based their economies on agriculture. This tedious labor demanded for more productive ways to work, hopefully through technological advancements. Both societies used the process of irrigation through canals and dikes. Stone tools were the most commonly used along with some bronze. Egypt skillfully utilized simple machines such as levers and pulleys to build the magnificent monuments. Mesopotamians facilitated pottery making with the creation of the potter’s wheel. The most considerable innovation was the distinctive writing structures of the two civilizations. The Mesopotamians preferred the method of cuneiform- by creating wedge shaped symbols with reeds. Fortunately for the discovery of the Rosetta stone, we can interpret the multitude of hieroglyphs of the Ancient Egyptians.
Despite being isolated, both civilizations managed to abide by the basic structure of human nature and apply the indicators of a civilization. From this came the specific qualities that make up the classes of Mesopotamians and ancient Egyptians.