Differences Between Mesopotamia & Ancient Egypt

Written by patrick hutchison
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Differences Between Mesopotamia & Ancient Egypt
Rivers are one of the most basic similarities between Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. (river image by Bartek Jurkowski from Fotolia.com)

Ancient Egypt and Mesopotomia were two of the greatest civilisations in human history. They both made huge cultural and scientific advances that will forever impact our way of life. Though different in many regards, Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia maintained several key similarities. Understanding how these two civilisations compared highlights the origins of our most basic social, political and cultural systems.

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Time Period

Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia both developed around the same time, between 5000 and 6000 B.C. This was an especially important time for mankind. At this point, most humans were pastoral nomads, moving from place to place utilising the benefits of domesticated animals, but not farming.

Geography

Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia shared one key similarity in their geography, access to a major source of freshwater. For Egypt, it was the Nile and for Mesopotamia, it was both the Tigris and the Euphrates River. Mesopotamia developed in between the Tigris and Euphrates, an area commonly referred to as the "Fertile Crescent." Egypt developed north and south, hugging the banks of the Nile. Both areas had access to vast trade seas via their main rivers. Egypt had the Mediterranean and Mesopotamia, the Persian Gulf. Geography also played a role in stability. Egypt bordered on the side of a massive sea and on another side by an impenetrable desert. This made it very difficult to invade and conquer Egypt. Mesopotamia was much more vulnerable, open to attack on most sides.

Agriculture

Egypt and Mesopotamia pioneered the use of agriculture, possibly the most significant lifestyle change in human history. Agriculture allowed once nomadic tribes to settle down and stay in one place. Both civilisations' rivers provided the much needed water for fertile crops. Egypt was lucky enough to have a river that systematically flooded, inundating the surrounding banks and making the soil exceptionally rich. Mesopotamia was not so lucky and forced to irrigate their agricultural lands.

Rule

Though Mesopotamia started as a combination of city-states, both civilisations moved to a sort of monarchy. Egypt had a Pharaoh, a position passed down from father to son, establishing long lasting dynasties. Mesopotamia had a king, but rather than operate on family legacy, the king usually deposed by invading forces due to the area's poor defensive position. Both systems led to the creation of strict social classes that usually included a class for priests, traders, farmers and labourers.

Religion

Both civilisations incorporated highly important polytheistic religions. Often the distinction between gods and rulers was very thin. Sacrifices were frequently made, especially in light of natural disasters. Though their gods were different, many of their beliefs were similar including views on the afterlife.

Writing

Mesopotamia and Egypt developed advanced systems of writing, which began as simple pictographs and moved onto advanced letters. Mesopotamian writing began as wedged shaped characters, a system referred to as cuneiform. Egypt originally used hieroglyphics.

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