Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt

Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt are both cradles of civilization. Both contributed greatly to human development through their achievements, failures, peoples, scientific accomplishments, philosophies, religions, and contributions. Mesopotamia is a rich flat plain created by deposits from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. At the southern end of this plain developed the first recognizable civilization, in the area known as Sumer. In 3000 B. C. Sumer contained a dozen or more city-states, each ruled by its own king and worshiped its own patron deity.

The citizens of these city-states were classified into three classes: nobles and priests, commoners, and slaves. In the center of a Sumerian city usually stood a tower culminating in a temple for the patron god of the city. The Sumerians believed that this patron god owned the whole city. The Geography of this city helped a lot with the trade, and led to mathematics as well. The Sumerians developed a precise system of mathematical notation called the sexagesimal, in which the number sixty is the main element. We even use this system in our world today!

The Sumerian chief contribution to later civilizations was writing, even though their script was pictographic. Through these pictographic scripts historians found a long narrative known as the Epic of Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh is a great hero and ruler who sets out to recover cedar from northern lands. He travels with his companion Enkidu, who is killed by the storm god, Enlil. Mourning the loss of his companion and confronted by death himself, Gilgamesh travels the world in search of eternal life. He ends up finding the plant of eternal youth, but a serpent swallows it while he is bathing.

The epic ends with his death and funeral. The Sumerians believed that the gods created people to be their slaves. The first Great Warlord came from the region of Akkad, an area north of Babylon. His name was Sargon, and he conquered all of Mesopotamia. Sargon was from a group of people called the Semites. The only difference between the Semites and the Sumerians were linguistics. Semites spoke many different languages like Akkadian, Hebrew, and Canaanite. The Sumerian people adapted the Akkadian language. Sargon and his successors ruled from Akkad until 2230 B. C, when internal disagreement ended the Akkadian kingdom.

The Sumerians regained control of southern Mesopotamia and established the Third Dynasty of Ur. The ruler of this dynasty was Ur-Nammu. He was the first ruler to establish law codes and spell out regulations and penalties. Another great ruler was King Hammurabi of Babylon. He set up the Code of Hammurabi, which includes 300 sections of carefully organized codes that ruled the Babylonians. Hammurabi was the first example of a lawgiver. He provided one of the greatest written documents of his time: a stone column with a long series of legal judgments published with his name.

Hammurabi even designed codes for the family life. He took care of the women and children in his society. He regulated marriage with care to secure a stable life for future generations. He combined both law and religious belief to create an ordered society. The Mesopotamians built on foundations laid by the Sumerians using their sexagesimal system. They had multiplication tables, exponents, tables for computing interest, and textbooks with problems for solution. They also developed systems of astrology and astronomy, and even created a lunar calendar.

The early cities of Mesopotamia fell from one warlord to another, and were constantly changing, unlike the kingdoms of Ancient Egypt that kept its stability. The Egyptians lived along the Nile River, which probably made it easier to govern the people. The King was the owner and ruler of all Egypt and was considered a god by the people. The economy was a royal monopoly, the peoples duties was to serve the King. In the old Kingdom the Egyptians built three great pyramids in Giza. Pyramids were built for the tombs of the kings, and were one of the main activities of the kings during their rule.

Egypts political power in early societies was based on religion. The Egyptians believed that if they served their king to the fullest they would have a pleasant life after death. The God that ruled the dead was Osiris. The Egyptians believed that he was the one that taught people how to prosper and made the laws. In the Old Kingdom the chief purpose of living was to prepare for the afterlife. Egyptians mummified the dead bodies and placed luxurious items in their tombs. The Egyptians also believed in Maat. Maat was a cosmic force that created things in the right relationships.

Maat seemed to show a new way of keeping moral behavior. The Egyptians developed a type of writing called hieroglyphs. Like the script of the Mesopotamians the writings are pictorial signs. The Egyptians used the papyrus plant to make a sort of paper to write on. With this new form of writing and writing materials the Egyptians formed a lively literature. Their literature was based on their mythology and afterlife. They also wrote hymns, lyrics, and many beautiful love poems. The Egyptians also mastered arithmetic, geometry, and the art of surveying. They needed these skills to plant their crops along the Nile.

The Egyptians also practiced medicine in a peculiar way. They believed that every organ and body part had a special god, so they would chant sayings to make them go away. The Egyptians did make recipes for toothaches, depression, and constipation though. The New Kingdom formed after the invasion of the Hyksos. The Hyksos invaded the delta region of Egypt, but Egyptian warriors from Thebes counterattacked and drove them back to Asia Minor. During the New Kingdom the kings were now called pharaohs. The pharaohs organized Egypt into a military state. The most powerful female ruler of ancient times reigned in the 18th Dynasty.

Hatshepsut crowned herself king of all Egypt and had herself portrayed as a sphinx with a beard. She wanted to be remembered as the restorer of Egypt. The next ruler was Thutmose III; he became Egypts greatest military ruler. He made many expeditions to Asia and expanded the empire to the Euphrates River. Economy boomed with the newly expanded Empire. The Egyptians expanded their trade, honored their god with more temples, and worked the rich copper mines. After the conquests appeared a new religious battle. Different religious parties arose and each wanted their god to be the supreme one.

The next pharaoh, King Amenhotep, worshiped the god Aton (sun god). He even changed his name and moved the capital from Thebes to Akhetaton, and he also created a hymn to praise Aton similar to the ones of the Sumerians. After his death King Tutankhamen moved the capital back to Thebes and favored the older god Amen-Re. In the 19th Dynasty arose the greatest pharaoh, Ramses II. Ramses achieved a period of temporary peace. In this period he spent time and money on luxurious building projects. A major achievement in Egyptian society was the role of women. Women were allowed to own land and pass it down to their daughters.

Women also helped with agriculture and went shopping. Women were legally equal to men but in their own class. They even started having occupations. Some were singers, dancers, priests, and professional mourners. Women were even buried next to their husbands in an elegant tomb. As you can see there are many differences and similarities between the Sumerians and Ancient Egyptians. Both were one of the first civilizations and contributed into the development of how our world works today. From politics to family life our culture today has come from a very long line of ancient civilizations and reforms.


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