Approximately 5000 B.C.E. cultivation rose from unrest in Mesopotamia, the modern day area of Iran and Iraq, and formed what is arguably the first example of human civilization. It rose upon the banks of the Tigris-Euphrates River, formed by a tribe known as the Sumerians. They were a collection of agriculturally based communities, which coordinated strongly to ease the hardship of farming.
Besides Mesopotamia, another civilization arose in northeastern Africa, along the Nile River. Egyptian civilization, formed by 3000 B.C., benefited from trade and technological influence from Mesopotamia, but it produced a quite different society and culture. Because its values and its tightly knit political organization encouraged monumental building, we know more about Egypt than about Mesopotamia, even though the latter was in most respects more important and richer in subsequent heritage.
The development of two great early civilizations in the Middle East and North Africa encourages a first effort at comparative analysis. Because of different geography, different degrees of exposure to outside invasion and influence, and different prior beliefs, Egypt and Mesopotamia were in contrast to one another in many ways. Egypt emphasized strong central authority, while Mesopotamian politics shifted more frequently over a substructure of regional city-states. Mesopotamian art focused on less monumental structures, while embracing a definite literary element that Egyptian art needed.
These cultural differences can be explained partly by geography: Mesopotamians lacked access to the great stones that Egyptians could...