Comparison of Mesopotamia and the Indus Civilization

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Mesopotamia and Harappan societies have long been compared throughout the history of archaeology. Mesopotamia, also known as, 'the land between the rivers,' was named for the triangular area between the Tigris and the Euphrates river, (Nov. 7 lecture). In recent use, it covers a broader area referring to most of what is now Iraq. This adds ancient Assyria and Babylonia to the scope of Mesopotamia (Schultz and Lavenda 1995:310). Parts of Mesopotamia were not inhabited at all until approximately 8000 BC when plants and animals were domesticated, bringing about an agricultural revolution. This allowed nomads and cave dwellers to become farmers and herders.(Whitehouse 1977:129).)

The Indus civilization is often referred to as Harappan civilization from one of the major sights called Harappa. The Indus civilization existed in South Asia from about 2700 BC to 1750 BC.(Hawkes 1973:49). Smaller groups lived in the area before this time, but it is around 2700 BC when the typical Indus cities took place.(Hawkes 1973:53).

These two territories had many things in common, but also differed in some fundamental ways. The economies of both will be analyzed from information available to date, as well as the forms of government and rule that each employed. Next, the social structure of Mesopotamia and the Indus civiliation will be compared, focussing on social stratification and employment. Finally, I will discuss the architecture of these two ancient sights and the innovations created or similar materials used.


The economy of Mesopotamia was mainly agricultural, but also included wool, hair, and leather. (Oppenheim 1977:83). The domestication of animals, painting of pottery, and most importantly agriculture spread to Greece from Mesopotamia, showing the great influence it had on surrounding areas. (Caldwell 1987:18). This agriculture was being jeopardized from the progressive salinization of the soil, and the weakening of the dikes. This necessitated constant surveillance employed by the temple and the palace. (Oppenheim 1977:84). Silver was used in the Babylonian period, and it was being accumulated as treasure by the palace and the temple. (Oppenheim 1977:89). We know that there were three kinds of trade going on in Mesopotamia, one being inner city trade. The second kind was a carrying trade between foreign cities and trading outposts. The last was the export of industrial goods to sights such as Al Mina at the mouth of the Orontes River in Syria. (Balme and Lawall 1990:143). Items that were exported include textiles made by serfs, a term I will explain later, and the import of metal, stone, lumber, spices and perfumes. (Oppenheim 1977:90).

Real estate was also being bought and sold, and tax collectors gathered taxes for the temple offices. This proved to be a problem at one point when it was said that many people were in jail for debt. Artisans were out of work, and apprentices were left with 'food leavings at the gate.' (Hawkes 1973:158). By the old Babylonian period, however, there was a large population of well-off free citizens who were buying and selling private land, and had slaves to work it. (Hawkes 1973:159). By this time, the temples had lost their power, while the royal palaces gained it. (Hawkes 1973:159).

The economy of the Indus civilization was similar to Mesopotamia in that both had an agriculture based on irrigation and fertility by silt bearing floods. Their cereal crops were also similar, the two main ones being wheat and barley. (Hawkes 1973:267). Trade was a large part of this civilization, but they were not as dependent on trade as Mesopotamia was. (Whitehouse 1977:136). They traded with their neighbours to the West, (Hawkes 1973:267) such items as metal ores for crafts, (Hawkes 1973:270). Trade may have been in the hands of private merchants, for there is evidence for caravan routes. Some routes linked North-West India with Mesopotamia, while others lined the sea route along the Persian...
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