A Comparison of Ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian Societies

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Although Egypt and Mesopotamia were both early agricultural societies built upon the water provided by the major rivers which sustained them, they exhibited important differences as a consequence of the different physical environments in which they developed. In this paper I will first focus on what I consider to be the major aspects of these differences in environment and then explore the consequences of these differences in their religious beliefs, political organization and commercial practices.

A major difference in physical environment between these ancient societies was the seasonal river flows on which they depended for farming. The Nile which supported early Egyptian civilization was characterized by predictable and annual flooding in the early fall. These floods occurred after crops were harvested. This pattern was a consequence of the regular late summer monsoon rains which fell at its headwaters. The Nile also possessed a large spreading delta area that gave rise to natural irrigation canals that would flood the areas between them with fertile nutrients for the next planting year. The Tigris and Euphrates rivers which supported the Mesopotamian society would typically flood in the late spring just when crops would be ripening, often with disastrous results on harvests. This pattern was a result of these waters originating from winter snow melt in the Anatolian mountains (now in present day Turkey) where these rivers originated. These floods sometimes caused the rivers to change their course abruptly cutting off fields from water.

Another primary physical difference contributing to cultural differences was the relative isolation in which ancient Egypt developed compared to Mesopotamia. According to our text book ‘Egypt’s natural isolation and material self-sufficiency fostered a unique culture that for long periods of time had relatively little to do with other civilizations’. In contrast, Mesopotamia was open to migration or invasion and was...