Mesopotamia & Ancient Egypt: Similarities & Differences

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  • 0:04 Leaving the Nomadic…
  • 0:38 Geography
  • 1:35 Religion
  • 2:51 Social Structure
  • 4:08 Technology
  • 5:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Breana Murad

Breana has seven years experience teaching multiple Social Studies subjects including U.S. History, World History, and Civics. She holds a master's degree in teaching.

Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt were two of the earliest known civilizations. While maintaining individual identities, they shared several similarities and were responsible for several important technologies that we continue to rely on in one way or another today.

Leaving the Nomadic Lifestyle Behind

They brought you writing, the wheel, the calendar, and beer - Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt both emerged as major civilizations between roughly 3500 and 3000 BCE. These societies allowed human beings, for the first time in history, to settle down in one place and farm instead of chasing their often dangerous wild animal food sources.

Both civilizations shared similarities and differences in their geography, religions, social structures, and technologies that allowed them to flourish and become two of the most well-known ancient civilizations.

Geography

Ancient civilizations like Egypt and Mesopotamia didn't have convenience stores where you could pop in for your milk and slushies. Instead, they were the original ''farm to table'' civilizations, where everything revolved around agriculture.

Both were located in river valleys, which are areas of flat land that has a river running through it. These rivers flooded yearly and the receding water would leave behind fertile soil that was great for planting. The Tigris and Euphrates Rivers ran around and through Mesopotamia, forming what's often called ''the Fertile Crescent'', and ancient Egypt had the Nile River running through it. However, Mesopotamia's rivers flooded irregularly in the spring without warning, often causing massive amounts of damage and deaths. Ancient Egypt's river flooded once a year in the summer, and was so timely the ancient Egyptians built their calendar around it.

It was this reliance on their geography to produce food that led to the creation of Mesopotamian and ancient Egyptian religions.

Religion

Before science and YouTube videos, religion explained everyday events. The religions in both Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt were polytheistic, meaning they believed in multiple gods and goddesses, and were based on nature. Both civilizations had gods of the sky, earth, freshwater, and the sun, as well as gods devoted to human emotions and the underworld. It was important to maintain healthy relationships with the gods to ensure the best harvests, and therefore the best chance for survival.

These civilizations differed in their interpretation of the gods, however. Mesopotamians, because they had a rougher time with the flooding, tended to be pessimistic. They thought their gods unpredictable, and that there was only a 'Land-of-no-return' after death. Ancient Egyptians, on the other hand, due to their easier time predicting the floods, had a more positive take on their gods. The gods of ancient Egypt could be harsh, but also gave gifts to humanity like wisdom and justice. The Egyptian afterlife was also supposed to be an even better continuation of life on Earth. As a result, everyone that could afford to spent their time alive preparing to be dead. This is where the Giza pyramids came from - they were built as very large tombs that were stocked with food, jewelry, tools, and even servants.

The ancient Egyptians built the Pyramids as part of an afterlife plan.
pyramids

Social Structure

Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia both had similar social structures, or ways of organizing society. Imagine a pyramid, with the following groups from bottom to top:

  • The labor class: slaves - slavery in these civilizations was not race-based, but rather based on captured prisoners-of-war or sometimes children who had been sold into slavery to pay off their parents' debt.
  • The lower class: farmers, musicians, merchants, brewers, and bakers
  • The middle class: scribes (people who could write), wealthier merchants, and architects
  • The upper class: the clergy and nobles
  • The ruling class

Both societies had similar social structures except for the ruling class.
Social Structure Pyramid

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