Amongst the earliest civilizations were those that arose in the geographically distinct regions of Mesopotamia and Egypt.
Because of the physical variations between these two landscapes, the Sumerian and Egyptian civilizations developed differently in terms of their political and cultural structures. According to Hunt (2013), civilization is defined as “a way of life based on agriculture and trade, with cities containing large buildings for religion and government; technology to produce metals, textiles, pottery, and other manufactured objects, and knowledge of writing” (Hunt, 2013). Following the Neolithic Revolution, individuals transitioned from living as hunter-gatherers to settling down permanently and building complex civilizations. The civilizations that emerged in Mesopotamia and Egypt were amongst the first River Valley civilizations to have developed. However, their geographical differences resulted in greater political unity and stability in Egypt, and vastly different cultures in terms of the people’s beliefs and values. A key similarity between the early civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia is that they relied heavily on the Nile, and Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, respectively.
The contrasting behaviors of these bodies of water in each region, however, resulted in political distinctions arising between the two civilizations. The Tigris and Euphrates rivers had damaging effects which resulted from their frequent, unpredictable, and severe flooding. Because the Mesopotamian climate was dry and consisted of little rainfall, the people relied on the rivers as their primary source of water. Such circumstances made it necessary for the Sumerians to build canals, organize labor, and develop systems of irrigation in order to gain control over the difficult geographical characteristics of their region.
The complexity of these agricultural systems required regulation and maintenance, ultimately leading to the establishment of government in Mesopotamia. The region divided into city-states, which were political arrangements that involved a centralized authority (Hunt, 2013). These cities were independent from each other in terms of government, making the Sumerian civilization a rather divided one. Unlike the rivers in Mesopotamia, the Nile River in Egypt flooded annually and was for more calm and easier to control and navigate through. Such characteristics, in contrast with ancient Mesopotamian society, promoted political unity throughout early Egyptian civilization. This was because the stable conditions of the Nile River facilitated communication and transportation, and promoted the exchange of ideas throughout the area.
To conclude, while Egyptian and Mesopotamian societies emerged around the same time period, the harsh climate and destructive flooding of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers caused the Sumerians to develop a more separated government and overall civilization in comparison to the unified, distinct political composition in ancient Egypt. In addition to the political distinctions discussed above, the contrasting behavior of the Nile and Tigris and Euphrates rivers also help to explain the divergent cultural perspectives of ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations. First, unlike the damaging and frequent flooding of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, daily life in early Egypt was far more stable as the Nile operated in calm and predictable rhythms. This, in addition to the seemingly miraculous, life-producing nature of the annuals floods, can account for Egypt’s being governed by the divine gods. In other words, the fact that the annual flooding of the Nile would cause the Egyptian landscape to flourish and provide the people with a surplus of agricultural advantages, including the fertilization of soil, led to the idea that this occurrence was “part of a great cosmic rhythm” (Berry, 2015). The Egyptians therefore believed that the floods of their river were a blessing from the divine gods, which contributed to them having an overall more positive outlook altogether. The people of Mesopotamia, on the other hand, believed that the gods they worshipped emerged out of chaos, and that the unpredictable and damaging behavior of the Tigris and Euphrates were brought on as punishment by the gods (Kurht, ).
This led to the more negative or pessimistic outlook that the Sumerians shared. In conclusion, the predictability of the Nile River in Egypt produced a unified culture that perceived the gods as steady and just, while the Sumerians feared the divine forced and thus developed a more hostile culture (Berry, 2015). The societies that grew in Mesopotamia and Egypt were amongst the first River Valley civilizations to have emerged. However, their geographical differences resulted in vastly different cultures and a more stable, unified political system in Egypt.
The unpredictable nature of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers influenced a more hostile, fearful culture to develop in Mesopotamia, along with a less unified political structure. On the contrary, the controlled nature of the Nile River resulted in Egyptian civilization growing highly communal, feeling that the gods are moral divine beings, and thus living a more comfortable daily life. Evidently, such minor geographical distinctions can cause civilizations to develop very differently. As shown by the evidence provided above, the differences between the early civilizations in Mesopotamia and Egypt can be accounted for with respect to their political and cultural structures.
In this way, the idea that different civilizations respond to the conditions of their natural contexts that shape the way they develop in multiple realms of society.