Ancient Egypt was the birthplace of one of the world’s first civilization, which arose about 5,000 years ago. It emerged in the northeastern Africa near the Nile River. However, beside this, there was another civilization, Sumerian Civilization, which occurred in the southern Mesopotamian, now southeastern Iraq. This began 3,500 B.C. until 2,000 B.C. The two civilizations arose independently, and did not contact with each other, but later on. If we compared ancient Egypt with Sumer, we maybe see some similarities and some differences. Thus, what are the similarities? and the differences? In this essay, I have divided it into three parts in term of geography, religion, and government to make it easy to understand.
II. Geographic Features
1. The Nile River: Giver of Life
The Nile River, the longest river in the world, was considered the source of life in ancient time, as well as today in Egypt. Because of the Nile, people could live near there which was bordered by deserts on the east, south, and west, along with the Mediterranea Sea on the north. The Nile floods were predictable every year. The flooding started in July following the rain season in central Africa. The Nile provided valuable moisture and silt, which was deposited on the fields as the waters reached. These were favorable for farming. The Egyptians also depended on the Nile as their main transportation route. Therefore, many cities developed along the river owing to its importance of farming and transportation.
2. Natural Barriers
In Egypt, it was surrounded by the Libyan and Nubian deserts, the Mediterranea Sea, and the Red River, which were the natural barriers. Egyptians lived in ancient time by protection from these barriers. There were cataracts, or waterfall, rapids, and a huge swamp in the southern Nile, which posed obstacles to outside invaders. However, in spite of fertile narrow strip of land along the river, farmers could not plant crops in the surrounding deserts. This caused to build extensive irrigation system to carry Nile water into the deserts for farming. Farmers also drained the marshy swamps of the Nile delta.
1. The Fertile Crescent: Crossroads of World
The Tigris-Euphrates Valley lies in the eastern end of the Fertile Crescent, the arc-shaped strip of fertile land stretches from the Mediterranea Sea to the Persian Gulf. Because of the rich soil of the region and its crescent shape, it was called the Fertile Crescent. It also has another name, the “crossroads of world” because it commands the land routes to three continents: Asia, Africa, and Europe. Unlike Egypt, the Fertile Crescent has few natural barriers, the Arabian and Syrian deserts, which provided less protection to early civilizations than the Libyan Desert did in Egypt. Owing to less protection, there were many minors in there, such as Asian Minor. It was very difficult to unite the area under a single ruler because of the diversity of people.
2. Land between Two Rivers
The Tigris-Euphrates Valley was called by the Greeks “Mesopotamia,” meaning “land between two rivers.” The Tigris and Euphrates River, like the Nile River in Egypt, dominated the lives of the people in Mesopotamia. Unlike the Nile, the Tigris and Euphrates floods are unpredictable, but it was known that in the spring or early summer, melting snows from the mountains sometimes caused the river to overflow. These caused enormous damage to farms, villages, and animals and sometimes drowned many people. In summer, sometimes it was suffered droughts and hot winds, which could turn fertile land to dust, shrivel crops, and cause famine. However, the two rivers provided the trade routes to Mesopotamia people, which made the cities wealthy and powerful. Silts from the floods were also goods for farming. Because of floods year after year, it made the delta in the lower Mesopotamia a maze of swamps and marshlands. The people needed an intricate network of dikes and cannels to drain the swamps and channel the water to farmland.
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B. Religion in Egypt
1. Nature-Connected and Polytheistic
The Egyptian’s beliefs in gods and goddesses reflected the importance of nature in their lives and every human activity. The Egyptian people thought that the forces of nature were controlled by differences deities. It was depended on the mood of deities, giving good harvests or causing crops to die. They also believed that the deities had the power of life and death over everyone. Egyptians were polytheistic. In each city and town, people worshiped their own special god. Sometimes, they identified some gods with animals such as cats. The main god was the sun god, Amon-Re. The most important goddess was Isis, representing the devoted mother and wife. Her husband, Osiris, ruled over vegetation and the death, so Egyptian farmers gave special attention to Osiris, the god of the Nile. They also believed that the east, where the sun rose, symbolized the birth to Egyptians and the west, where the sun set, represented death. Most ancient Egyptians prayed at home because the temples didn’t offer regular services for people. Each temple was either regarded as the home of deity or dedicated to a dead king. The main priest’s job was to serve the deity or king, who was represented by a status in the temple. The king reigning at that time was considered the chief priest of Egypt.
2. Life after Death
The ancient Egyptians thought that after death they could enjoy their lives because believed that in the afterlife people were happy, well fed, and busy with the same activities they had done in life. This belief sometimes led to much preparation for the death and burial. For example, there was the construction of pyramids and other great tombs for kings and queens. For others, there were smaller tombs. They also filled the tombs with the treasures, furniture, and food they thought they would need in the afterlife. Egyptians believed that the bodies of the dead had to be preserved as a home for the soul in the afterlife. For this reason, therefore, they used mummification, a process that preserved the body of the death. The mummy was put in the tombs. A number of Egyptian mummies have survived to the present day. Scientists used these mummies to examine many health problems and causes of death among ancient Egyptians.
Religion in Sumer
1. Leaders as Representatives of Gods
Each city-state worshipped its own god or goddess as well as other gods. Firstly, military leaders were not the priests for the gods. Then gradually they replaced priests as rulers of Sumerian city-states. Indeed, the Sumerian did not worship their rulers as gods, but they thought that their kings were the gods’ representative on earth. However, they spoke directly with gods and the people, so Sumerian kings commended absolute obedience.
Sumerian religion was polytheistic because the Sumerians believed in and worshiped other gods in addition to the god of their city-state. These gods were incredibly powerful and anthropomorphic, that is, they resembled humans. The gods were creator gods as a group, a council of gods and goddesses; they had created the world and people in it. Each god had a specific rank or place within this council. Many of these gods controlled natural forces. For example, they believed that winter, the season of huger and hardship, occurred when the god Dumuzi died and descended into the underworld. In Egypt, people believed the gods were kindly, but in Sumer, fear of nature disasters and invasions probably caused by the gods whom people made something wrong to. The gods would punish them by sending floods or famine. Unlike Egyptian people, who believed in the afterlife they would be happy, in Sumer people expected to descend forever into a dark underworld, a huge cave filled with nothing but dust and silence.
Kings ruling Egypt were called the king Pharaoh, which came from words that meant great house in Egyptian. The Egyptians believed that each of their kings was the god Horus in human form, which helped strengthen the authority of the kings. The position of king was inherited, which passed to the eldest son of the king’s chief wife. The government structure of ancient Egypt involved other officials, including Viziers, army commanders, chief treasures, the minister of public works, and tax collectors, all of whom answered directly to pharaoh. Taxation existed under the government of Egypt, though mostly in the way goods and labor. Skilled workers paid taxes in the goods or services they produced. Citizen was levied the taxes in labor, when government needed the troops and government workers. For purpose of local government ancient Egypt was divided into 42 provinces called nomes, which were governed by officials known as nomarch. In each nome there were courts and in the capital there was a high court. Most of the cases were judged by Viziers, but in case of sentence to death, it was judged by Kings. Earlier, Egypt had a small army of food soldiers equipped with spears. Later, the army was built up in a large scale. It included trained soldiers, horse-drawn chariots, and navy soldiers.
Sumerian Government: City-State Government
Land in Sumer was divided into 3 parts, all of which were owned by the gods. Land was farmed for the gods. The crops were used as storage for famine times, and to trade for foreign goods. Land was farmed to produce food for priests and temple staff. Land was rented by the citizens to grow food for themselves. The kingdoms of Sumer were organized into city-states, which were ruled by kings as the gods. Kings were assisted by priests, scribes, and nobles. Priests collected taxes, designed and supervised the building of irrigation canals and decided cases of justice. Scribes measured land into square units and decided taxes to be paid. They also kept accounts of foreign goods unloaded from ships. Before 3500 BCE priests ruled Sumer. They attended the gods who really ruled. Until 3000 BCE kings were elected to a temporary ruling position only in times of crisis when it had war or famine. After 3000 BCE the position of king was no longer an elected office, but was hereditary. Lawmaking in Sumer was performed by a two-house legislature (bicameral), who enforced the laws. Upper House was composed of elders, while Lower House was composed of free male citizens, who were also the soldiers. The Sumerian city-state supervised the building and maintenance of dikes and canals in the surrounding farmlands.
To cut the long story short, there were some similarities between ancient Egyptian and Sumerian Civilizations. In term of geography feature, the two arose near the river thank to the agriculture and trade. The people of the both nation were polytheistic and born for serving the gods and goddesses. About the both societies, they had the similarity of social classes: king, priests, scribes, nobles, and normal citizens. Meanwhile, many differences have found between the both civilizations. Natural barriers and the interpretation of great flood were quite different. The most important point that we should notice was the belief in the afterlife. The Egyptian thought the afterlife in positive way, but the Sumerian thought gloomy. Moreover, Egyptian government was led by only Pharaoh, while in Sumer there were many independent city-states led by their own kings.