The ancient civilizations of the Nile Valley and Sumer are considered to be the beginning of life in their respected regions. The following essay will provide a look into the similarities between these two great societies.
The Nile Valley civilization began as early as early as the Paleolithic Age, and a Neolithic culture was formed there around 6000 B.C. By about 3800 B.C. the people of this region began to take steps toward creating an actual civilization. The people discovered how to make copper, tin, and its alloy, bronze. The pottery wheel is believed to be a product of this era. By about 3000 B.C., scientists believe the people began using hieroglyphics as a form of writing. At first, hieroglyphics were carved on slate and ivory, but this was a long and strenuous process that required large amounts of time. Then they discovered that they could use a plant that grew in the marshes called papyrus to write on. Over the centuries, strong leaders united to the regions into two kingdoms called Upper and Lower Egypt.
This was the first instance of government, as the rulers of these two kingdoms were kings, creating a monarchy. Around 3100 B.C., the ruler Menes united the two kingdoms into one. The people obeyed, believing the rulers to be gods. It is for this reason the pharaohs (meaning great house) served as judges, high priests, and generals in the armies. The rulers still were required to look after the people, as this was their duty and responsibility. Menes established a dynasty for kings to come. All in all, there were approximately thirty dynasties that stretched throughout Egypt’s history. The kingdoms in which these people ruled are divided into the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms, and then followed by the Late Period.
Farmland in Egypt was divided into large estates. The farming was done mainly by peasants. The crops the peasants harvested went almost all directly to the pharaoh for rents and taxes. Wheat and barley were the chief grain crops at the time. Flax was also grown to be spun and woven into linen. Cotton was used essentially for cloth as it is today. With the production of so many crops, Egypt had excessive amounts of crops they sold too neighboring societies through trade. Egyptians developed ships to travel over the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas and used caravans to travel by on land.
The social classes in Egypt were rigidly divided into two divisions. The upper class consisted of the nobles, pharaoh, and his family. The lower class consisted of everyone else besides these royalties. Women enjoyed many rights and were considered equal to their husbands in social and business affairs. Egyptian women could also own property in their own name and leave it to their daughters.
Egyptians are obviously well known for their famous architecture and buildings. The Great Sphinx represents the ancient Egyptian sun god. Believed to be 4500 years old, the statue consists of a 240 foot body of a lion, stands 66 feet tall, and has a human face measuring thirteen feet across. The Egyptians also built tombs for the pharaohs called pyramids. Most of the approximate eight pyramids are located in the West bank of the Nile. The most widely known pyramids are located in Giza and include the Great Pyramid, which dates back to 2600 B.C. This massive structure measures more than half a mile in circumference at its base, and stands 450 feet tall.
It is made up of more than two million blocks of stone that each weigh 2.5 tons. The forming of these structures such as the pyramids took skillful engineering. Egyptian architects and architects were thought to be some of the best in the world at the time. They built ramps, which were sloping walkways designed to allow thousands of slaves to push and pull enormous stones. They also developed levers for moving large objects. In addition to these accomplishments, Egyptians also created small, lifelike statues of human figures and Gods out of copper and bronze.
Early in Egypt’s history, a lunar calendar was created based on the moon’s movement pattern. This type of calendar created problems because it did not fill the entire year. Then, somewhere in the Nile Valley, noticed a bright star that would rise above the horizon just before the floods came. This star became known as Sirius, and was the format for creating a 365 calendar based on twelve months of thirty days. Religious instruction formed a large part of Egyptian education, and schools were usually located in temples. The Egyptians were a polytheistic society. The most important God of ancient Egypt was Amon, the sun God. The people also loved Osiris, god of the Nile River, and lord of the Realm of the Dead. Each god in Egypt had an animal symbol that people considered sacred.
Egyptians believed strongly in the afterlife. At first, people believed that only pharaohs and a few others had an afterlife. Later, Egyptians believed everyone, including animals, had a life after death. To preserve the bodies of the dead, the Egyptians developed a system called mummification. They also placed articles of wealth and value to insure happiness and pleasure in the afterlife. Many of these items were later looted by grave diggers and robbers.
The Sumerian society, unlike the Egyptians, was unguarded by natural boundaries. However, it too depended on the source of rivers to survive. The Sumerian civilization began in an area known as the Fertile Crescent. This area consists of the land located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Summer began in the lowest parts of the Tigris-Euphrates Valley that contained rich soil that the rivers carried. Neolithic people were believed to intermingle with the inhabitants there and form the society. By around 3000 B.C., the people in these areas had developed a method of writing and had learned to use metal.
Early in their society, the Sumerians developed a form of government known as the city-state. This included a town or city, and the surrounding land it controlled. The major city-states such as Ur, and Erech consisted of thousands of residents. The people believed that much of the land of the city-states belonged to a god or a group of gods, while other parts of land belonged to the palace, the temple, the nobles, or even private citizens. Priests managed the land of the Gods, and interpreted the Gods’ will to the people, and controlled worship ceremonies. It is believed that kings ruled these city-states. The many Sumerian city-states seldom united under a single government. They instead, competed over land boundaries and territories.
The Sumerians had three distinct classes of social structure. At the tope stood a privileged class of nobles, which included government officials and priests. Artisans and merchants formed the middle class of society. Peasants and slaves made up the lowest class.
Sumerian writing looked much different than Egyptian writing. Unlike hieroglyphic writing, Sumerians basically pressed marks into clay tablets to form symbols. Most of the signs were wedge-shaped because of the pointed stick called a stylus, which was used for writing. Today, Sumerian writing is called cuneiform. There were around 600 symbols used in their language at the time.
Most Sumerians farmed, growing grains, vegetables, and dates for their crops that they grew. Their domestic animals included cows, sheep, goats, and oxen and donkeys, which were primarily used for pulling carts and chariots. Like ancient Egypt, Sumer had a large amount of excess food that allowed traders and artisans to thrive. This trading process began around 3000 B.C., when Sumerians began trading with the rest of the Middle East.
Sumerians used sun-dried clay bricks to construct houses. Their brick structures did not last quite as long as the stone buildings of Egypt, but they were obviously well built and skillfully engineered. The Sumerians are credited with inventing several important architectural designs. The most important of all these is the arch, a curved structure over an opening, which is considered to be one of the strongest forms in building. By combining a group of arches, Sumerians built rounded roofs in the shape of domes or vaults.
They also were aware of how to use the ramp and were even able to build sewers underneath their buildings. The most decorated Sumerian buildings were the temples known as ziggurats, built on hills that were created specially on the flat land of the valley. Builders erected ziggurats in layers, each layer one smaller than the one below, which created a look that almost seemed like a wedding cake. Sometimes, each story of the building was painted a different and unique color. Usually the ziggurats were seven stories tall, with the top layer serving as a shrine to one of the gods.
Scientists and engineers in Sumer made many important discoveries. Many scholars believe the Sumerians were the first to use and develop the wheel, a monumental discovery. Later on, as their society grew, Sumerians developed some of the principles of algebra. In mathematics, they used a system of numbers based on 60. They stated large numbers in sixties, divided a circle into 360 degrees, an hour into sixty minutes, and a minute into sixty seconds. The Sumerians also developed a twelve-month lunar calendar. When the passage of time made their calendar become inaccurate, they added a thirteenth month to bring the calendar back in alignment with seasons.
Education was considered very important to the Sumerians, but only upper-class boys attended schools. Religious books and songs were used to teach the children how to read, spell, and write. The subjects that the boys studied were reading, history, mathematics, foreign language, and mapmaking. Like the Egyptians, the Sumerians practiced polytheism. They tended to associate their gods with the forces of nature and heavenly bodies such as the sun and moon. Sumerians believed the gods had the same habits and feelings as ordinary humans but controlled much more power.
The most important of the gods were as follows: Anu, lord of heaven, Enlil, god of the air and storms, and Ea, god of the waters. Unlike Egyptians, Sumerians did not have a strong belief in the afterlife. They believed neither in rewards in heaven or punishment in hell. They did believe in a dark, lower world. They feared ghosts, and thought if possessions were not buried with one, their spirit would come back to haunt that person.