Egypt and Mesopotamia - Assignment Example

1. Compare and contrast the society and culture of the prehistoric hunter-gatherers to either the Egyptian or the Mesopotamian civilizations. What were the major factors that caused the changes in the way societies functioned? Why are Egypt and Mesopotamia sometimes referred to as “hydraulic” civilizations?

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Many theories have been formulated to create an idea of what life in the past was like. Because no written records of the prehistory of humankind exist, much of the information from that time comes from archaeological and biological information collected and interpreted by archaeologists and anthropologists. Much of the information that has been found is based on scientific methods and reasoning, but a great deal of it is derived from speculation as well. Louis Leakey, a British archaeologist anthropologist?, stated several years ago, “Theories on prehistory and early man constantly change as new evidence comes to light,” (textbook, page 2.)

Research finds that the first humans, referred to as hominids, resided in Africa up to four million years ago. Hominid was the term for the first stage of human development. This particular human group, called the Australopithecines, was the first group of hominids to make tools from stone. The second stage of human development followed the first about two million years later. This stage of development was termed Homo erectus which meant “upright human being.” This group of humans was the first to leave their native African land and venture over into Europe and Asia. They were also known for improving and expanding the making of tools. Then the third stage came into play; the emergence of Homo sapiens, which means “wise human being.” With each stage, new improvements and ideas were formulated, and progression of the human species was developing and moving forward.

One aspect that is exclusively a trait of the human species is the capacity to make tools and other materials needed to survive. The years 2,500,000 – 10,000 B.C. is known as the Paleolithic Age, which is Greek means “old stone.” This era was when the earliest tools from stone were created. With the invention of stone tools, hunting a gathering, a skill necessary for survival, was made much easier. Paleolithic people were prudent about the world they lived in the resources available to them. They learned which animals were best to hunt and the plants that were the most valuable to consume. They would gather much of their food as well, ranging from vegetables, fruits, nuts, and berries. They lived off of the animals they hunted and the earthly food that they gathered. Hunting and gathering was their way of life.

The Paleolithic people were speculated to be nomadic and move in groups of twenty or so people. They had to go where the vegetation was best and where the animal migration was headed; this was the cause of them being nomadic. Hunting was a systematic process that needed careful and precise calculating to achieve the desired results. Over the years, the improvements made to tools helped with the hunting. The spear and the bow and arrow were tools that helped dramatically with easing the burden of hunting, as well as fishhooks and harpoons. Both women and men had the duty to find food. While women stayed closer to the camps since one of their responsibilities was the children, they stayed busy gathering all the various foods they could, while the men went out and hunted the animals. The nature of the society was neither patriarchal nor matriarchal, everyone was equal. Because there was so much work to be done to survive, and the work was divided equally, there was more of a sense of teamwork than one gender dominating the other.

The shelter for the Paleolithic people was found in caves and then later tents made from animal hide and sticks. Because wood was hard to come by, the bones of the animals they hunted were used as a replacement where wood was needed. Fire was their main source of heat and light, and also provided a way to cook their food. Their way of life and ability to adjust to their environment was their key to survival. The tools they created and improved, and the use of fire, were two extremely vital technological innovations that enabled survival for these people. However, beyond their ability and will to survive, they also adopted several cultural traditions that have been passed down. They actively took part in cave paintings as a part of their cultural. In fact, some still exist in certain areas of the world, such as France. Most of their paintings were of animals, and the animals painted were the type that the Paleolithic people did not hunt. This observation has caused speculation that the cave paintings were not only a part of their culture, but perhaps even some sort of religious ritual.

The ice age ended around 10,000 B.C. and was followed by the Neolithic Revolution, which changed living patterns significantly. The shift from hunting and gathering to a system of agriculture was the biggest change during this time. There was planting of crops, as opposed to gathering earth grown food from the wild, and there was raising of animals instead of hunting. This new agricultural lifestyle allotted the humans more management over their environment and the ability to stay where they wanted to live and give up the nomadic way of life. Because their homelands were more permanent then before, this initiated the invention of more stable homes and shelters. The mud brick was discovered and people began building their homes out of this material. Many other changes followed, and soon the lifestyle and survival techniques that the Paleolithic people relied on heavily for so long was no longer a needed or appropriate way of life. New ideas led to innovation that changed the past ideas completely.

The emergence of civilization followed the transition from the Paleolithic lifestyle to the more civilized society. It went from small, simple cultures that were centered on survival, to the development of civilizations. A civilization involved several characteristics such as an urban focus, a distinct religious structure, new political and military structures, a new economic based social structure, the development of writing, and new forms of art and entertainment. This is where the society and culture of the prehistoric hunter-gatherers differ to that of the Mesopotamian civilizations.

The Sumerians were the founders of Mesopotamia, but where they originated from is still not a definite. By 3000 B.C. they had established numerous independent cities and as it expanded they began to use their economic and political control over the areas, creating city-states. Mesopotamia was a valley in between the Euphrates and the Tigris River. Not a large amount of rain fell there, but the soil was rich because of silt that had been deposited by the two rivers. However, the land would only receive this silt from the rivers when there had been enough melting snow from the winter. This caused farming to be unpredictable at times. Due to these circumstances, farming could only be done when people built drainage ditches and irrigation ditches. A complex system to control the rivers was required to be able to produce crops. Farming was difficult because of the uncontrolled flooding; everything had to be timed just right.

The Sumerian city-states had mostly an agricultural economy, but eventually they valued commerce and industry as well. There were walls surrounding and protecting their city-states. Mesopotamia had very little building materials, so they reverted to using mud as their main source of construction. They would shape mud into bricks and then leave them in the sun to dry and harden. The Mesopotamian people produced pottery, wooden textiles, and metal work as well. This became their main source of trade with foreign trade. The traders had to travel by land and by sea when doing the trading. Then in 3000 B.C. carts and wheels were invented which made trading much easier.

The city-states categorized their people into three social levels; the nobles, commoners, and slaves. The nobles were those that were considered “important” in society. They were usually royalty or known in the church as a priest. The commoners were usually those that worked for the nobles as their farmers, scribes, clients, etc. These people were free and the majority of them were farmers. Slaves belonged to those in the palace, who were used in construction and domestic labor.

Mathematics, astronomy, literature and writing also evolved extensively for the people of Mesopotamia. Because of these educational advances, records were better and more easily kept. That is why there is so much more information to refer to in these times than that of the Paleolithic Age. Along with education, religion was very important to the Sumerians, as they had structured their city-states after a divine model and order. Each city-state was linked to a god or goddess, which made them each very sacred and special. Located at the heart of each city-state was a temple, which was the true center of the community. In the form of a statue, the main god or goddess was present there, and many ceremonies took place in the statues honor. With the many gods and goddesses portraying all aspects of the universe, Mesopotamian religion was polytheistic. They had a spiritual belief that the gods were living realities who affected all areas of life. The Sumerians spent much of their time attempting to understand the gods and trying to predict their next move. They believed that that their harsh lives were directly accredited to the gods’ rage.

They lived by the Code of Hammurabi, who was the sixth king of the Amorite dynasty remember that Hamurabi was not Summerian, but Babylonian. Hammurabi’s army won in battle against Sumer and Akkad and then reunified Mesopotamia to its old borders. As a leader, he took interest in state affairs, encouraged trade, and was responsible for the building of temples, walls of protection, and irrigation canals. He was a strong leader who left behind a strong dynasty. His code of law includes 282 laws. It regulated the relationships that people had with one another, and included standards of expected values and morals that people were to abide by. Strict and harsh punishment followed to those who disobeyed the Code of Hammurabi.

The Mesopotamians and Egyptians are referred to as hydraulic civilizations because they laid the foundations of Western civilization and are the reason growth and expansion got started. Their various developments and innovations came together to create so much of what the Western civilization is composed of. They are considered as hydraulic because of their dependence on and manipulation of waterways.

This first essay is very extensive and informative. For the most part you were acurate and your ideas were well constructed. You used some very good examples and you explained your ideas well. You probably could have pared your answer down a bit, especially in the first couple of paragraphs, and I would have liked to see a more direct comparison between the two divergent cultures. In other words, “while the prehistoric family structure was this way, the Mesopotamian civilization organized their families like this” that type of thing. But a very nice job on this essay.

2. Compare and contrast the Hebrews with one of the other major civilizations of the ancient Near East. Describe some elements of each culture that were and/or still are significant. Some specific areas that might be examined: social systems, law, religion and/or philosophy, art and/or architecture and/or literature, and relationship with the physical environment.

Many of the Hebrew beliefs and accounts are derived from their history and traditions which were written in the Hebrew Bible, which Christians refer to as the Old Testament. The Hebrews were a Semitic-speaking people; nomads organized into groups. They became know as “The Children of Israel,” when their early ancestor Abraham migrated to Palestine from Mesopotamia. In accordance to the Hebrew tradition there was a drought in Palestine which resulted in the migration to Egypt. There they lived serenely before they were taken as slaves by pharaohs to labor on building projects. They were freed from slavery when Moses removed his people from Egypt in the thirteenth century B.C. They organized themselves into twelve tribes and remained in the wilderness for many years before they entered Palestine. There they entered into a battle with the Philistines.

Saul was the first king of the Israelites, who was able to achieve success with the battle between themselves and the Philistines. Upon his death, one of his lieutenants, David was able to take the reunited Israelites, be successful in conquering the Philistines and overtaking Palestine. David also made Jerusalem the capital of a united kingdom. David’s son Solomon played an even bigger role at making the royal power a stronger establishment. He was responsible for increasing the trading opportunities for the Israelites and for broadening the political and military forces. He was most famous for building the Temple in Jerusalem, which was viewed symbolically as the as the center of their religion. The Temple was where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. Under Solomon ancient Israel rose to the peak of its power. After Solomon died, the northern and southern tribes divided and created two kingdoms, the kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. Good.

The spiritual beliefs of the Israelites changed as time went on and new beliefs and opinions were formed. The belief in one god to then multiple gods and fluctuated for Judaism. The final result was the Jewish religion believed in one god whom they refer to as Yahweh. To them, the Jewish God was ruler over the entire world and all people were his servants. He had created all that was in nature and those creations could be admired, but never to be worshipped as gods. The main sources of their religious perceptions come from the Hebrew Bible. “Its purpose was to teach the essential beliefs about the God of Israel after the Babylonian captivity of the Jews and their dispersal,” (textbook, page 33.) The Jews recorded many of their traditions after the Babylonian exile, to safeguard their individuality. These are the writings that are now contained in the Bible.

Judaism had three important dynamics to it: the law, the prophets, and the covenant. The belief is that God had spoken to their people through Moses and they agreed that if they promised to obey Him and follow His law, that he would in turn take special care of them. Because of this covenant, law became a vital component to the Jewish community. The law included paying for offenses, being concerned in ethical issues, goodness, valuing high morals, etc. They believed in holy men as their leaders, and called them prophets. The prophets developed a sense of universalism and the necessity to obey their God no matter the circumstance. Even though they believed in universalism for everyone, Jews could simply not be merged into their community by accepting the gods of their neighbors. To stay faithful to the requests of their God, they sometimes had to refuse loyalty to political head. Good.

Israelites eventually settled into villages and towns, getting away from the organization of tribal lines. “The “men of rank and influence” formed a special group of considerable importance in Hebrew society,” (textbook, page 36.) This particular group was made up of military officers, governors, and civil officials. They were servants to the king that held honored responsibilities in society. The commoners were free people with basic rights. They were mostly farmers and craft makers. They sold all their own products and produce as means of income, yet never got caught up in the trading aspect. There was no defined merchant class in Israel at this time.

The family was very important in ancient Hebrew society. The families would live together, which consisted of a wife and husband, their children, and their children’s families. The family was very much patriarchal and the husband-father was considered to be the master of his household and all that lived in it. Marriage was also viewed as very important in this society. Polygamy was permitted mostly for the kings, and they could have up to eighteen wives. However, many Hebrews favored the idea of monogamy and practiced that instead. Women were held at high value, but had many responsibilities and expectations to live up to.

Marriages were normally arranged by the parents, since marriage occurred at such a young age for the majority of people. The primary goal of marriage was to have children, and boys especially were desired. Mothers were responsible for the education of her children in both secular subjects and lessons regarding morals and values. As boys grew up, the fathers were then in charge of educating their sons. Additional education was then later provided for boys, and their teachers were that of priests who instructed them on the Torah. In the second century an organized school system was developed, but until then, the education came from the parents. Girls only received education from the mothers, and that consisted of lessons on how to be a good wife and mother. Good.

In contrast with the Hebrews is the Persian Empire. They were Indo-European speaking people that resided in the southwestern part of Iran. They were mainly nomadic people that had organized themselves into tribes. Cyrus was their chief and produced an influential Persian state. In 550 B.C., Cyrus gained Persian control Media. Several years later Cyrus gained control over the Lydian kingdom. After several other conquerors over kingdoms, he then consolidated his empire during 538 to 530 B.C. He was killed in battle against Massagetae in 530 B.C. After his death he was revered as a father to the Persians, one who produced goods and worked in a gentle manner. “Indeed, a Hebrew prophet regarding him as the anointed one of God: “I am the Lord who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my Shepard and will accomplish all that I please’: he will say of Jerusalem, ‘Let it be rebuilt’; and of the temple, ‘Let its foundations be laid.’ This is what the Lord says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him,” (textbook, page 43.)

Upon Cyrus’ death, his son Cambyses gained the power. Cambyses invaded Egypt, and had it brought under Persian control. After he defeated and captured the pharaoh of Egypt, and made it into a satrapy, he took the title of pharaoh. After his death, Darius was the Great King after a year of civil war. By his reign, the Persians had formed the largest empire in the world. Because it was so large, it was divided into twenty provinces. Each province had a leader and a government with military duties. With the expansion of these provinces, the leaders began to get more and more and the people less and less. Darius was responsible for many of the changes that widened the gap between kings and his subjects. This led to the weakening of the Persian Empire.

The religion that was focused on for the Persians was Zoroastrianism. The beliefs of Zoroastrianism are much like the Christianity beliefs of today. Zoroaster was a man who experienced several revelations that caused others to look at him as a prophet of the “true religion.” The Zend Avesta was the sacred book of Zoroastrianism, but is not studied much for historical accuracy since it was written centuries after the actual happenings. The teachings were that there was one true God, Ahuramazda, and He was the creator of all. It also mentions that the God works with the Holy Spirit. Ahuramazda, the creator, gave all human beings their free agency to choose between right and wrong. And in the Day of Judgment at the end of the world, there would be a separation of good and evil.

The Hebrews and the Persian Empire both contributed to changing and influencing western civilization. They both had strong attributes and weak ones. “The Hebrews left a spiritual legacy that influenced much of the later development of Western civilization. The evolution of Hebrew monotheism created in Judaism one of the world’s greatest religions; it influenced the development of both Christianity and Islam,” (textbook, page 49.) “On the western fringes of the Persian Empire, another relatively small group of people, the Greeks, were creating cultural and political ideals that would also have an important impact on Western civilization,” (textbook, page 49.) Each culture, each idea, each influence all plays into expansion and growth. Our world is based on victories / failures, inventions, and societal progression from all societies and cultures. That is what gives our world so much diversity which in turn provides endless opportunity.

Your second essay was very good. It was more concise and focused than the first essay. Once again you used some good and specific examples to illustrate your point, and you used the text to cite some pertinent information. Very well done.