Compare and Contrast ancient Civilizations
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Ancient Civilization flourished in the lands surrounding the Mediterranean sea. Each had it’s own distinct views on the social, political, and religious aspects; however, there were many similarities each civilization shared with the others. Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt were mythopoeic societies, while Ancient Greece and Judaic society was vastly more rational in their mindset. Through this paper we will illustrate the similarities, as well as the differences of these fascinating early civilizations.
Approximately 5000 BCE civilization rose from disorder in Mesopotamia, the modern day area of Iran and Iraq, and formed what is arguably the first example of human civilization. It rose upon the banks of the Tigris-Euphrates river, formed by a tribe known as the Sumarians. They were a collections of agriculturally based communities, which coordinated strongly to ease the hardship of farming. The Isolated area and lack of an understanding of the world around them allowed for mythopoeic thinking. The Mesopotamian region was an unpredictable one. The Tigris-Euphrates would flood unexpectedly, and oft times quite destructively. As with mythopoeic societies in general their thinking was cyclical, and their views entirely subjective, in that they related everything to themselves. They had no concept of separatism, What they saw was real, with no distinction anything outside of their ‘self’.
They were an anxiety ridden people… their was no continuation in their lives, each event was new and couldn’t be foreseen.. Their was no regular pattern of time around which to base their lives upon, thus they struggled from event to event, Basing their faith in their gods to get them through each day. Constant rituals and devout following of their gods brought forth the rising of the sun each day, and to create any hopeful circumstances.
Ancient Mesopotamia consisted of Highly organized, independent city-states, each ruled by a mortal king chosen by the Gods, a view you will see is quite different from the ancient Egyptians. Due to the Ethnic and cultural diversity of the region, city-states were independent of each other and constant rivalries arose. They were a fragmented and disunified civilization, when left to their own device. However, throughout ancient times, various city-states would gain enough power and influence to conquer the entire region. The conquered peoples would assume the god of their conqueror and suppress their own. This was true for all but the Assyrians… when they wee conquered they maintained their god, and disavowed the legitimacy of the others.
This helped pave the way for the ancient Judaic society’s view of the divine. The king, along with the nobels and priests controlled the majority of the land, wich was worked by their slaves. Their was no room for social-class jumping, in this rigid society. The main interesting aspect of their political system was the concept of accountability. The king was considered a direct reflection of their god on earth. It was his duty to see that the god was kept happy. If his city-state was suffering, it was seen as the kings failure to do his duty; and he could be removed. The limited government concept was shared with the Greeks, though not in a mythopoeic context.
Mesopotamia’s religious structure was similar to Egypt’s in that it employed professional priests who facilitated rituals within their temples. The priesthood, was powerful and influential in both political and economic matters. They were also the chief land owners in the region. They believed in an afterlife, however it was cast as a miserable place. Which reflected their overall idea of a chaotic world.
Mesopotamia underwent many political changes throughout it’s history, due to it’s disorganization. The Sumarians were conquered by the Akkadians, the Akkadians by the Babylonians who were conquered by the Assyrians, who eventually crumbled only to rebuild again to fall to the Babylonians. Persia conquered the region in 539BCE and unified it once and for all.
Contrasting Mesopotamia, Was the Egyptian civilization. Which arose slightly later on the banks of the Nile River. The Egyptians had several major differences in attitude to the Mesopotamians. The Nile itself was a sharp contrast to the Tigris-Euphrates. While the Tigris is unpredictable and destructive, the Nile is Quite calm and very predictable. Which set the tone for this civilization. Unlike the chaotic, unsure Mesopotamian view of time, the Egyptians concept was that of a predictable cycle, based around the annual flooding of the Nile river. This predictability carried over into the mindset of the entire civilization, in that their goal was to maintain this cycle of predictable events. They saw the Nile as the rebirth of all life, and the rising of sun as the daily rebirth of themselves. Around the middle of the 15th century BCE, rational thinking started to emerge, which would lead to changes in the civilization.
During its existence Ancient Egypt stayed primarily unified, ruled by a King(pharaoh) whom was not only chosen by the gods, but was a living god himself. This view , of course contrasts sharply with the views of the Mesopotamians. Their religion was similar to that of Mesopotamia in it’s organization, priests controlling the worship of the various deities. Each deity had its own cult and followers with the chief deity being Aman-Ra. The Cult of Aman-Ra was lead by the Pharaoh, who was the living embodiment of the sun god. They believed the soul to be eternal, and that life in this world was merely a preparation for that in the next. They also thought they could bring their worldly possessions and slaves with them. Obviously this only applied to the nobility. Ancient Egypt was divided into three major periods: The Old, Middle and New Kingdoms; each having its own distinct outlook on the world in general.
The Old Kingdom, was one of atomistic thought, massive disparity of wealth, and of great building of monuments. During this period the pharaohs’ power was absolute. In practice and in concept. The entire civilization was focused on each particular pharaoh. During this period the Pyramids were built, in order to serve as monuments to their respective pharaoh. When a pharaoh would come into power, he would immediately commission the construction of his resting place, which could easily last longer than his life. This massive building campaign, although impressive even today, almost bankrupted the entire civilization over time, expending much needed resources and human labor. The mindset during this period leaned toward individuality, or the atomistic. Which contrasted sharply with all other early civilizations, which were primarily organic, though they too would become an organic culture. The world view of this period was that of isolationism, they didn’t think it possible to fall to any other early civilization, nor did they have any desire to expand.
The Middle Kingdom was one of gradual change. The mindset became more organic, and the view of the Pharaoh became that of a shepherd leading his flock, depicted by the carrying of a shepherd’s staff by the pharaoh. This was an attempt, by the pharaoh, to become more accessible to his subjects. A move towards the concept of accountability, Though there really was none. A rivalry also began to emerge during this period, with the rising consolidation of power among the priests, of the larger cults. This would cause great difficulty for Pharaohs of the New Kingdom. They also began to look beyond their borders, to the lands surrounding them towards the end of this period.
The New Kingdom Was one of great change. The pharaohs were constantly fighting to retain their power from the priests, who were trying to strengthen their own position. This led to a great deal of turmoil within the leadership, and a constant tug of war.
This period was also one of great expansion. The inhabitants of the New Kingdom developed the idea of Empire as a Mission. The mission? To spread civilization to the uncivilized, a concept which remains to this day… To this end they were highly successful. They, unlike most civilizations, managed to dispense with xenophobia, and fill their administrative ranks with the most qualified individuals regardless of their national origin. A merit based system was a new development, one which had yet to be seen in the Mediterranean area. During the rules of Amenhopte and his father, Egypt experienced a period similar to that of Europe’s renaissance in the freedom of expression in art. In addition, the concept of a basic monotheism arose briefly, which may have laid part of the groundwork for the Judaic concept of one god. The development of this concept in Egypt was a political attempt to wrest control from the increasingly powerful priests. These developments were quickly subdued with the death of Amenhopte, though the concepts lived on in the minds of the people and the followers of the cult of Amen.
Egypt experienced many similar traits to Mesopotamia, their religion was broadly similar in that there was no separation between the Gods and day to day life. I addition, while more tranquil and predictable, their concept of time was as cyclical as that of the Mesopotamians. However The Egypt’s rulers never had any real accountability, to their decisions, and their rule was arbitrary.
Judaic civilization was one which broke the mold in many areas… They developed an entirely new concept of time, religion, and brought a new definition to accountability. They also never attempted to spread their ideals to their surrounding neighbors.
Located in northern Mesopotamia, Judaism remained quite small. This due to their belief they are the chosen of God, picked to carry out his great plan. A mythopoeic and rational idea simultaneously. It was this Myth which defined their culture, and allows them to be the only ancient civilization to survive until modern times, in fact, until today.
Fate is the operating principle i.e. They believed all is God’s will, that all is meant to be and nothing can or will deter this outcome. They believed that their movement in time is towards a end declared by God sometime in the future. This concept of linear time was an entirely new development and a direct result of their god myth. They developed the theological philosophy of history and interpretations, which was developed over 2500 years ago and lasted until the 18th century AD. Their religion had/s four fundamental beliefs, 1. The belief absolute truth exists. 2. Truth is a divine revelation from God. 3.All in history is both meaningful and purposeful, that the human experience is part of the divine pattern for the world. 4. That human experience, history, leads to a final, and purposeful end, i.e. the journey to the discovery of ultimate morality, and spiritual salvation of humankind.
Judaic politics were also a new experiment. They had interesting view of accountability… every 50 years the kings would abrogate, and that no agreements have permanence. They followed the Code of Hammurabi, which limited the direct power of the kings. The entire civilization was based upon the concept of morality. Morality is the essence of human life and the ultimate object to human experience. The Prophet Ezyckeil took this concept one step further saying; the individual is responsible to act morally with the responsibility to understand failure.
They had one god. Their concept of true monotheism was the first of its kind. They had ONE God, entirely separated from day to day life, An abstract notion of a separate god not of this world. This concept was entirely different from all other ancient civilizations, and would be the fundamental base of most religions to follow into modern times.
The Ancient Greeks, like the Judaic people, were primarily rational in their beliefs; though not in their concept of time. They were cyclical and secular. Ancient Greece, like ancient Mesopotamia, was a collection of city-states; though unlike Mesopotamia, the unifying factor was language. All the Greek city-states spoke ancient Greek. All others were speakers of bar-bar, thus barbarians. They were a xenophobic people, whom would only unify during the crisis of invasion from the barbarians. There was no ‘I’ in ‘WE’ for them. They were an organic people through and through. Public service was all that mattered, the good of the state was the top priority for Greek citizens.
They were ruled by the best, they had an aristocracy. Though from 750-550 BCE they were actually oligarchs, rule for self-interest. They had assemblies for the members of the oligarchy, until 550BCE at which time a revolution resulted in a tyrant. These tryants strove to keep rule from the oligarchy by creating an alliance with the common people. This laid the foundation for the following century in Ancient Greek politics, also laying the foundation for democracy, or inclusive government.
The city-states were forced to polarize for a was between Sparta and Athens, leading to general alliances throughout the region. One of the few time unilateral allegiance for the region broke out was during the invasion by Persia. Xenophobia can be a great unifier, I guess. With the expulsion of Persia, unity didn’t last.
In 508 BCE the backbone for Athenian democracy was laid. The assemblies were open up to the lower classes, and rights were extended to all citizens, that is, people who owned land. This is the first example of democracy in the world. Not democracy in the modern sense, however democracy, none the less. The government became a direct democracy of all citizens. The polis is the root word of politics. Politics: of the community. Their idea of politics involved all citizens, that all citizens were politicians. Any person elegible for citizenship, who declined, were idiots. This was a direct democracy, with each citizen personally serving government, there were no representatives.
They had five basic principles: 1. Consent, you had to agree to join the ranks of citizens at the age of 18. 2.Participation. why leave your future to others? 3. Limited power of government. The cabinet was chosen yearly by a lottery. 4. The rule of law. Two types: Natural Law-moral values, and Civil Law- the actual rules by which the state was run. 5. Political equality as in equal access to all citizens to fully participate.
The Ancient Greeks were a people who developed in to practice many of the basic concepts of government we hold true today. They differed immensely from all the other ancient civilizations in the political arena, though their concept of time was similar to that of the Egyptians, and the Mesopotamians. The citizenship had no religion other that their politics, though the commoners were followed a polytheist religion.
In conclusion, the four Civilizations had many basic similarities. Though they also showed stark differences. Each of these civilizations influenced modern times in its own unique way.