The Ancient World

Start Free Trial

Compare and contrast the environmental factors in Mesopotamia and Egypt with regards to how they affected the emergence of the world’s first civilizations.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Both regions were dependent upon floods. Mesopotamia is located within the Fertile Crescent between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Egypt is located on the Nile River; the Nile River delta has some of the best cropland in the world. Both places could go large amounts of grain and other crops....

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Both regions were dependent upon floods. Mesopotamia is located within the Fertile Crescent between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Egypt is located on the Nile River; the Nile River delta has some of the best cropland in the world. Both places could go large amounts of grain and other crops. This led to population growth and commerce as both regions could trade farm products for other goods. Many of the early religious practices of both groups were tied to ensuring floods and good crop years.

Egypt, at the mouth of the Nile, had access to trade goods from various communities on the long river. Egypt also had some protection by being surrounded by deserts. While Egypt would be invaded by various groups, it was not invaded in the manner that Mesopotamia was, as this region had no natural boundaries from Eastern invaders. Egypt could store grain with its arid climate. This arid climate also allowed for the preservation of mummies. Mesopotamia was more humid which led to food spoilage. Occasional famines are mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible as part of the culture of the region. Egypt also had greater access to the Mediterranean and the advanced cultures there. While Mesopotamia would have some access to Mediterranean trade, it would not be the factor that it would be in ancient Egypt.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Both Egypt's and Mesopotamia's development of civilization can be tied directly to being located along major rivers. In order to support their large populations, it was necessary to have large-scale agriculture. Both the Nile River in Egypt and the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in Mesopotamia provided the conditions for fertile farmland. In fact, the land stretching between these two agricultural zones is often referred to as the "Fertile Crescent." These rivers provided annual flooding that replenished the nutrients in the soil. This meant that these areas could be farmed every year without depleting the farming areas of their fertility.

Both regions also benefited from a rich biodiversity of plants and animals. By being located between two continents, these zones benefited from plants and animals from both Africa and Eurasia. As a result, there were many plants and animals easily available for domestication.

Being situated along rivers and near coasts also meant that the civilizations in these two regions were able to build vast trade networks. Egyptians used the Nile River and the Mediterranean Sea to trade as far south as Ethiopia and as far north as southern Europe. Mesopotamian trade routes were extensive as well. The Sumerians, for instance, used their rivers to reach the Persian Gulf, where they were able to connect with merchants from Persia and the Indus River Valley.

There were differences between the two regions that led to different ways in which their civilizations developed as well. Egypt is bordered by deserts. Therefore, it was relatively easy to defend from invaders. Mesopotamia had no such natural protections and was subject to many conquests from outside peoples. As such, Egypt developed in relative isolation, while Mesopotamia had much more outside influence in its development.

Being in an arid environment, Egypt was able to stockpile grain without fear of it being ruined by mold. Consequently, Egyptians were relatively efficient at avoiding famines. Mesopotamia was a much more humid place. As a result, grain could not be stored for long periods of time. A bad harvest meant that there were often not enough reserves to ward off large-scale starvation.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Both Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilizations emerged around major river systems. These civilizaitons began in these areas because the flooding of the rivers created fertile soil and allowed people to succeed in agriculture, which was a major factor in the emergence of civilizations.

While both civilizations centered around their major rivers, there were some differences in the impact of the rivers. For example, the flooding of the Nile in Egypt was much more reliable and "on time" than that of the Euphrates and the Tigris in Mesopotamia. The people of ancient Egypt were able to develop a calendar around the flooding of the Nile. It's flooding was more dependable than that of the Tigris and Euphrates.

Egypt's natural surroundings were also much more conducive to the development of a civilization. The Egyptian civilization was surrounded by deserts on both sides. These deserts, along with the rough sections of rapids on the Nile River upstream from the main center of civilizaiton, provided an isolation for the Egyptian society that the Mesopotamians didn't possess. The region of Mesopotamia had less natural barriers that left them much more open to invansion from outsiders.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team