The Ancient World

Start Free Trial

What similarities exist between the ancient civilizations of Harappa and Mesopotamia?  

Both Mesopotamia and Harappan civilizations were agrarian cultures located along River Valleys. They were also both urbanized with strong city-building traditions, reflected both in the great city states of Sumer or Babylon in Mesopotamia,and, in the Indus River, Harappa itself and Mohenjo-daro.

Expert Answers

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

Despite the great geographic distance that separates these two cultures (with Mesopotamia located between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in the Middle East and Harappa located in the Indus River Valley), there are quite a few similarities that can be pointed to and observed.

For one thing, both Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley civilization were agrarian societies that were reliant on a river valley. This is actually a recurring theme in ancient history, with many of the oldest centers of civilization taking shape along rivers (a fact which both these cultures attest to, along with other examples, such as Egypt, which relied on the Nile, as well as Ancient China, whose earliest cultures relied on the Yellow River).

Additionally, both Mesopotamia and the Indus River Valley civilization are well known for having a highly urbanized component. This can be seen in the great cities and city-states of Mesopotamia, beginning with the Sumerians and carrying through later cultures, such as that of the Babylonians. Meanwhile, one can point towards the great urban centers of the Indus Valley, such as Harappa itself and Mohenjo-daro. Both serve as ancient cultures with strong city-building traditions. With that in mind, it should also be noted that, by their very nature, urbanized societies necessitate more advanced and formal governing structures, along with economic specialization, elements which both the Mesopotamian and Harappan cultures would have therefore held in common.

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

There are indeed a number of similarities between the ancient Mesopotamian and Harappan civilizations. Much more is known about the Mesopotamian civilizations than Harappa as the former left decipherable textual histories. All we know about the Harappan people must therefore come solely from archaeological interpretations.

Both civilizations relied heavily on rivers. They used rivers for transportation as well as irrigation. Having a relatively reliable source of water meant that they were able to support large-scale agriculture that allowed them to feed a large population. In order to best make use of the available water, both civilizations developed irrigation and water storage techniques and technology.

Agriculture requires complex divisions of labor. Both the Mesopotamians and the Harappans had a large farmer class which was responsible for growing the food to feed centralized urban populations. City dwellers, free from the burden of growing food, were employed as merchants and artisans. This gave rise to trade, manufacturing, and commerce. Indeed, the Mesopotamians and the Harappans even engaged in trade with each other.

There is some evidence to suggest that early in these civilizations' history, women were relatively empowered for the ancient world. In Mesopotamia, written records indicate that women could make their own business and trade contracts and own property. The large number of shrines to female deities in the Indus River Valley suggests that women there had a certain degree of independence as well.

Both civilizations were ruled by a king who also likely had a religious function. The king made laws, conducted treaties, headed the bureaucracy, led the military, and settled disputes.

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

The Mesopotamian civilization and the Indus Civilization,...

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

also known as the Harappan Civilization, are two of the oldest civilizations in recorded history and are frequently compared and contrasted.

Most importantly, both were river civilizations and for both, the river was a cornerstone of several aspects of life. In the case of Mesopotamia, this was the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, while the Indus river flowed through the valley of the Harappan civilization. Both civilizations were some of the earliest agricultural societies, and used the rivers for complex irrigation systems.

While this was a wonderful thing for a permanent society in a world where nomadic life had been the norm, it also unfortunately meant that both societies were completely at the mercy of nature. If the rivers were to flood, which they frequently did, it often meant heavy collateral damage. However, despite this danger, both societies have also been shown to have possessed an unprecedented sophistication for the time. Both civilizations produced art and technology with seemingly standardized merit, as well as a form of written language that facilitated government and economy. With all this in mind, these were two of the first civilizations to make the case for "settling down" into an agricultural lifestyle as opposed to the previously nomadic ways of ancient man.

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

Both civilizations flourished in similar periods and shared many geographical, cultural, and political elements in common.

The ancient Mesopotamian civilizations were located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, while Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro were both located in the valley of the Indus river. Thus both civilizations were highly dependent on rivers for irrigation.

Both civilizations were agricultural (as opposed to hunter-gatherer) and required large groups of people to coordinate complex schemes of irrigation in order to produce sufficient food.

Both of these civilizations were highly urbanized, with sophisticated transport and economic networks enabling them to raise food in the surrounding areas in order to support wealthy cities with advanced crafts, artistic production, sophisticated religions, technology, and government bureaucracies. 

Both of the civilizations had some form of writing. Although Mesopotamian writing has been deciphered, the Indus script, which evolved in the same period and was in widespread use, has not been deciphered, meaning that we know much less about the Indus civilizations than we do about Mesopotamia. 

Both had polytheistic religions, although less is known of the Indus one due to the lack of deciphered written texts. 

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

There are a number of similarities between the ancient river civilizations of Mesopotamia and Harappa.  Both civilizations relied on a  fertile river valley to support agriculture.  The importance of managing the river through irrigation and canal systems was of paramount concern for both river civilizations.  They harvested enough crops to create a surplus of goods to trade with one another. Both civilizations were at the mercy of unpredictable rivers that routinely flooded, causing tremendous property damage.  The two civilizations were politically and economically developed enough to support large urban areas that were technologically advanced for the time.  The religion of all of the ancient civilizations was polytheistic with special gods worshiped to control the rivers. Both civilizations developed writing systems to manage tax collection and commerce.  

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

What are the similarities between Harappan and Mesopotamian civilizations?

These two civilizations, despite their differences, did indeed share many similarities. First of all, they both depended on their respective rivers to maintain many of their functions. Mesopotamia (which literally means the land between rivers) lies between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The Harrapans existed along the Indus River. They utilized the waters from these rivers and their tributaries to support a complex system of agriculture. They built extensive irrigation systems to best take advantage of this life-giving water. Having a dependable source of water for farming meant that these civilizations were able to feed relatively large populations.

With a large population comes the need for social stratification. The Harrapans and the Mesopotamians both had highly stratified societies. Large numbers of farmers worked the fields and supplied a surplus of food for the many city dwellers. Free from the necessity of growing their own food, urban populations arose. These city dwellers were employed in artisanal work, bureaucracy, and commerce. Both civilizations also had a priestly class. At the top of both civilizations was a king and his nobility who it appears also served in religious roles.

Both civilizations were city builders. They made and lived in what are likely some of the first cities in the world. Sun-dried bricks were the most common building material. Most cities were centered on a large structure such as a palace, temple, or citadel. Urban planning was well utilized with streets laid out in grids and protective walls surrounding the cities.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on