阅读真题：TOPIC Mesopotamian and Egyptian City Structure
Egypt and Mesopotamia Compared
The development of two great early civilizations in the Middle East and
North Africa encourages a first effort at comparative analysis. Because of
different geography, different degrees of exposure to outside invasion and
influence, and different prior beliefs, Egypt and Mesopotamia were in contrast
to one another in many ways. Egypt emphasized strong central authority, while
Mesopotamian politics shifted more frequently over a substructure of regional
city-states. Mesopotamian art focused on less monumental structures, while
embracing a pronounced literary element that Egyptian art lacked.
These cultural differences can be explained partly by geography:
Mesopotamians lacked access to the great stones that Egyptians could import
for their monuments. The differences also owed something to different
politics, for Egyptian ability to organize masses of laborers followed from
its centralized government structures and strong bureaucracy. The differences
owed something, finally, to different beliefs, for the Mesopotamians lacked
the Egyptian concern for preparations for the afterlife, which so motivated
the great tombs and pyramids that have made Egypt and some of the pharaohs
live on in human memory.
Both societies traded extensively, but there was a difference in economic
tone. Mesopotamia was more productive of technological improvements, because
their environment was more difficult to manage than the Nile valley. Trade
contacts were more extensive, and the Mesopotamians gave attention to a
merchant class and commercial law.
Social differences were less obvious because it is difficult to obtain
information on daily life for early civilizations. It is probable, though,
that the status of women was greater in Egypt than in Mesopotamia (where
women's position seems to have deteriorated after Sumer). Egyptians paid great
respect to women at least in the upper classes, in part because marriage
alliances were vital to the preservation and stability of the monarchy. Also,
Egyptian religion included more pronounced deference to goddesses as sources
Comparisons in politics, culture, economics, and society suggest
civilizations that varied substantially because of largely separate origins
and environments. The distinction in overall tone was striking, with Egypt
being more stable and cheerful than Mesopotamia not only in beliefs about gods
and the afterlife but in the colorful and lively pictures the Egyptians
emphasized in their decorative art. Also striking was the distinction in
internal history, with Egyptian civilization far less marked by disruption
than its Mesopotamian counterpart.
Comparison must also note important similarities, some of them
characteristic of early civilizations. Both Egypt and Mesopotamia emphasized
social stratification, with a noble, landowning class on top and masses of
peasants and slaves at the bottom. A powerful priestly group also figured in
the elite. While specific achievements in science differed, there was a common
emphasis on astronomy and related mathematics, which produced durable findings about units of time and measurement. Both Mesopotamia and Egypt changed only slowly by the standards of more modern societies. Details of change have not been preserved, but it is true that having developed successful political and economic systems there was a strong tendency toward conservation. Change, when it came, was usually brought by outside forces - natural disasters or invasions. Both civilizations demonstrated extraordinary durability in the basics. Egyptian civilization and a fundamental Mesopotamian culture lasted far longer than the civilizations that came later, in part because of relative isolation within each respective region and because of the deliberate effort to maintain what had been achieved, rather than experiment widely.
Both civilizations, finally, left an important heritage in their region and adjacent territories. A number of smaller civilization centers were launched under the impetus of Mesopotamia and Egypt, and some would produce important innovations of their own by about 1000 B.C.