Essay on Social and Cultural Structures of Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia

Published: 2021/12/03
Number of words: 3733


Early civilization’s history has been an integral aspect of human society as it marked the origin of several technologies used in this era. Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt were two of the earliest civilizations. Each was unique in its practices and way of life; however, they also had similarities. These two early civilizations led to the writing and innovation of the wheel, mainly to ferry agricultural products during agrarian civilizations. Mesopotamia and Egypt emerged as the significant civilizations between 3000 to 3500 BCE, and the social structures of ancient Egypt had smaller mobility and fewer merchants than Mesopotamia. Early civilizations in Mesopotamia valued the written word; thus, they played an essential role in the invention of writing (Mark, 2014, pp.1-14). The populations of these early civilizations were divided into social classes based on hierarchy. Kings and nobles occupied the highest ranks in the social hierarchy of the respective communities. Therefore, this essay focuses on the social and cultural structures of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamian civilizations by discussing the impacts of the political, economic, and intellectual changes in these civilizations’ development.

Civilization in Mesopotamia

Mesopotamia is one of the earliest civilizations globally, and their inventions remain integral in contemporary society. It is regarded as a historical region of West Asia situated along river Tigris and Euphrates; thus, the name Mesopotamia means between rivers (National Geographic Society, 2021, p.1). Mesopotamia is the home to the ancient civilizations of Assyria and Babylon. Fertile soil along the river banks enhanced agriculture since it was made up of rich mud brought down by flooding rivers. Agriculture was mainly through irrigation since the land was dry (Time Maps, 2021, p.1-5). Its civilization valued writings; therefore, when writing was invented, the scribes resorted to recording every aspect of their life activities. Recording of their undertakings made it easy for archeologists and scholars to have a detailed understanding of how they lived and went about their routine activities based on the writings (Mark, 2014, pp.1-14). The social and cultural structures of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia civilizations were evident in several areas, as discussed below.

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Population and social classes

The ancient Mesopotamian population was never constant, and it significantly varied based on several factors within their social environment. For example, in 2300 BCE, Uruk’s population was approximately 49,000, Mari in the northern region had a population of roughly 10,500, while Akkad’s population was 35,000 (Mark, 2014, pp.1-14). The populations were divided into social classes, which were hierarchical based on their status in society and class. Mesopotamian social classes were divided into nobility, priests and priestesses, the upper class, lower class, and slaves.

The rulers of its territories, such as cities, regions, and empires, were perceived to connect with supernatural beings. Thus, they act as the middlemen between the spiritual world and the physical world. As a result, they are used by the gods to guide and lead the earthly groups. However, societies had parameters of measuring the quality of the relationships between their leaders and the supernatural world based on their territories’ accomplishment and success compared with others (Mark, 2014, pp.1-14). Therefore, a king’s greatness was anchored on their abilities to expand their territories through the weaker societies’ conquest and their abilities to spur prosperity and development. These were the parameters used to establish if a king had obtained favor from the gods. Some of their leaders, such as Sargon of Akkad, were opposed by their subjects; however, he remained a hero based on his achievements through military expansion and conquests. This was interpreted to imply that the supernatural world favored them.

The priests and priestesses also played an integral role in social activities, such as presiding over religious activities and functions. Most of them were literate and were crucial in the interpretation of signs and omens. They served as healers who treated multiple health conditions. For example, the first doctor in Mesopotamia to treat people was a priestess (Mark, 2014, pp.1-14). Enheduanna, the daughter of Sargon of Akkad, became famous as a high priest of Ur and was the first author recognized by name. This shows that priesthood was not restricted to males as women were also allowed to serve as high priests. The town of Kish also was ruled by a queen, a former tavern keeper. This shows that males did not monopolize crucial leadership roles; however, even women were allowed to serve as priestesses and queens. Previously, they were entitled to lower jobs but could also aid in similar status as males. The accomplishments by women were numerous. These included; they were the earliest brewers and tavern keepers. Women were also the first doctors and dentists in Mesopotamia before men realized that these roles were lucrative and took over.

Society was an integral aspect as it provided a social environment where people interacted and carried out their activities. However, society was divided into social classes based on individual status and wealth possession. The upper class included merchants, with their own companies, scribes, tutors, and military personnel in the higher ranks. Accountants, shipwrights, and architects were part of the upper class (Mark, 2014, pp.1-14). Scribes were esteemed and served in various areas, such as court, schools, and temples. All teachers were scribes and were part of the school curriculum.

Lower classes were composed of population groups perceived to keep the society going, such as canal builders, farmers, fishers, basket weavers, carpenters, artists, and farmers. These lower classes were an important group as they undertook most activities, thus keeping society going. The slaves occupied the lowest social class in society. One could be a slave in multiple ways, such as capture during the war. Some individuals gave themselves into slavery, being sold by family members to clear a debt, and being subjected to slavery as a punishment for war (Mark, 2014, pp.1-14). The slaves had several ethnic affiliations, especially those who worked in different regions. However, their roles were also not limited solely to house chores. Still, they undertook multiple roles, such as house duties, estate management, tutoring kids, and also served as skilled jewelry makers. Roles undertaken by the slaves based on their master’s choice based on the slaves’ talent and interest.

The males attended schools while females did not; however, they almost had equal rights with the males. Women were perceived as inferior to men in literacy mastery. Despite women leaders undertaking various accomplishments, their perception was never lifted (Mark, 2014, pp.1-14). This created education disparity as only males were allowed to attend classes, while the females were not.

Family and leisure

Family in ancient Mesopotamia reflects the contemporary family in several ways comprising the father, mother, children, and extended family members. Men and women had different responsibilities and directed their young ones based on sex and gender (Mark, 2014, pp.1-14). Male children from noble families pursued education while their sisters remained home to learn domestic arts. Education was based on social status; thus, those who came from the lower classes could not go to school but followed their fathers’ daily activities.

Egyptian civilization

Ancient Egypt was one of the earliest civilizations in global history. Ancient Egyptians were literate and kept records of all information kinds (Royal Ontario Museum, n.d, pp.1-2). Thus, the ancient civilization remains significant in the current era based on its outstanding achievement and impacts on human history. Its effects are recognizable in architectural work, medicine, and engineering. This civilization began approximately 3000 BCE when the lower Nile Valley became under a single leader (Time Maps, 2021, pp.4-11). Egypt was the leading power in Middle Eastern at the time. The civilization was also regarded as ancient North Africa’s civilization and was mainly concentrated along the Nile. This was attributed to the flooding of the River Nile, which was more prevent from June to September. The Nile’s flooding was integral as it ensured reliable and rich agricultural soil (Khan Academy, 2021, pp.1-3). It deposited a new layer of fertile soil rich in nutrients yearly; thus, farmers were always sure to produce high yields annually due to the annual flooding.

The political unification birthed the belief that political authorities and leaders ruled through gods favor. Therefore, they were believed to serve as intermediaries between the supernatural and the physical world. In some cases, leaders, such as Narner, were regarded by their subjects as gods (Khan Academy, 2021, pp.1-3). Egyptian civilization also led to the development of an early form of writing referred to as hieroglyphics, a form of writing that used images to portray sounds and meanings. This writing method became significant as the country mobilized more resources and projects; thus, writing was vital in record keeping. Egypt embarked on literature writing during the middle kingdom and preserving some writings on objects, such as stone and clay.

Society was divided into social classes, with some groups occupying the highest hierarchy in the ladder while others occupied the lower echelons. Elites were highly esteemed based on their vast wealth and power; thus, they had access to lucrative amenities and services that the lower classes could not access. For example, elites in ancient Egypt began constructing more significant tombs used as pyramids. The tombs demonstrated a widening rift between the upper classes and the lower classes (Khan Academy, pp.1-3). This is because only the elites and noble individuals could be considered for such expensive services. The rift between the rich and the lower classes was also evident through the work they undertook.

Ancient Egyptian civilization resulted in the first government that ruled the entire country after the upper and the lower parts were unified. Pharaoh was the sole leader who both political and religious authority. He led the upper and lower Egypt regions and the high priest of all temples in the territory (Time Maps, 2021, pp.4-9). Most Egyptians considered Pharaoh a god in the land who acted as an intermediary between the supernatural and physical worlds.

Religion was at the core of Egypt during its early civilization, and they were idol worshippers as they paid homage to multiple gods and goddesses. They worshipped in temples under the priests. Egyptian religion believed in life after death; however, their perception of this gradually changed. Previously, they emphasized that the afterlife was linked to body preservation of the physical body through mummification (Time Maps, 2021, pp.4-9). Later, they accepted the belief that human beings are composed of spiritual and physical aspects. Therefore, the soul lived in eternity while the physical body had no place in eternity. The fate of a spirit in the afterlife was based on the judgment it received; therefore, those with good judgment lived on.

Ancient Egypt, similar to all other pre-industrial civilizations, was an agricultural economy. Most of its inhabitants were peasant farmers who practiced farming as their livelihood. Agriculture was enhanced by the availability of fertile soil in the Nile Valley (Time Maps, 2021, pp.4-9). Therefore, they were able to produce surplus yields that sustained their needs. Egyptians grew crops such as wheat, barley, vegetables, and figs (Barrow, 2021, p.1). Most of these crops were grown along the banks of the River Nile. Grain had a higher value as it was used in multiple areas, such as bread, porridge, and bear. Grain was prioritized; thus, it was grown immediately after the flooding season to boost yields. After its harvest, they grew vegetables and onions. Agricultural practices in ancient Egypt began in the Delta region and the fertile basin rich in fertile black soil.

Agriculture was the backbone of ancient Egypt’s economy and had a great significance in their lives since it was the source of livelihoods. The main agricultural areas were along the Delta region and Faiyun, a fertile basin (Mark, 2017, pp.1-3). Agriculture facilitated the transformation of the semi-arid areas into rich fertile fields after the inundation period. This annual flooding of the River Nile allowed it to deposit fertile and nutrient-rich soil on the land to facilitate crop cultivation. In some seasons, Nile did not flood, which negatively impacted crop yields and people’s lives as they depended on agriculture as their primary economic activity. Flooding of River Nile also served as a civilization specialization.

The Egyptian fertile fields produced adequate food to feed its population, while the surplus was stored in government storage facilities to prepare for low seasons when the country faced insufficiency. In most cases, crop yields from these fertile regions were enough to feed the entire country for at least one year (Mark, 2017, pp.1-3). Extensive agriculture required tools to facilitate plowing; thus, the Egyptians invented the ox-drawn plow and improved their irrigation methods to boost production.

Based on religious beliefs, ancient Egypt adopted various practices to preserve the body as they wait for the afterlife. These practices included the embalming of the dead to preserve their bodies. Egyptian medicine was significant as some of its people were known to help in several medical conditions, such as stitch-up wounds, repair of the broken bones, and amputation of fault limbs (Time Maps, 2021, pp.4-9). Egyptian medics are also known for their use of opium as painkillers during their early civilization. Opium was also used for other medicinal purposes and recreation (Mark, 2017, pp.1-3). Some of these early medicines, such as opium used as a pain reliever, have remained up to date.


Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt were the earliest civilizations in human history. Each civilization was unique; however, they also had some similarities, as discussed below.

Civilizations facilitated by rivers

Agriculture was an integral part of both civilizations. Thus, rivers played a crucial role in boosting crop yields. In ancient Egypt, Nile was essential in their agricultural production since it was the backbone of its economy (Mark, 2017, pp.1-3). Agriculture was practiced in Delta region in the northern parts of the country. The River Nile’s annual inundation was significant. It brought the fertile black soil that assured the inhabitants that they would have surplus produce to feed them throughout the year. Agriculture was also concentrated along River Nile and the valley basins because they were close to the river and had fertile soils due to the Nile’s yearly flooding. Rivers were also fundamental in early civilization in Mesopotamia as early agriculture solely depended on such rivers. Rivers, such as Euphrates and Tigris, also deposited fertile silt along the river banks; thus, the surrounding areas became lucrative for agriculture (National Geographic Society, 2021, p.1). Therefore, Mesopotamia and Egypt modernized, and several cities, such as Ur, developed.


Civilizations of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia had a considerable impact on developing new technologies that continue to impact human life. Several developments in human society are linked to these early civilizations. The civilization of Mesopotamia emphasized the written word. Thus, after the invention of writing, the scribes recorded their life facets through various means (Mark, 2014, pp.1-14). The writing method invented by the people of Mesopotamia was referred to as cuneiform. This writing enabled people to record information; thus, archeologists found it easy to know how these communities lived and handled their routine activities (Alicia, 2016, p.1). Egypt also invented a writing method referred to as hieroglyphics that remained crucial in record keeping.

Agriculture was at the core of these early civilizations since these societies were not industrialized. As a result, they devised different strategies and advanced tools that aided their agricultural activities and production. The Egyptians invented the calendar to help predict the seasons to prepare (Mark, 2017, pp.1-3). It also developed the ox-drawn plow that aided in tilling their land parcels. All these communities lived a settled life because of agriculture to allow them to attend to their farms. Mesopotamians invented the wheel that aided the transportation of agricultural produce. They also used irrigation methods to water their farms using waters from the rivers within their proximity. Medicine was also invented in both civilizations. In Mesopotamia, the priests and priestesses also served as healers who helped in different medical conditions. The first doctors and dentists were priestesses in Mesopotamia who mainly attended to people in the temple courts. Ancient Egypt also had doctors who played a fundamental role in stitch-up wounds, repair broken bones, and amputating the infected limbs.


Religion was an important social institution in Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt. They believed in the worship of many gods and goddesses. They worshipped different gods associated with seasons and nature; thus, they knew specific gods or goddesses to turn to in case of a problem. A good relationship with the gods was necessary to attain success or achieve particular goals. For example, leaders who demonstrated exemplary performance were alluded to have obtained favor (Mark, 2014, pp.1-14). Thus, leaders were esteemed and viewed as intermediaries between the supernatural realm and the physical world. Some leaders, such as Pharaoh, were regarded as gods by their subjects. Religion also shaped the belief system of the respective societies.

Class system

In both civilizations, societies were divided into social classes based on wealth possession and status in the community. For example, in Mesopotamia, the upper class comprised merchants who owned their ventures, scribes, high-ranking military officials, accountants, nobles, and architects. Society’s classification was hierarchical, with the kings, priests, and priestesses occupying the highest social classes (Mark, 2014, pp.1-14). The lower class was comprised of individuals who kept society going. The same trend was embraced in ancient Egyptian civilization as the elites, the wealthy, and influential individuals build tombs similar to pyramids and reserve the noble classes (Khan Academy, 2021, pp.1-3). Therefore, it indicates the growing rift between the upper and lower classes. In Egypt, a detailed history is recorded concerning the wealthy individuals than the ordinary civilians. This shows that the class system was integral in the country, and members of the noble class had a significant influence in their territories (Malek, 2011, pp.1-2). As a result, the houses of the ordinary Egyptians were not preserved, and most of them were buried in simple graves because they belonged to the lower classes.


The early civilization in Egypt and Mesopotamia maintained individual identities; therefore, each remained unique despite the shared similarities. The primary differences were;


The leadership and the political structures of these two countries differed. Egypt had a centralized governance system, while Mesopotamia had a decentralized system. Pharaoh was a dominant leader of Egypt and was called a god by his subjects (Time Maps, 2021, pp.4-9). He was both a political and a religious leader. Pharaoh’s succession could only be through his son in case of death, and the noble who served in a crucial position in ancient Egypt were related to Pharaoh. This leadership strategy was different from the one utilized in Mesopotamia since it was self-governing with a decentralized system. The territory was divided into self-governing regional states ruled by kings. The subjects did not consider their leaders as divine but intermediaries between the physical and the spiritual realm (Mark, 2014, pp.1-13). Most scribes who were part of the leadership were not related to the ruling kings.

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Religion was a fundamental aspect of these civilizations. Despite the religious similarities, they also had differences in how they interpreted it. The notable religious difference was on the belief in the afterlife. Egyptians believed that death was not the end since there was an afterlife similar to earthly life (Royal Ontario Museum, n.d, pp.1-2). Mesopotamia focused on their life before death and did all things possible to improve their wellbeing. On the other hand, Egyptians believed in the afterlife and worked out different rituals to prepare the dead bodies for the afterlife (Time Maps, 2021, pp.4-9). Embalming of the bodies and mummification were done to prepare them for the afterlife.


Mesopotamia and Egypt are the earliest civilizations in human history. Both emerged along the rivers due to fertile soil deposited on the surrounding areas when the rivers flooded; thus, the regions favored agricultural production. In Mesopotamia, agriculture was practiced along the banks of Euphrates and Tigris, while in Egypt, agriculture was practiced along the banks of River Nile. The two earliest civilizations in these regions were anchored on polytheism as the communities worshiped different gods and goddesses depending on their life situations and seasons. Ancient civilization impacted human society through the invention of the wheel, writing, calendar, and the ox-drawn plow that remained relevant in the current age. Despite the similarities, Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations had differences based on leadership structure and religious beliefs in the afterlife.

Work cited

Alicia. Comparing Egypt and Mesopotamia. 2016, p.1

Barrow. Ancient Egypt. 2021, p.1

Khan Academy. Ancient Egypt civilization. 2021, pp.1-3

Malek. Primary sources of old kingdom, 2011, pp.1-2

Mark. Daily life in ancient Mesopotamia. 2014, pp.1-14

Mark. Ancient Egypt agriculture. 2017, pp.1-3

National Geographic Society. Mesopotamia,, 2021, p.1

Royal Ontario Museum. Primary sources of information about the age of pyramids.,%2C%20papyri%2C%20and%20pyramid%20texts. n.d, pp.1-2

Time Maps. Ancient Mesopotamia; civilization and society. 2021, pp.1-5

Time Maps. Ancient Egypt; civilization and society. 2021, pp.4-9

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