As I was researching the ancient nations of Mesopotamia, India, Egypt, and China, I found it hard to choose only two to compare and contrast. They are all so rich in culture and history that they already have hundreds of books written about them. Many aspects of these great civilizations still influence our lives today.
Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia have many things in common, but I’m choosing to compare their religious beliefs. Since both nations were polytheistic, I didn’t think that I would have that much to focus on, but there are so many individual gods and goddesses, mores, and worship practices that I hope to be able to get the gist of the subject covered in only two pages.
The gods in Mesopotamia were blamed and/or praised for nearly every event, good or bad – usually bad, that affected the citizenry. The epic poem of Gilgamesh even claimed that the gods were annoyed by the Mesopotamians for making too much noise, so they sent a flood that wiped out all of humanity. These beliefs about the antagonistic gods made the rituals and ritualists that would appease these gods of highest importance. Priests become critical to the daily existence of the Mesopotamians.
Eventually the Mesopotamian kings that wanted more power, societal value, and possible immortality began participating in sacred marriage. They would marry and/or have intercourse with the high priestesses of the city’s temple. After this the kings would eventually declare themselves to be priests.
There were hundreds if not thousands of major deities, minor deities, demigods, primordial beings, spirits, demons, and legendary beings that were worshipped in Mesopotamia. Some of the most influential were Adad or Ishkur, Ashur or Enlil, An, and Istar. These gods garnered large houses of worship called Ziggurats. The townspeople would gather at the Ziggurats for services that ranged from worship and blessings to funerals.
Ancient Egyptians believed that if they did their jobs, literally and metaphorically, that Ra, the Sun God, and the other lesser deities would do theirs. They believed these gods would provide for their people, protect them from wars, and bless their marriages and families. Egyptians also believed that pharaohs, already revered and worshipped, would become gods upon their deaths. This made it easier to convince peasants to devote several months of the year, alongside slaves, to build the ancient pyramids that were sarcophagi for these pharaohs.
The ancient Egyptians did not have as many gods as the Mesopotamians. Bastet, Ra, and Anubis were the major deities, followed by Amun, Sekmet, Thoth, Horus, Sobek, Heket, Tefnut, Geb, and Hathor. Enormous temples to the gods were built of stone so they would last forever. Many of them still exist today. The gods were believed to actually inhabit these temples.
Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia were both ruled by divine right. Divine right meant that the leaders were an extension of the gods themselves.These theocracies governed every aspect of the citizens lives. In Mesopotamia the rulers were believed to speak for their gods and to have a direct connection with them, but in ancient Egypt they were considered gods themselves. The biggest difference between the two nations was that Mesopotamians, while they believed in an afterlife, focused on their lives before death, whereas the Egyptians spent the majority of their living years concentrating on the afterlife. In conclusion, Egypt and Mesopotamia are at once strikingly different in their beliefs and worship styles, and shockingly similar.
Mark, J. (2009). Burial. Retrieved from http://www.ancient.eu/burial
Wikipedia. (2014). Ancient Egyptian Religion. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Egyptian_religion
McKay, E. (2010). Information About Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. Retrieved from http://www.online-history.org