There were many ways that the Ancient Egyptian society and the Mesopotamian society were similar yet at the same time they were very different. Egyptians and Sumerians agreed on religion in a sense that both cultures were polytheistic. However, the relationships between the gods and goddesses were different between the Sumerians and Egyptians. This essay will discuss those differences in culture, religion and the viewpoints on death and afterlife.
Mesopotamias climate consisted of temperatures rising from 110 to 120F in the summer. This led to many dry days that eventually led to a severe drought. Basically, there was little to no rainfall from the months of May until October. This led to the devastation of agriculture. Not only did the Sumerians have to deal with the effects of the droughts, they had to deal with the consequences of flooding as well. The Tigris and the Euphrates surrounded Mesopotamia thus when it would overflow more devastation would occur such as the washouts of embankments. (Hause, 2001, pg. 7)
Sumerians praised their gods and goddesses by building temples for them known as Ziggurats. Sumerians were constantly trying to praise the gods due to the fact that their climate was erratic. They believed that the gods and goddesses were in full control therefore they must pay them homage for future wealth and good weather. Yet they could not comprehend why such disasters would happen after such praise. According to the Mesopotamian Prayer, one can view the attitudes of the Sumerians towards the gods and goddesses. This prayer is very grim and pessimistic. It portrays the gods as hostile, demanding and inscrutable. (Hause, 2001, pg. 11)
If there was one thing the Sumerians feared, it was death. The Sumerians feared of natural disasters and invasions, which probably contributed to the gloomy outlook on life. They believed that the gods punished them with floods and or famine. Their pessimistic outlook on life made them have bad premonitions towards their afterlife. They believed that at death that they were going to descend forever into a dark underworld, a huge cave filled with nothing but dust and silence. They tried to enjoy life as much as they could but did not look forward to the afterlife. Death was not the paradise that the Egyptians believed in. It was considered eternal hell. (Hause, 2001, pg. 10)
An example of the Sumerians fearing the afterlife is portrayed in The Epic of Gilgamesh Gilgamesh asks Unthapashtim (a biblical version of Noah; Genesis), if there is anyway he can attain immortality. Gilgamesh realized that he was mortal after the death of his friend. Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh that there is no such thing as permanence. Gilgamesh must come to terms that one day he will die and that scared him greatly. (Sherman, 2000, pg. 8)
Life in general was ideal for the Egyptians. Contrary to Mesopotamia, Egypt had the reliable Nile for constant irrigation as well as a location that was almost impossible to invade. Egyptians didnt have to deal with warfare for some two thousand years. The Niles annual flood was so predictable that it provided the moisture needed to sustain life. (Hause, 2001, pg. 11)
An example of how important the Nile was can be seen in Hymn to the Nile. This hymn praises the Nile as well as the gods of the Nile. They
received such great praise for its abundance since this the Nile was the main reason why Egypt stayed peaceful and powerful. (Sherman, 2000, pgs. 10-11)
Egyptians were rarely at odds with the gods/goddesses or Pharaohs. The gods and Pharaohs were constantly praised for all the deeds and riches that
were given to the Egyptians. Hymn to the Pharaoh, is a hymn that portrays the Pharaohs as powerful and generous rulers who provide Egypt with its riches. You have protectedenrichedstrengthenedenlarged and made them prosper. This hymn reveals that there were always positive and optimistic feelings toward the Pharaohs and the gods and goddesses. They were constantly praised for their abundance. (Sherman, 2000, pgs. 1112)
Egyptians had a different perspective on death than the Sumerians. The
Egyptians were looking forward to their afterlife. The Egyptian afterlife consisted of the Egyptians being happy, well fed, and busy with the same activities they had enjoyed during their life. However, not all Egyptians could spend eternal life in paradise. It all depended on the gods of justice. The Egyptians believed that where ones soul spends eternal life depends upon how they lived their life.
The gods would weigh the heart of the deceased against the feather of maat. If the heart was heavier than the feather, the soul was thrown to the crocodile that would then devourer the hearts. However, if the heart weighed less than the feather, their souls would live in paradise. The Egyptians didnt view death as damnation so such as a continuation of life on Earth. (Hause, 2001, pg. 15)
In conclusion, there were some beliefs and customs that the Egyptians and the Sumerians shared. They were both polytheistic and they both relied on the surrounding rivers for agriculture/life support. Yet their attitudes and prayers towards the gods and goddesses differed as well as their views on the afterlife. As explained, these views differed due to their location, climate and yield in agriculture.
Sherman, D. (2000). Civilizations of the Ancient World. Western Civilizations: Sources, Images, and Interpretations (pp. 8-12). New York:McGraw-Hill.
Hause, S., & Maltby, W. (2001). The Ancient Near East: Mesopotamia, Egypt, Phoenicia and Israel. Essentials of Western Civilization (pp.7-15). California: Wadsworth.