Comparing the Greek and Mesopotamian States

Greece and Mesopotamia have been the meeting grounds for West and East for almost as long as history has been recorded. Given their constant interaction with each other, it should be no surprise that they shared many cultural aspects with one another. Yet just as these two early states contained many similarities, they were so different in certain regards that their histories would later be filled with dehumanizing descriptions of each other and bloody wars that shook the ancient world.
Both states were around during the Bronze Age, though the Mesopotamians, specifically the Sumerians, had a significant head start on the Greeks. Similarly, they both developed independent city-states that were as prone to go to war with each other as they were to trade. The Mesopotamians also had one major advantage that would lead to their golden age much sooner than the Greeks, the Tigris and Euphrates. The river valley of Mesopotamia was a lush breadbasket that managed to sustain huge populations leading to sprawling cities that could cover 600 acres. The Greek city-states, however, had little land to raise crops on, and what small patches they had were devoted to the hardier barely and durum wheat, which wasn’t suitable for calorie rich bread making. While a bad season in Mesopotamia could cause starvation and troubles for the city, one bad season in Greece could wipe out an entire village. The demographics of each were also starkly different. Around half of the infants in ancient Greece were likely to die before they reached adulthood, with a life expectancy of 20 to 30 years. Women needed to have 5 HEALTHY kids just to maintain the population level, 7 to grow it. The Mesopotamians, though certainly not strangers to famines or other natural disasters, were much more able to cope with the hardships thanks to their immense irrigation and intensive agricultural networks. This vast difference in agricultural production and demographics meant the Mesopotamians were able to build sprawling metropolises while the Greeks were limited to moderate sized cities at best.
Though the Greek civilization did not experience an all encompassing centralization of power like the Mesopotamians under Sargon of Akkad’s empire, they did manage to conquer and knit small pockets of the peninsula and islands into cultural similar mini kingdoms in what has been dubbed the Mycenae Period. The most prominent feature was the elaborately decorated citadel, protected by thick, heavy walls and a specific pottery style that originated from Crete becoming the standard throughout much of the Aegean region. The reliance on sea vessels for communication and travel between Greek city-states also led to a Greek mastery of naval trade. The Uluburun shipwreck of the coast of southern Anatolia was a Greek trading vessel containing ebony, ostrich eggs, bronze, tin, and a golden scarab with the Egyptian queen Nefertiti’s name inscribed on it. Sea trade became the lifeblood of Greek economies, while the Mesopotamians used trade more as a means to acquire exotic goods for their elites than to sustain their livelihoods. Both states also needed to develop a recording system to keep track of their goods, the Sumerians being famous as the first people (so far as we know) to have developed a written language called Sumerian. The Greeks also developed their own language, starting with the still undeciphered proto-script, Linear A, which culminated into the more widely used Linear B.
As with all the states we have talked about, the Greeks and Mesopotamians were eventually met with a collapse. The Mycenaean citadels showed signs of being razed and looted, and warrior’s were given an esteemed position in society, so it is possible that centuries of warfare ultimately wore the city-states out. The Akkadians, on the other hand, seem to have collapsed due to environmental pressure, as their already strained agricultural system was unable to cope with the more arid climate and three century drought. Though much less is known about the Greek collapse than the Akkadian empire, we do know that both did not disappear entirely. Rather they experienced a Dark Age, separating the Mycenae Period with the Classical Era in Greece, and the Akkadian Empire with the many following empires that would dominate the history of Mesopotamia.

One thought on “Comparing the Greek and Mesopotamian States

  1. Mesopotamia was undoubtedly influential to Ancient Greece. With both of them originating around the Mediterranean, it’s no surprise that the two of them interacted through trade, leading to cultural similarities. One point that you made that I really can’t argue with, is the fact that Mesopotamia was able to take advantage of both the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to thrive as a civilization. Compared to ancient Greece, where independent city states thrived independently of one another, Mesopotamian city states overlapped with each other in time and space, so they were able to learn from each others’ mistakes and learn how to effectively use the rivers to their advantage at an amazing pace. Greek city states were separated by a mountainous terrain that prevented them from being able to communicate with each other effectively. Another interesting difference that you pointed out was that the Greeks never had an individual ruler. Mesopotamia, defined as the Akadian Empire, had an individual ruler in Sargon. When it came to writing, the two civilizations had similar, but also different styles. Both forms of writing seem to be lingual, meaning they are read as if you are speaking them. Mesopotamian writing however, was interesting because cuneiform couldn’t be fully translated into an actual language. It was basically a mix of symbols and written words or sounds. All in all, these two civilizations were very similar to each other simply because they were geographically close to each other. This allowed for fluent trade that resulted in similar cultures.

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