Author Topic: Was Ancient Egypt a Nicer Place Than Ancient Mesopotamia?  (Read 1182 times)

Offline Karak Norn Clansman

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Was Ancient Egypt a Nicer Place Than Ancient Mesopotamia?
« on: September 23, 2020, 07:51:12 PM »
This essay by Luka Trkanjec grapples with the question why ancient Egypt remains so much more popular than ancient Mesopotamia, and homes in on a similar phenomenon existing in ancient Greece contemporary with Egypt and Mesopotamia, as well as cultural differences making ancient Egypt a more pleasing place to learn about compared to ancient Mesopotamia. This goes beyond stone monuments in Egypt having survived better than brick structures in Mesopotamia.

Some themes of Trkanjec's nuanced drift is that of Egypt being a more serene and harmonious place suspicious of strict legal codification of people's status. Egyptians often portrayed themselves as embracing families and couples, with Mesopotamian art traditions being lacking in this regard, but excelling in terms of depicting atrocities committed by one's own side. Mesopotamia early on came to see domination, aggression and exploitation as something good, glorying in conquering warlords and developing strict legal codes with a famously draconic bent. While both were ancient monarchies, Ancient Egypt comes across as a culture who loved the good life, in contrast to the more pessimistic and misanthropic outlook of Mesopotamia. The latter also sported a constant phenomenon of impoverished robbers roving the fringes of the lands, without a similar thing being mentioned in any Egyptian sources outside of intermediary periods of collapse and disorder.

It may be added that Mesopotamian kings had themselves depicted with whips, and some even claimed the title King of the Universe. I cannot remember a single instance of Egyptian artists depicting people being flayed or impaled, in contrast to Mesopotamia. Trkanjec's argument is not one of ancient Egyptians being bereft of evil or shy of e.g. depicting the killing of enemies, but it is one where the nuance difference between ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt is a noticable one, both in sources that have survived and in contemporary ancient Greek sources.

So, comparatively pleasant Egypt and grimdark Mesopotamia.

Whether one agrees or not, this rather long essay is worth checking out for anyone interested in the period (hint, Tomb Kings and Chaos Dwarfs, hint).

« Last Edit: September 23, 2020, 07:53:30 PM by Karak Norn Clansman »

Offline Fidelis von Sigmaringen

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Re: Was Ancient Egypt a Nicer Place Than Ancient Mesopotamia?
« Reply #1 on: September 23, 2020, 08:01:44 PM »
Perhaps it is simply due to the fact that Egypt's territory was more easily defended than Mesopotamia, and thus could be more ethnically and politically unified, while Mesopotamia was open, and had to face regular invasions from outside, and thus was ethnically and politically fractured.
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Offline Zygmund

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Re: Was Ancient Egypt a Nicer Place Than Ancient Mesopotamia?
« Reply #2 on: September 25, 2020, 10:02:45 PM »
Ancient Egypt never really collapsed because of environmental or social reasons. Mesopotamia did so several times. The Mesopotamian fields slowly salinated and the cities are now in the desert. The Nile valley is still lush. So perhaps it's harsh life, harsh justice vs. nice life, more empathy?


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Offline Konrad von Richtmark

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Re: Was Ancient Egypt a Nicer Place Than Ancient Mesopotamia?
« Reply #3 on: September 27, 2020, 09:58:59 AM »
Well, Egypt did have occasional crop failures and resulting famine due to poor Nile inundations, but I suppose those would have been one-off events followed by a return to normal, so not enough to really affect the culture. Well, except for an entire priesthood emerging around appeasing the Nile to secure good inundations.

One thing that does support the notion of life being relatively good and livelihood less precarious in Egypt would be the abandonment of newborn babies. Or more precisely, its absence in Egypt even as it was a common and largely accepted practice pretty much elsewhere in the Ancient Eurasian world. There are textual records of the Greek and Roman rulers of Egypt commenting on what weirdos the Egyptians are for keeping all the kids they get, and even rescuing newborns abandoned by Greeks and Romans. Which suggests that even common people lived high enough above a subsistence level to not need to worry about having too many mouths to feed.
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