Mesopotamian Civilisation Versus Egyptian Civilisations: The Tigris And Euphrates Versus The Nile River

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The existence of early civilisations forms a crucial part of human history as they marked the start of human beings living together in larger social structures as well as the formation of economies, control over production and law. “A civilisation is generally defined as an advanced state of human society containing highly developed forms of government, culture, industry and common social norms” (Sullivan, 2017). The development of a civilisation is strongly reliant on the location of an area as this determines economic strength, variations in social structure, governance as well as unique urban characteristics. Mesopotamia and Egypt were two of the very first civilisations known to man, they were the first areas to form planned cities and be able to provide food for their people, in one concentrated area, as they had gone through an agricultural revolution which saw them gain the ability to produce a surplus of food which lead to job creation and distribution of labour which resulted in more people moving to the cities permanently and thus the area becoming more civilised.

Geography and Natural Environment

Geography and the natural world have the greatest impact on the location and urban form of an area and often if the environmental aspects of the area are not favourable this could lead to the destruction of an areas urban form.

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Mesopotamian Civilisation

The area of Mesopotamia, which was situated in present day Iraq, has a semiarid climate and does not receive much rain aside from seasonal rain. Temperatures in the day are very hot but drop to extremely low temperatures in the evening, due to these temperatures the Mesopotamian region is heavily reliant on the two rivers it was situated between, namely the Euphrates and the Tigris, which are primarily the reason for the Mesopotamian civilisation’s development as they provided a constant water source for both human consumption, agriculture and trade. Contrary to the semiarid climate the land between the two rivers was very fertile, filled with wildlife and edible vegetation as well as the land was very flat with few mountains which is most favourable for human settlement as it is easier to build permanent settlements on flat land, however, although there was flat land the region lacked in natural resources such as timber and steel which were used in the construction of these settlements. The favourable environmental factors, the rivers, fertile soil, climate and flat land, gave rise to the main characteristics of the city. The Mesopotamian city’s urban form came about without intentional plan or intervention, the city was built around the availability of food, farmland and water. The layout of the city was that of the “Third Dynasty Cities” (Morris, 2013), essentially the Mesopotamian civilisation was built around the religious temples which occupied a quarter of the city and only priests and people of royalty were allowed into these temples, as well as the availability of farming area due to the marshy, rich soil found between the two rivers which incited farmers to settle there. The city had an irregular oval shape and was built on the remains of dilapidated building that had collapsed over time due to the harsh climate and hot sun which often ruined the bricks used for the buildings, the shape and direction of the city buildings was heavily influenced by the extremely hot daytime weather and extremely cold evening weather. Houses were built in two stories around a courtyard which used shadow cooling to allow for the circulation of cool air, this courtyard style allowed for cool air in the city at night and allowed for hot air to rise during the day and cool down the city. Two harbours, for the storage of boats for trading and travel as Mesopotamia lacked in resources therefore easy access to a means of travel which in turn meant a means of trade was a reason for people to settle and build boats in this area, were situated on each side of the city and a small canal ran through the city area to provide water to the people and irrigate plants, due to the flat, land the city of Mesopotamia was very vulnerable to attack and invasion by other empires as there was very little space to hide on flat ground therefore a defensive wall was constructed on the platform from which the town was raised. The residential areas were built in the outer city and form the oldest part of the city, they were built closer to the rivers to allow farmers to easily irrigate their crops.

Egyptian Civilisations

Egypt is situated on the northern tip of Africa, the climatic temperatures are very hot and most of the area is completely arid and lacking in vegetation due to the presence of the Western Desert, this area receives little to no rain and is often reliant on the Nile river which flows through Egypt and provides a constant water source as well as an area of fertile land which can be used for the growing of crops due to the Nile river’s yearly, consistent flooding which provides nutrients to the soil on its banks. The livelihood of Egyptian civilisations was heavily reliant on the presence of the Nile river for agriculture, the earliest settlements were situated on the edge of the Nile river and the desert, in the form of linear development on the east bank of the Nile, because it was the only narrow strip of fertile land which ran along the Nile River. Egypt very seldomly had cities as each ruling Pharaoh lived in the area where his tomb would be situated and each tomb was situated in a different area but for the most part the layout of each ‘city’ was the same from Pharaoh to pharaoh. Buildings had a rectangular shape and were often built a few meters away from the riverbank, as to avoid flooding of the houses but also encourage farming as canals were used for irrigation, the palaces and temples were the centre of the linear layout and every building thereafter was built to align with these buildings and the river. There was no zoning or order to the positioning of the houses due to the fact that they were built along the river bank which was frequently subject to change due to flooding, this form of organic neighbouring made it easier for people to take shortcuts into the city. Occupants built mud houses along the riverbank, made of mud and reeds, because Egypt did not receive much rain these mud huts did not get damaged easily and they kept the people cool as the climatic temperatures were very hot. Houses were situated near the river in order to allow people to access the fertile soil needed to plant their crops as the river flooded consistently every year.

Geographic impact on Development: Socially

Mesopotamian Civilisation

Due to the increase in agriculture and more people moving to a centralized area, being the fertile land between the Tigris and Euphrates river, it creates a larger group of people living in one area which often times can lead to disputes as everyone s sharing the same resources, although the houses in early Mesopotamia were two storey buildings which were placed in an oval shape around a courtyard, each tenant was given a place to stay based on their means and ability to purchase therefore those who had nothing lived lesser lives than those who had money and wealth and received less of the shared resources, excluding the priests and royalty. With the increase in agriculture and favourable environmental conditions such as fertile soil, the Tigris and Euphrates river and excessive vegetation and wildlife a class distinction began to develop in the Mesopotamian society which saw the poor people in Mesopotamia develop slower than the wealthy as they has less means and access to the shared agricultural resources as well as it resulted in them living in smaller living areas than the rich.

Egyptian civilisation

In Egyptian civilisations there was a lack of zoning and due to the fact that settlement were built in a linear layout along the river it meant that there was a limited amount of space along the river and not all people got the same access to the river bank. In ancient Egypt the priests and palaces were placed at the centre of the street then thereafter it was the wealthy in the front, the less wealthy followed behind and the poor was slotted into the spaces between the wealthy and the less wealthy, as a result of the east side of the Nile river being the only fertile area in Egypt and the only area where occupants can farm and have access to the water for irrigation, there is limited space, even though there is a greater number of people, which means, subsequently, the wealthy receive most of the nutrients from the river because they receive it first due to their position along the river and creates a class distinction between the rich and the poor and who has access to what type of fertile soil. Therefore, there is a social imbalance which caused tensions to rise.

Geographic impact on development: Economically

Mesopotamian civilisation

In Mesopotamia the Tigris and Euphrates rivers formed two harbours on either side of the city, the river system allowed Mesopotamia to form trade routes to trade with other areas in order import and export other resources because although Mesopotamia had fertile land and was very rich in agriculture it didn’t have many natural resources such as timber and steel therefore the trade system allowed them to exchange what they had for what the needed as well as they developed a token system to keep track of their trade which also contributed to the growth of their economy.

Egyptian civilisation

Due to Egypt’s variety of natural resources as well as fertile soil which gave rise to agricultural practices the initial economy was based on a barter system where and individual would exchange good or services for a specific price. The price of an item was determined by the number of grams of gold, silver or copper it was worth, however once Egypt started to trade internationally, enabled by the Nile river, they developed a writing system to keep track of all their trade records. Therefore, the existence of the Nile river and fertile soil resulted in Egypt moving from local trade to international trade as well as develop a writing system which lead to the growth of the Egyptian economy.

Geographic impact on development: Governance

Mesopotamian civilisation

With an increase in trade due to the existence of the two rivers that flow through Mesopotamia as well as an excess of crop supply due to the fertile soil on which Mesopotamia lies the authorities in this region believed that there needed to be greater control over the natural world and its resources and trade routes which is what established a military force and territory expansion within Mesopotamia. The increase in economic activity, caused by an increase in agricultural activity due to greater use of resources, lead to the establishment of governance and authority within Mesopotamia.

Egyptian civilisation

As trade in Egypt began establish itself more, as a result of the trade routes created along the Nile River, the authoritarians of Egypt began a central government in the capital of the region in order to keep track of all their trade, the everyday running of the country and allow for more international trade as before they had been more involved in local trade.


In closing, it is clearly evident that the geography and natural world that a civilisation develops in has an extensive impact on its demise or success in terms of the way the area looks and is constructed, the society that lives there, the strength of the economy and the development of a government. It is particularly true for the Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilisations where geography has a decided impact on the agricultural growth which ultimately lead to these areas becoming civilisations, as they now has a surplus of food, and thus strengthening their economies and presence of governance which lead to the better use of resources.


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