Transformations in the way early humans developed their culture and society led to the marked distinctions that define their civilization. Intellectual, cultural and material developments are the driving factors behind the formation of the Mesopotamian civilization. Civilization in the West states that the Mesopotamians had survival in mind when they began forming a civilization ; however, I believe that they envisioned a greater existence in forming a civilization. The Minoan civilization was destined to remain isolated on the island of Crete. In contrast, the Mesopotamians’ option of migrating anywhere in the Middle East proves conclusively that they sought a better life for themselves through the formation of a centralized civilization.
Mesopotamia is considered the first civilization ever created and it was no accident that it formed. One could say that the people of Mesopotamia came together to fight the powers of Mother Nature. It was obvious that Mother Nature was not on their side, whether it be the thin soil in the north or the lack of rain in the south. Mesopotamians that once settled in scattered towns and villages came together to form small settlements and towns that they used to build irrigation systems. In centralizing their population, they benefited from the additional manpower that was necessary to carry on the irrigation systems that gave them a better day to day life. Organization of an agriculture system was one of the first signs that Mesopotamia formed a civilization.
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Incorporating other Mesopotamian towns into the control of the settled towns denoted expansion. Urbanization followed expansion, thus allowing people to congregate in one designated area. However, as a result of the pressure put on the cities’ food supplies, inhabitants would pursue material development by stealing from surrounding neighbors. The benefit that the Mesopotamians reaped from forming a civilization was that they could seek protection within the walls of their settlement. In other words, they sought protection in numbers.
Before forming civilizations, the people of Mesopotamia were not isolated as the inhabitants of Crete were. Hence, there had to be certain motivational factors other than isolation that brought the Mesopotamian people together. The small cities that were so important to protection also served other purposes. Arguably, the most important purpose is that they brought together the ideas of so many people into one congregated area, a feature that the island of Crete provided without migration to cities. Within these newly formed Mesopotamian cities, people were sharing ideas along with cultural traditions. Motivation to use these ideas to advance their civilization was the reason. The desire to grow intellectually and share culture with one another shows itself in the creation of writing and literature. In this fashion Mesopotamians were able to communicate with the people around them and in turn with future generations.
The most heralded invention that came out of Mesopotamia was a system of writing known as cuneiform. Cuneiform was a series of symbols that were drawn to relate concepts. This was not only extremely crucial to linking Mesopotamia as a civilization, but it was also crucial to linking Mesopotamia to other civilizations. The symbols that were drawn could be used to represent meanings in many different languages. Mesopotamians used writing to facilitate every aspect of life, from record keeping to building political institutions. Most likely, the prospect of communicating over large distances was not thought possible. Through writing, people were able to transmit and receive ideas to and from cultures that were forming elsewhere in the world. Interest in intellectual, cultural and material development was no doubt heightened as a result, which proves that the Mesopotamians searched for a better way of life.
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As individuals became more intellectually challenged, differences and ideas began to spring up that led to advancements marked by progress in the arts and sciences, agriculture, record keeping, communication, religion, technology, writing, and the formation of complex and social institutions. For example, the Epic of Gilgamesh shows an increased ability to communicate. The point here is that advancement in all areas was further evidence that the people of Mesopotamia were not content living a basic existence.
With Mesopotamia advancing in all aspects of life at a steady rate, the traits that denote that an advanced civilization had formed were commonplace. For example, the distinction between military elite and religious authorities was drawn, consequently forming a hierarchy. However, even though Mesopotamians sought out a better life, this did not mean that a better life would be found for all. Evidence that social stratification evolved was seen in the fact that the division of labor was poorly distributed. Mesopotamians did not share equally in the benefits of this newly found civilization. The fact that the slaves did more of the work allowed the higher-ranking officials to focus their attention and reap vast benefits from the expanding society that was forming around them. The point here is that the 2000 year time gap between two civilizations did not make the Mesopotamian civilization any better than the Minoan civilization, but that the Mesopotamian civilization advanced on its own accord. No force of nature compelled it to create hierarchies or enslave people. The people did so out of desire to live a better life. An example is Hammurabi’s code. His law prescribes penalties, which vary according to the social status of the victim and the perpetrator. The code creates a picture of a prosperous society composed of three legally defined social strata: the well-to-do-elite, the mass of the population, and slaves. Each group had its own rights and obligations in proportion to its status. Even slaves enjoyed some legal rights and protection, could marry free persons, and might eventually obtain freedom.
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In contrast to Mesopotamia, Mother Nature was on Crete’s side. The location of the island was prime for trade routes and the exchange of cultures. Furthermore, the position was particularly favorable, both for the Minoan domination of the sea, and for the growth and development of their civilization. It was the crossroads linking Asia, Africa, and Europe. Having stated this one could imagine the resourceful nature the Mesopotamians must have possessed in order to thrive as a civilization. Minoans appeared to have the environment on their side, where as Mesopotamians had to search for a better life. Even though Crete maintained a superior location to Mesopotamia, it was isolation that led the Minoans to form their first civilization. Their first civilization was built as a result of location, not desire. The fact that Crete was an island meant the inhabitants had to work together towards the common good of the people, otherwise cope with a life of little technological advancement.
Material, cultural, and intellectual development was on the minds of the Minoans when they formed a civilization. For example, the island possessed an elaborate system of roads that connected the cities within the island. Inhabitants of the island were able to reach one another fairly easily and hence were able to maintain business and social ties with one another. Furthermore, bronze was used for the first time in the fabrication of tools and weapons. Its use quickly became widespread and continued to the end of the Minoan period. Advances in technology also supplemented the fortification of houses that were strongly built of stone and brick. One can see that the Minoan culture was interested in seeking out a more advanced lifestyle as well. However, it seems as if God granted them the natural advantages that weren’t available offhand to the Mesopotamians. Mesopotamians valued the same things that the Minoans did, but it was differences in how these goals were attained that separated these two civilizations.
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Man, so ill prepared to compete in a hostile world, used ingenuity and a little luck to begin the long journey toward civilization. Mesopotamians were not seeking excellence when they began their search for an improved life. They were after experiences and things not known to them. They didn’t leave their villages for reasons of survival. They left in the interest of progress. The contrast of the Mesopotamians to the Minoans conclusively proves that the Mesopotamians purposely formed a civilization. The things that the Mesopotamians saw and the things that they created were not by accident; it was willful desire to seek an improved existence. As a result, advancements in all areas of life were seen, which served to express man’s creative spirit and create civilization, as we know it today.