These artifacts prove that both civilizations could reach a level of development in which they had the time and ability to produce luxury items that were unnecessary for basic survival. The city-states of both river valleys became so prosperous that they developed extensive trade networks that offered artisanal works and surplus food in exchange for items such as precious metals not readily available to them. There is even clear archaeological evidence that both civilizations were trading with each other by 2300 B.C., most likely thanks to coastal trade routes stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Arabian Sea and beyond. The Sumerians were the first to develop a more stratified social class system, with priests and kings at the top, wealthy merchants next, and the vast majority of everyday farmers and workers filling out the third tier, with slaves at the very bottom level of society. Slaves were most likely made up of prisoners taken in wars with rival city-states or those who fell into debt slavery because they were unable to pay off their creditors. While the standardized housing units of the Harappan civilization’s cities suggest that it had a more egalitarian (equal) society, its cities were built around citadels, which served as government centers, much like the Sumerian ziggurats found in cities like Ur, Lagash, and Nippur. In both civilizations, these large and impressive structures symbolized the power of their societies and the apex of their cultural achievements. While developing along mostly similar social and economic lines, the geography of Mesopotamia and the Indus valley differed markedly in a way that significantly influenced their cultures. Both civilizations relied on major rivers to supply life-giving water and silt for growing crops in an otherwise arid environment. However, the Indus valley was much more isolated than Mesopotamia thanks to distinctive geographic features. Constituting the eastern side of the Fertile Crescent, Mesopotamia, literally the “land between the rivers” in Greek, was a vast plain traversed by the unpredictable Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which flowed southwards from the highlands of Anatolia to the Persian Gulf. Bordered by the Arabian Desert to the south and west and the foothills of the Zagros Mountains to the north and east, Mesopotamia was wide open to invasion from all directions. The Semitic peoples of the surrounding desert and hill country found wealthy Sumerian city-states to be irresistible sitting targets. Several centuries of warfare among the Sumerian city-states weakened them enough to allow for takeover by Semitic groups such as the Akkadians around 2350 B.C. and the nomadic Amorites around 2000 B.C. The flat expanse of the Mesopotamian
valley itself served as a pathway for invasion, allowing empires to expand rapidly but also leaving them open to attacks by rivals. By contrast, the Indus valley was surrounded by mountains and deserts that protected the Harrapan civilization from invasion until the Indo-Aryan migration by around 1500 B.C.
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