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Mesoamerican vs. Mesopotamian Societies

Humanity’s first settlements were established in Mesoamerica and Mesopotamia. While Mesopotamia is found in the eastern portion of the continent, Mesoamerica is found in the center section. Environmental elements had a unique role in the development of both civilizations. From the Olmec of Mesoamerica through the Ubaid Period polities of Mesopotamia, the basis of rulership seems to have been familial in nature, with a few noteworthy exceptions like Netzahualcoyotl of Teotihuacan. Although the Teotihuacan rulers had both divine and human traits, it seems that their supernatural powers were what gave them the greatest control over the people under their rule. The military might of a monarch was more important than his divine right to power throughout the Ubaid Era. As a corollary, the development of writing at this period facilitated the recording of royal rule and the subsequent maintenance of absolute power. The impact of writing and record-keeping on the Ubaid Period is the subject of this paper.

Many aspects of Mesoamerican culture may be traced back to the Olmec’s, one of the region’s most influential civilizations. From 1600 B.C. to 300 B.C., they were a thriving civilization, but one that saw considerable setbacks and even withdrew from the area for a while. While southern Mexico and Guatemala were their primary strongholds, their impact could be felt all the way up to the heart of the country. The Olmec’s had a sophisticated government and economy, making their culture very unique. Archaeologists have been debating the subject of how the Olmec and Ubaid Period polities of Mesopotamia related to one another for decades. With a few notable exceptions, such as Netzahualcoyotl of Teotihuacan, it seems that the foundation of rulership was family in character from the Olmec of Mesoamerica through the Ubaid Period polities of Mesopotamia. It seems that the monarchs of Teotihuacan had a blend of divine and human qualities, with their authority resting mainly on their command of the supernatural. There is also evidence of a sophisticated economic structure, suggesting that Teotihuacan was a hub for trade and commerce (Levenson 142). It’s noteworthy to note that the Teotihuacan kings and queens seemed to have had a curious blend of divine and human qualities, with their authority relying primarily on their mastery of the supernatural. This points to the possibility that they used supernatural means to further their political agenda. As a result, it’s reasonable to assume that the employment of magic contributed to the consolidation of political power throughout this time, which might help account for the paucity of documented powerful rulers from this era.

While religious life throughout the Olmec and Ubaid eras was still focused on spiritual leaders, it was expressed in more private, introspective ways than it had been during earlier times. Many sociologists believe that the rise in social stratification necessitated a parallel rise in the need for communal belonging, which in turn prompted this change in religious expression. Mesopotamian religious rituals were also the first to be copied. In the instance of the deity Nergal, this is exactly what happens. While the Olmec did have their own pantheon of deities, the Ubaid Period polities embraced Nergal as their Underworld deity because of his association with death and devastation. This demonstrates that religious beliefs were taken seriously by public figures of the day and had an effect on public policy (Carlotto). Indeed, it is the mimicry of Mesopotamian gods that provides the first indication of Mesopotamian impact on Olmec religious traditions. For instance, the Olmec polity of San Lorenzo evolved to resemble the Mesopotamian metropolis of Ur after adopting Nergal as the deity of the Underworld. This indicates that the Ubaid Period’s leaders were interested in expanding their area of influence and picking up tips from their more developed neighbors.

There are several noteworthy similarities and distinctions between the reign of the Olmecs and the Ubaid period. Both monarchies relied on religious tenets and activities to guide their respective economies. In contrast, economic regulation played a role in the political framework of the Ubaid era. The ruler’s role in the economy and the religious activities of the Ubaid era are examples of this. The time gap between the Olmecs and the Ubaids is an excellent chance to study the origins of ancient political order. Both the Olmecs and the Ubaids employed economic control to consolidate power, making the Ubaid period a forerunner to the Olmecs’ era. This was achieved by the Olmecs by regulating the supply of essentials, and by the Ubaid by means of religious rites. Many artifacts and locations from the Ubaid era demonstrate that the king had deep ties to the economy (Levenson 142). Therefore, economic control seems to have been the basis for the ruler’s viewpoint. This was accomplished by the ruler’s participation in religious rituals and the management of scarce resources. When compared to the Olmecs, who did not place a premium on economic control, this is a significant departure. One possible explanation is that the Olmecs had access to superior material wealth.

The most present leadership from the two regions was from the religious figures.The god Tlaloc was the highest Olmec deity, whereas the goddess Ishtar was the highest Ubaid deity. Similar to how the Olmecs’ government was more centralized, the Ubaids’ was as well. The political environment of the Olmecs was highly decentralized, with substantial autonomy across areas. There was a greater emphasis on the function of the religious leader throughout the Ubaid era as a result.

In my opinion, the administration of economic systems was more crucial in justifying the political authority and prestige of rulers in these cultures. No doubt religious dogma was an influence, but it wasn’t the only one. Generally speaking, civilizations fared better than those that lacked the administrative chops to keep their economies afloat and provide their people with the basics. These civilizations also typically had authoritative central governments that could maintain peace and order. This, in turn, paved the way for technological advancements and other hallmarks of civilization that would not have been feasible in decentralized civilizations. Therefore, it is clear that economic systems, rather than religious doctrine, were the foundations upon which ancient civilizations built their political authority and position.

Works Cited

Carlotto, Mark. “Ruins in the ‘Stans: Evidence of a Lost Civilization in Central Asia.” Available at SSRN 3677452 (2020). https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3677452  

Levenson, Felix, and Mónica Pacheco Silva. “Mountains for the Gods: Mimicking Landscape with Architecture. Mesoamerican Pyramids and Mesopotamian Ziqqurats in a Cross-Cultural Examination1.” Bridging the Gap: Disciplines, Times, and Spaces in: 142. https://library.oapen.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.12657/59025/external_content.pdf?sequence=1#page=150

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