The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean

The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean

David Abulafia

Language: English

Pages: 812

ISBN: 019931599X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Situated at the intersection of Europe, Asia, and Africa, the Mediterranean Sea has been for millenia the place where religions, economies, and political systems met, clashed, influenced and absorbed one another. David Abulafia offers a fresh perspective by focusing on the sea itself: its practical importance for transport and sustenance; its dynamic role in the rise and fall of empires; and the remarkable cast of characters--sailors, merchants, migrants, pirates, pilgrims--who have crossed and recrossed it.

Ranging from prehistory to the 21st century, The Great Sea is above all the history of human interaction across a region that has brought together many of the great civilizations of antiquity as well as the rival empires of medieval and modern times. Interweaving major political and naval developments with the ebb and flow of trade, Abulafia explores how commercial competition in the Mediterranean created both rivalries and partnerships, with merchants acting as intermediaries between cultures, trading goods that were as exotic on one side of the sea as they were commonplace on the other. He stresses the remarkable ability of Mediterranean cultures to uphold the civilizing ideal of convivencia, "living together," exemplified in medieval Spain, where Christian theologians studied Arabic texts with the help of Jewish and Muslim scholars, and traceable throughout the history of the region.

Brilliantly written and sweeping in its scope, The Great Sea is itself as varied and inclusive as the region it describes, covering everything from the Trojan War, the history of piracy, and the great naval battles between Carthage and Rome to the Jewish Diaspora into Hellenistic worlds, the rise of Islam, the Grand Tours of the 19th century, and mass tourism of the 20th. It is, in short, a magnum opus, the definitive account of perhaps the most vibrant theater of human interaction in history.

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in navigating barges and punts through the Po delta as they were in sailing the Adriatic, but several families emerged that kept tight hold of the office of dux, or Doge, mainly families owning farms on the mainland, for Venice was not yet so dominated by trade that its elites had lost interest in cultivating the soil.34 Yet even before Venice began to coalesce into a single town, trading links with far afield had begun to develop. While the trade in salt, fish and timber must not be

courtyard, though one should not be beguiled by these paintings, which are intelligent reconstructions from small fragments. Most commentators have revelled in this image of Minoan culture as happy, peaceful and respectful of women; but it is important not to impose modern values, and what we see in the frescoes is the life of the elite – a princely court, or colleges of priests and priestesses. The question whether the palaces were really, or also, temples is pertinent here. These buildings were

Ferrara’, was dedicated to her, and was aimed at both Jewish and Christian readers.46 By 1552 she had once again attracted enough attention from Inquisitors to feel uncomfortable in Italy; she set off in great style for Constantinople, with a retinue of forty horsemen to accompany her across the Balkans. The Ragusan government showed foresight in welcoming her, for once she was in Constantinople her commercial agents in Dubrovnik brought plenty of business to the town.47 The sultan permitted her

the Russian fleet’, p. 150; M. S. Anderson, ‘Great Britain and the Russo-Turkish war of 1768–74’, English Historical Review, vol. 69 (1954), pp. 39–58. 5. Anderson, ‘Great Britain and the Russian fleet’, pp. 153, 155–6, 158–9; Anderson, ‘Great Britain and the Russo-Turkish war’, pp. 44–5; Anderson, Naval Wars in the Levant, p. 281; D. Gregory, Minorca, the Illusory Prize: a History of the British Occupations of Minorca between 1708 and 1802 (Rutherford, NJ, 1990), p. 141. 6. Anderson, Naval

occasional concession to Greek hairstyles), and they built temples to Egyptian gods in archaic Egyptian styles.7 It became customary for the Ptolemies to marry their sisters, as the Pharaohs had long done, a practice that did not appeal to the Greeks. But Alexandria also became one of the liveliest centres of a reinvigorated Greek culture that spread across the Mediterranean. What is distinctive about ‘Hellenistic’ culture is that it was not the preserve of Greeks; Hellenistic styles of art

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