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The Ancient Mediterranean (Meridian) Paperback – September 1, 1988
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About the Author
Michael Grant (1914-2004) was a historian whose over forty publications on ancient Rome and Greece popularized the classical and early Christian world. He studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, served in British intelligence and as a diplomat during the Second World War, and afterward became deputy director of the British Council's European division, when he also published his first book. He later returned to academia, teaching at Cambridge and Edinburgh, and serving as Vice Chancellor at the University of Khartoum and at Queen's University, Belfast.
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This book is only partly history. It is also anthropology, as Grant examines what made up the culture of these various groups. Since a lot of this is very ancient, there are not many individuals in much of this book; instead this is the story of various groups. Only late in the book, when the focus moves to Greece and then Rome do we see individual historic figures; even then, Grant only glosses over them as he examines the societies.
Because of Grant's style, this can be slow reading at times, but there is a lot of good information here. If you are interested in Greek and Roman history, this book is insufficient, but to get a context in which these great civilizations arouse, this book will work well.
1. The eastern seaboard, Syria, Phoenicia and Anatolia, can be seen as the western-most depots of the fertile crescent, which brought the ideas of Eastern culture into the Mediterranean along with prized and valuable goods.
2. Egyptian influence penetrated up the same seaboard and came into conflict with the Hittites in Anatolia, much farther north than I had perceived and brought Egyptian styles and ideas into direct contact with the Aegean.
3. The influence of the Ionian cities of Anatolia in delivering aesthetic and religious ideas from the Babylonian, Assyrian and Persian Empires, was more pervasive on mainland Greece than even the Greeks themselves perceived.
He draws on various disciplines, Archaeology, Aesthetics, ancient authors, etc., to pull together a fuller image of how the ancient influences worked. The criticism that he leaps from topic to topic and brings in too much detail does not bother me.
It changed my way of seeing Greece, my prime interest, from a unique culture centered on both sides of the Aegean, to his insight that the brilliance of Greece is in how it converted and adapted the Eastern and Egyptian influences into a distinctly original culture.
Would have been five stars but that the maps are a great disappointment. Many places referred to in the text do not appear on the maps. Important geographical features that he refers to are not indicated -rivers, valleys, mountain ranges, etc. Very frustrating and it needs a good Greek historical atlas at hand.
Despite my observations above, I still rate this book with 3 stars. It definitely has its flaws, but there is a lot of interesting material here. I enjoyed the discussion on physical characteristics of the Mediterranean Sea and surrounding lands. The information on early migrations into the area and the impact they had on the surroundings was fascinating. I learned about several civilizations that I had little knowledge of and how they influenced the later cultures like Greece and Rome.
This book isn't for most people, but for those with strong curiosity about early civilizations in the Mediterranean and how they got there you may want to try this book.