The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean 1st Edition, Kindle Edition

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Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, October 2011: In this expansive yet detailed historical gem, David Abulafia covers the full course of human history on the Mediterranean. Beginning more than 20,000 years ago with Cro-Magnon cave dwellers on Gibraltar and stretching to the present, Abulafia treats the Great Sea as “the Liquid Continent,” a place peopled and traveled—where trade, cultural exchange, and empire-building were forces as key to life as currents, tides, and weather patterns. The book deftly illustrates how the Mediterranean was always big enough to keep cultures apart, thus allowing them the space to flourish as unique entities, but that it was never so big that differing cultures couldn’t interact. The result is an epic story of trade and conflict, showing how differences in language, religion, law, and other human flashpoints sparked so much of what we think of today simply as culture. --Chris Schluep

Amazon Exclusive: Author Q&A with David Abulafia

Author David Abulafia

Q: What role did Greek mythology and Homeric poetry play in creating a lasting conception of the Mediterranean?

A: The seas described in Homer's Odyssey are a strange amalgam of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, of east and west. Circe the sorceress seems to live in the east, where the sun rises, while Scylla and Charybdis are often identified with the straits between Sicily and mainland Italy.

Despite those muddles, Homer does provide fascinating testimony to knowledge of the seas among the Greek colonists in Ionia (what is now eastern Turkey), whose dialect was the basis of Homeric Greek. He knew about Phoenician sailors and was not very complimentary about them. Above all, he placed Odysseus' kingdom at the western limits of Greece, on Ithaka, which he portrayed as an island where it was natural to know how to handle boats. What we see is a dawning conception of the extent of the Mediterranean and of the importance of the sea to the early Greeks.

Q: Beyond the historical, military significance of the Mediterranean, what happened culturally that we tend to overlook?

A: The Mediterranean has been a meeting place of many different ethnic and religious groups, inhabiting its shores and islands--in remote antiquity, Greeks, Etruscans, Phoenicians; in later centuries, Jews, Christians and Muslims. Gathering in the port cities around the Mediterranean, such as ancient Marseilles, medieval Palermo and Alexandria, modern Livorno and Smyrna, these groups have interacted not just at the level of high culture but in everyday life. On the one hand you have the transmission of medical and astronomical knowledge from east to west in the Middle Ages, often via Muslim and Christian Spain, and on the other hand you have the peaceful interaction of traders and sailors doing business and respecting one another in the great ports of the Mediterranean. Often they were able to cross the boundaries between warring competitors for control of the sea, moving between Christian and Muslim lands under the protection of local rulers.

Q: Americans and Europeans have vastly different conceptions of the Mediterranean Sea, with most Americans thinking of the Sea and its shores primarily for its appeal as a tourist destination. What role, if any, has the Mediterranean had in shaping the United States?

A: The American involvement in the Mediterranean at the start of the nineteenth century is a fascinating story--not just an episode but something that decisively altered the Mediterranean world. By defeating the rulers of the Barbary regencies (Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli), who detained their trading ships and sailors and demanded extortionate sums of money for their release, the American navy helped clear the Mediterranean of the five-century-long scourge of piracy. This was the first foreign war of the United States after independence, and it was now that the U.S. Navy came into existence. In the 20th century, the strategic significance of the Mediterranean in the Cold War brought the U.S.A.F. to Wheelus airfield in Libya and the conflict between Israel and its neighbors has also brought the U.S. Navy into the Mediterranean. Strategically, the Mediterranean has remained important to the U.S., as we see from the latest events in Libya.

Q: Will the Mediterranean continue to play a key role in the global economy of the 21st century?

A: Much depends on the relationship between northern and southern Europe, and between Europe and North Africa. With the Greek economy in desperate straits and the Italian and Spanish economies under severe strain, and with the Arab countries in turmoil, there is a big question mark over the assumption that rapid economic growth will continue in the region. One solution may be to build closer bonds between northern and southern Mediterranean countries, including free trade concessions to Tunisia and Libya. Tunisia possessed the strongest economy in Africa and it would be a disaster to ignore its great economic potential. Another question arises over Chinese investment and involvement in the Mediterranean, which has begun to accumulate. So we are looking at a particularly uncertain future.


The greatest living historian of the Mediterranean -- Andrew Roberts A towering achievement. No review can really do justice to the scale of Abulafia's achievement: in its epic sweep, eye for detail and lucid style. -- Dominic Sandbrook * Sunday Times * Brocaded with studious observation and finely-tuned scholarship, the overall effect is mesmerising. -- Ian Thomson * Independent * A memorable study, its scholarship tinged with indulgent humour and an authorial eye for bizarre detail. -- Jonathan Keates * Sunday Telegraph * The story is teeming with colourful characters, and Abulafia wears his scholarship lightly, even dashingly. -- Simon Sebag Montefiore * Financial Times *

Product details

  • File Size: 22563 KB
  • Print Length: 849 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (June 1, 2011)
  • Publication Date: June 1, 2011
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00551S1HI
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Screen Reader: Supported
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #294,474 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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