Synopses & Reviews
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.
"Known as the 'Corrupting Sea' for the way the dense web of commercial relationships spanning its shores inexorably changes local cultures, the Mediterranean has seen the rise and fall of many of the world's great empires, aided in the spread and propagation of the three great monotheistic faiths, and carried countless millions of immigrants and adventurers to a new life or a watery grave. This epic tome by Abulafia, a professor of Mediterranean history at Cambridge, is a political history of the Liquid Continent another of the sea's monikers tracing how the spread of ideas, goods, cultures, and armies across the sea has helped shape the modern world. Engagingly written, precisely documented, and liberally studded with tales of the fantastic and absurd, the book has much to offer the casual reader and is indispensible for specialists in the region. In such an expansive work, however, occasional frustration regarding the rapidly changing cast of thousands is inevitable, and nearly every page contains minor details deserving their own entire books. Abulafia's central thesis, that human cultures shape their own destinies rather than live beholden to the currents, climate patterns, and natural ecosystems described by Fernand Braudel, the other great chronicler of the Mediterranean, is convincing. Maps. (Oct.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"This magnificent book ...is teeming with colourful characters. Over the course of nearly 800pp, we follow faiths; sail with fleets; trade with bankers, financiers and merchants; raid with pirates and observe battles and sieges; watch cities rise and fall and see peoples migrate in triumph and tragedy. But at its heart, this is a history of mankind - gripping, worldly, bloody, playful - that radiates scholarship and a sense of wonder and fun, using the Mediterranean as its medium, its watery road much travelled." -- Simon Sebag-Montefiore, Financial Times
"This memorable study, its scholarship tinged with indulgent humour and an authorial eye for bizarre detail, celebrates the swirling changeability at the heart of that wonderful symbiosis of man and nature which once took place long Mediterranean shores" -- Jonathan Keates, The Sunday Telegraph
"An Everest of a book, brocaded with studious observation and finely-tuned scholarship...the effect is mesmerising, as detail accumulates meticulously." -- Ian Thomson, The Independent
"David Abulafia's marvellous history of the Mediterranean is an excellent corrective to oversimplified views of geopolitics." -- The Economist
"New, highly impressive book...magisterial work..." -- Prospect
"Engagingly written, precisely documented, and liberally studded with tales of the fantastic and absurd, the book has much to offer the casual reader and is indispensible for specialists in the region." -- Publishers Weekly
"Abulafia writes in a popular style with an eye for interesting sidelights on history, such as the backdating of the Trojan War by Homer and Virgil, and quirky asides about modern Mediterranean culture...this comprehensive, scholarly study contains much food for thought." -- Kirkus
"A comprehensive, fair-minded history." -- The National Interest
"The Great Sea deserves a place on the shelf next to Braudel's classic work." -- Shelf Awareness
"David Abulafia's new book about the Mediterranean Sea, The Great Sea, has everything a major work of history requires. An important theme, solid research, magnificent writing and a perceptive insight into human nature...As an introduction to this story - and as a cautionary tale of what happens when the darkness in the human soul crowds out the light - there is no better place to start than David Abulafia's The Great Sea." - The California Literary Review
"For both specialists and interested general readers, this book will be a treasure and become the standard work on the topic." -- Booklist Online
"Book of the Year" selection, History category -- he Economist
"David Abulafia, Professor of Mediterranean History at Cambridge University, brings historians and interested readers the ultimate biography of this unique sea, as seen and used and experienced by the people who lived and still live on its long coastline."-- Bookbanter
"This magnificent history, at once sweeping and precise, spans the period from 22,000 B.C. to 2010 A.D. to explicate the history of human activity on and around the Mediterranean Sea... [Abulafia] is a superb writer with a gift for lucid compression and an eye for the telling detail...He has taken on a grand subject, and has related and interpreted it with authority, exactitude, and verve. His work deserves a wide and appreciative audience." -- The Atlantic
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, and absorbed one another. In The Great Sea David Abulafia gives a sweeping account of these grand exchanges and their effects on the rise and fall of empires through the ages.
Mediterranean history has often been written as the history of the lands surrounding the sea, but Abulafia will focus his narrative on the stories of its transitory human inhabitants: the merchants, pirates, and war fleets who have sometimes gained control of the sea's exits and entrances-the Straits of Gibraltar, the Dardanelles, or the Ionian Sea-and patrolled the intervening waters to ensure that ships from rival empires or cities do not intrude. Other significant groups who have crossed back and forth include refugees, missionaries, and tourists--for example, the Jewish Diaspora that spread by sea into the Hellenistic and Roman worlds. And no history of the Mediterranean would be complete without telling of the numerous and more permanent peoples who made their homes in the many islands moored in the sea, from Sicily, the largest, to strategic dots such as the Spanish bases off Morocco, and the mass of tiny islands out of which Venice came to life.
The Great Sea is above all the history of human interaction across a space that brought together many of the great civilizations of antiquity in a "grand marketplace for the exchange of goods and ideas."
Connecting Europe, Asia, and Africa, the Mediterranean Sea has been for millennia the place where religions, economies, and political systems met, clashed, influenced and absorbed one another. In this brilliant and expansive book, 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 re-crossed it.
Ranging from prehistory to the 21st century, The Great Sea is above all a history of human interaction. 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."
Now available in paperback, The Great Sea is the definitive account of perhaps the most vibrant theater of human interaction in history.
About the Author
is Professor of Mediterranean History at Cambridge University and the author of The Mediterranean in History
Table of Contents
Part 1: THE FIRST MEDITERRANEAN
1: Isolation and insulation: island communities before metal
2: Copper and Bronze
3: Merchants and Heroes
4: Sea Peoples and Land Peoples
Part 2: THE SECOND MEDITERRANEAN
1: The purple traders
2: The heirs of Odysseus
3: The triumph of the Tyrrhenians
4: Towards the Garden of the Hesperides
6: The Lighthouse of the Mediterranean
7: 'Carthage must be destroyed'
8: 'Our Sea'
9: Old and new faiths
Part 3: THE THIRD MEDITERRANEAN
1: Mediterranean troughs
2: Crossing the Boundaries
3: The great sea-change
4: 'The profit that God shall give'
5: Ways across the Sea
6: The fall and rise of empires
7: Merchants, mercenaries and missionaries
8: Serrata - Closing
Part 4: THE FOURTH MEDITERRANEAN
1. Would-be Roman emperors
2. Transformations in the West
3: Holy Leagues and unholy alliances
4: Akdeniz - the battle for the White Sea
5: Interlopers in the Mediterranean
6: Diasporas in despair
7: Encouragement to others
8: Views through the Russian prism
9: Deys, beys and bashaws
Part 5: THE FIFTH MEDITERRANEAN
1: Ever the twain shall meet
2: The Greek and the unGreek
3: Ottoman exit
4: A tale of four and a half cities
5: Mare Nostrum - again
6: A fragmented Mediterranean
7: The Last Mediterranean
Appendix: The physical Mediterranean