I am currently reading The Great Sea by David Abulafia, a huge undertaking as this is a serious book of 650 pages with a further extensive section of notes and indexes. This is not my Lenten Read, so I am also re-reading a couple of other books at the same time: Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series, which I read in bed and Peter Hoeg’s wonderful book Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow.
What to say about The Great Sea? This mammoth book is about the humans who have lived and developed around the Mediterranean. After the Introduction, which has a map that shows the prevailing winter and summer wind directions and the currents which have clearly influenced the spread of culture and trade, the book begins with post-pre-historical times which is the first section, titled “The First Mediterranean 22000-1000BC” and covers largely the coastal regions around the Eastern Seaboard, this section has four chapters each of which has a sea map showing the gradual spread of trade and cities. ‘Isolation and insulation, 22000BC to 3000BC’ which relates the developments around the need for and use of obsidian, a volcanic glass useful for tools; ‘Copper and Bronze, 3000BC to 1500BC’ which follows the trade in copper and development of bronze and improvements in weapons; ‘Merchants and Heroes, 1500BC to 1250BC’ the rise of the Minoan and Mycenaean civilisations and the development of writing; ‘Sea Peoples and Land Peoples, 1250BC to 1100BC’ deals mainly with conquest and defence, we meet the Philistines and the Pharoahs, and learn about the difference between peaceful migration and integration and conquest.
I haven’t said anything about the illustrations either, but they are plentiful and wonderfully chosen.
I have got a bit further than this, but feel the impact of writing about the whole book in one blog will be too difficult, for I want you to yearn to read this book for yourself.
The excitement lies in the synthesis between archaeological finds which uphold or undercut the myths and legends of Biblical history and great writers like Homer and Virgil, where they get their stories from and how much credence one should give to each, from the Israelites exodus from Egypt into the land flowing with milk and honey; or the Trojan War and the many destructions of Troy; the travels of Odysseus and many others – as exemplified with place names and examples of pottery and other artefacts, it is so brilliant… next up the Western Med and ‘The Purple Traders’: the Phoenicians, who even made it all the way to Cornwall for tin!