“The Second Mediterranean, 1000BC to AD600”

Continuing adventures on The Great Sea… you don’t need to read the whole of this blog, I have condensed about 200 pages into 2000 words!  One thing I haven’t included is the sea battles, they are many and varied sometimes involving over to 200 vessels on each side – hell bent on ramming each other and all the crew (generally slaves chained to their benches) and contents to the bottom of the sea. This is ten times the number of ships at the Battle of Trafalgar.

‘The Purple Traders, 1000BC to 700BC’ as promised we have now reached the Phoenicians, sailor/traders who amongst other things discovered a way of making a dye from the shells of molluscs, a dye that could vary from deep purple to rose madder AND expanded outwards, out of sight of land, away across the Mediterranean to the West and even out beyond to the Atlantic and were also the source of the alphabet which became the basis of the Greek writing system. They founded Carthage, and established bases in Sicily, and beyond in Ibiza, and Southern Spain, trading as far as Cadiz and ultimately Cornwall.

‘The Heirs of Odysseus, 800BC to 550BC’ covers the steady growth of a sense of Hellenic identity as the threat from the Persians and bitter conflicts with the Etruscans and Carthaginians at sea, which is not to say that they suddenly coalesced into one big unity, more that there was a spreading out of a people who shared the same gods, culture and myths around their ancestors.  For the Greeks, the destruction of Troy began a migration around the Mediterranean which after many adventures awoke in them a longing for home, as exemplified in the writing of Homer and Hesiod.

‘The Triumph of the Tyrrhenians, 800BC to 400BC covers the same period but from the point of view of the land we now call Italy, the rise of Etruscan civilisation, which was part of a wider movement that spread out to Sicily, Sardinia and Spain. Cultural inspiration came from various sources, similar to that experienced in Greece strengthened by exposure to the Ionians and the Phoenicians.  The emergence of the Etruscan cities was much more than a phenomenon of the Tyrrhenian Sea, the Adriatic too was opened up to the movement of people and goods and there was increased interconnectedness throughout the Mediterranean.

‘Towards the Gardens of the Hesperides, 1000BC to 400BC’ covers the spread of culture out towards the western most end of the Mediterranean,  where the Greeks believed the mysterious Gardens of the Hesperides lay and where Atlas held up the sky by the Pillars of Hercules.  Improvements in ship building were making travel by sea safer and easier (relatively speaking); the quinqueremes of Nineveh etc. made it possible to travel further with larger cargoes, while defeated enemy captives were indentured into servitude on the galleys (think Spartacus, though he came later) and trade in grain, wine, olive oil as well as marble and pottery have all been demonstrated by deep sea discoveries of wrecks all around the Mediterranean. Piracy was a problem, as was travel in winter nevertheless it is clear that by the 8th Century the whole area was crisscrossed with shipping lanes.

‘Thalassocracies, 550BC to 400BC’ takes us into the realms of empire building abroad and democracy at home.  Thalassa meaning sea in Greek, this sections deals with city-state alliances between and against the principle powers – Greeks, Spartans, Etruscans and Phoenicians, all trading and occasionally fighting on land and sea, switching sides and generally behaving badly – which led to the Peloponnesian War, a war in which imperial ambition became fatally enmeshed with economic questions and which changed the tenure of the supply routes that brought grain to Greece from Sicily, Africa and the Black Sea and gave rise to the imperial ambitions of a Macedonian king.

‘The Lighthouse of the Mediterranean, 350BC to 100BC’ and Alexander, of course! Which hardly needs any expansion, as it deals with the founding of Alexandria (completed after Alexander’s death) and the establishment of a steadily growing cultural and intellectual centre on the Nile delta including Greeks, Jews, Spaniards and the building of The Library and the Pharos, the famous lighthouse, thus making Carthage and Alexandria the most important sea-ports on the Mediterranean.

‘Carthage must be Destroyed, 400BC to 146BC’ a view which was presented to the Senate in Rome by Cato.  This chapter follows directly on with growing Carthaginian power threatening the Roman hegemony, leading to the Punic Wars.  Three of them in succession spread over a period of 120 years and involving pretty nearly everyone anyone has ever heard of: Hannibal, Scipio, Cato, and the most famous cities: Athens, Syracuse, Rome and Carthage.

‘Our Sea, 146BC to AD150’ a halcyon period: pax Romana and all that. Here are the great Roman Caesars: Pompey,Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra. Roman power prevails, the triumvirate parcel out mare nostrum ie. the whole Mediterranean: Octavian taking the West, Mark Antony Egypt and the East and Lepidus Africa, following on from this the weakening of Rhodes, which fell to Roman power after the battle of Actium.  We also meet Paul of Tarsus from a description in the Acts of the Apostles of a disastrous winter voyage as a prisoner of the Romans. Two major ports are built on the Italian coast Puteloi and Ostia, bringing staples such as grain and luxuries from as far away as India, and foodstuffs from all over the area.

‘Old and New Faiths, AD 1-450’ you do not need a degree in history or Biblical study to realise that this covers the beginnings of Christianity, the founding father of which is in reality Paul of Tarsus, since before the spread of the Christian Gospel to non-Jews, the movement was regarded as an offshoot of Judaism. But it was not until Constantine adopted the faith that it spread throughout the Roman Empire, and with Constantine you also have the founding of Byzantium.  Moreover, you have, especially before the Council of Nicaea, variations of Christianity most notably the Arian strand, which does not accept the co-equality of the Trinity, but an hierarchical structure whereby The Father and The Son and The Holy Spirit descend one from the other.  There is also a continual struggle for supremacy between Judaism and Christianity, Judaism was not a spent force simply because of the destruction of The Temple at Jerusalem, it was the beginning of a greater diaspora as evidenced through a surviving letter to Augustine of Hippo from his friend Severus, Bishop of Minorca.  Towards the end of this chapter one is beginning to see the seeds of destruction with the arrival of the Goths and Vandals.

‘Dis-integration, AD 400-600’ ever since Edward Gibbon wrote The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, there has been a discussion as to whether this is not either an over-simplification or a misinterpretation of events.  The process so far as it affects the Mediterranean was both more gradual and more divisive.  During the period 400 to 800 the split was both economic and political, and divided as per usual between the Eastern seaboard and the Western seaboard. The disintegration affected both areas in a similar way, however the Eastern Mediterranean, the Byzantine states recovered more quickly than the Western areas of Italy and Spain and to some extent France, all of which continued to be convulsed by invasions from the North and plague, often accompanied by famines. Trade continued, and contacts between the West and the East were not totally severed as has been shown with the discovery of several wrecks dating from around 600 the cargoes of which show a definite exchange of goods from one area to another.


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