Monday, October 3, 2011

David Abulafia's "The Great Sea"

David Abulafia is Professor of Mediterranean History at Cambridge University.

He applied “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean, and reported the following:
My own page 99 occurs at the end of a chapter, so it is only half a page. But it concerns themes that run right through the book, which begins in 22,000 BC and ends in AD 2010. The history of the Mediterranean is the history of the movement of people and peoples, carrying goods and ideas (including religions) across the long but quite narrow span of a sea that was, to quote the final words of the book, ‘probably the most vigorous place of interaction between different societies on the face of this planet, and it has played a role in the history of human civilisation that has far surpassed any other expanse of sea’.

Here I am writing about the ancient Greek settlers who headed westwards from great trading cities such as Corinth, and trying to explain why they were willing to move from the relative safety of Greece to little-known lands far away, a question that has some resonance for readers in the United States. But I am also pointing to the next chapter by mentioning a famous Corinthian who settled not among fellow Greeks but among their powerful rivals the Etruscans, whose own lively civilization was impregnated with Greek culture. Thanks to the Greeks, the Etruscans and the Phoenicians of modern Lebanon the entire Mediterranean was opened up to trade, settlement and conquest for the first time in its history.
... In the end it is a chicken and egg question. There were many motives that might send a Greek city-dweller overseas in this period: at the top of the social scale, there were political exiles; lower down, there were merchants and shipowners with an eye on new markets; there were craftsmen who had become aware of surging demand for their products as far away as Italy and southern France; there were others in search of land to cultivate in the lands out to the west. Colonisation was not a symptom of poverty at home, but of growing wealth and the wish to build further on the early successes of Corinth and the other cities which created daughter settlements in the Mediterranean. And yet, as the career of Demaratos of Corinth showed, there were also other lands over the horizon where the Greeks could only settle as guests of powerful indigenous peoples. The most important of these peoples were the Etruscans.
Read more about The Great Sea at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue