Nine chapters, each by a different authority, tackle succeeding eras from early prehistory more than 3,000 years ago to the ‘globalized Mediterranean’ of the 21st century – though it ends just before the sad plight of refugees who risk their lives on these dangerous waters today. Each section is deftly stitched together and commented on by the editor, who concludes with his own chapter. Cramming 4,000 years of complex history into few more than 300 pages is no mean feat: the Mediterranean Sea witnessed the energetic comings and goings of civilisations who used it as a battleground, from the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, and Romans to the Byzantines, Crusaders, Turks, and later European powers. Trade has also played a major role, with merchants hopping along its coastline, and braving the treacherous waters further out to link west with east and north with south. Stepping stones such as Sicily, Malta, and Sardinia serve as melting pots between Europe, North Africa, and Anatolia, as reflected in their material culture and architecture.
Lavish illustrations ensure this book is as much a delight to flick through as to read in-depth, though none are superfluous and all contribute to a better understanding of the text. More historical than archaeological, this book will nonetheless appeal to archaeologists because it draws extensively on material finds to tell its story.
Review by Caitlin McCall
The Mediterranean in History by David Abulafia (ed.) is published by Thames & Hudson (ISBN 978-0500292174)