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The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean

3.81 of 5 stars 3.81  ·  rating details  ·  811 ratings  ·  92 reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 783 pages
Published October 1st 2011 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published May 17th 2011)
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This is a "human" history of the Mediterranean Sea, from over 10,000 years ago to 2010. I saw that this had received a favorable review in the Economist so I got a copy, but was hesitant to plunge in - it is a rather long volume. I started it last Friday and could not put it down! It tells a coherent and entertaining story of five different seas that seems on target, provides a believable overall narrative, and yet includes all sorts of tidbits about people, places, and odd facts that makes book ...more
Jennifer (JC-S)
‘For over three thousand years, the Mediterranean Sea has been one of the great centres of world civilisation.’

This book, the cover tells me, ‘is the first complete history of the Mediterranean from the erection of the mysterious temples on Malta around 3500 BC to the recent invention of the Mediterranean’s shores as a tourist destination’. I was immediately fascinated: how does a history of a sea read? People interact with the sea in a number of ways, but they don’t live on it. What facts becom
Superb, superb, superb. A keeper for the rest of my life, a book I will dip in and out of, I am certain, many many times (have now read cover-to-cover twice) before I lay aside. I am an Asia historian but one can not escape the importance of Mediterranean Europe upon Asian history and culture, hence the value of this work that systematically goes into each of the great ages of the Mediterranean, its peoples, its cultures, its wars, its injustices, its epidemics, its destinies.

This is not to say
After reading Norwich's A History of Venice Venice, I looked at his other books, and saw one on the Mediterranean that looked interesting. However, most of the reviews for it said it was okay, but Abulafia's The Great Sea was much better, so I put that on my wishlist instead, and got it for Christmas.

It's a large, expansive, book, covering from prehistory to the current day (2010). Abulafia purposefully tries to limit the scope of his book by sticking to subjects that impinge directly on the Med
Good grief finally done. This really, really long. I was desperately checking how many pages I had left already by page 600 or so.

It's not entirely terrible - theres lots of interesting episodes, anecdotes and details that are fun. Ocassionally, theres even a whole few pages of coherent information about something that I actually understand - technology, language, trade, physical conditions of slaves, etc. This is actual stuff about actual stuff, and I find it interesting.

The problem is that i
I found "The Great Sea" to be an extremely enjoyable and informative book. The goal of the author, a professor at the University of Cambridge, is to trace the history of the Mediterranean Sea in terms of its periodic rises, declines, and re-organizations as "a single commercial, cultural and even (under the Romans) political zone." Specifically, David Abulafia divides the history of the Mediterranean into five periods: prehistoric, classical, medieval, great powers, and modern. The author's inte ...more
This is a magnificently written, remarkable, view changing book. It is impossible to write a thorough review of this 600+ page book (not to mention the over 100 pages of notes/references) that covers the history of the Mediterranean Sea from before written history to the present day. However, let me say that Abulafia does an absolutely astounding job of relating this history without pre-conceived notions or prejudice. The book is highly readable and an eye-opening joy. Simply by reporting on the ...more
I have enough books waiting to be read that it is really going to have to seem remarkable for me to read a 600+ book. This one failed for a number of reasons. I found his explanation of why he insisted on using BC and AD weak. He clearly just prefers that usage. But that was minor. What really ended the book for me was the following:
After explaining that he wasn't going to include Ancient Egypt because they really weren't interested in the outside world, including the Mediterranean, he then proc
Josh Hamacher
This massive tome details the history of the Mediterranean sea, starting with the first known inhabitants and going right up to 2010. Given the length of the book and the scope of the subject it's remarkably readable. Abulafia has an impressive ability to turn what could be a dry account of facts into a page-turner (at least by the standards of history books).

The focus is on larger societal trends and changes, the interactions between the peoples, cities, and nations surrounding the Mediterranea
James Kane
Professor David Abulafia, one of the most respected and established historians of the Mediterranean world in the Middle Ages, concludes this hefty volume with the claim that "[the Mediterranean Sea] has played a role in the history of human civilization that has far surpassed any other expanse of sea". Although historians of other "expanses of sea" would no doubt vociferously defend the claims of their own subject in this respect (historians have a tendency to be territorial about such things), ...more
Very impressive in its breadth, and surprisingly engaging for such a long book. He, like anyone else studying a topic as broad and deep as the Mediterranean, acknowledges his deep debt to Braudel. Nonetheless, Abulafia seeks to dismantle Braudel's longue durée view of the Mediterranean as relatively stable with a view of the societies surrounding the sea as constantly changing, divided broadly into five different "Mediterraneans" over time. I think he is largely successful in his task; at the ve ...more
The first 80 pages has been a chore to read. There's just a lot of archeological speculation, no sense of narrative at all. Everything the author writes is probably academically sound, but it's incredibly dull reading. I could of course go on in the hope that it will improve. The book might be more entertaining in later periods when it is based on written history rather than archeology, but I have lost confidence in the authors ability to entertain ,and life is just too short to force myself thr ...more
Roger Burk
I took this book along on a Mediterranean cruise, and it was the perfect accompaniment. Several of our ports I'd never heard of got mentioned from time to time (Kotor, Zadar, Koper). It's all about the ebb and flow of commerce and empires over the millennia. It's full of interesting tidbits of history. Did you know that the Russians, blocked at the Bosphorus by the Ottomans, sent a fleet from the Baltic into the Mediterranean via Gibraltar in the 18th century? After some successful operations, t ...more
The Great Sea - A Human History of the Mediterranean by David Abulafia is a fascinating book. If it was a work of fiction, or if it was more mythically inclined, I would even venture to call it an epic.

Instead the book tells us a story based on documented deeds and occurrences, which makes it all the more interesting. D.A. weaves this epoch-spanning tale in a confident and interesting manner. I could almost feel the ebbs and flows of civilisation, people squabbling over one piece of land or ano
Marea cea mare. O istorie umană a Mediteranei, de David Abulafia. O carte-expediţie

Marea cea mare. O istorie umană a Mediteranei este o istorie care impresionează ca amploare şi care se ocupă de viaţa popoarelor care au trăit, s-au războit sau au intrat în relaţii de comerţ şi schimb în jurul Mării Mediterane. De la navigatorii greci și fenicieni, istoricul avansează către episoade cu cruciaţi şi navigatori temerari, cu bătălii decisive, cu negocieri „murdare“ cu piraţii sau cu expediţii navale
Aristotle Tziampiris
A massive study but at the same time a joy to read. Learned something new almost on every page. Deserves to become the standard textbook on this topic. Attempts to guts Braudel's thesis and comes close to achieving it. very fair mind on everything that has to so with a Greece and the Greeks.
Carl Lehnen
I actually only made it halfway through this quite long book before I decided I needed a break. I found the idea very appealing, but it's such a broad history that certain chapters held more interest than others, and I felt like sometimes the author expected me to already be familiar with a lot of the history and wanted to offer a different perspective on it, so occasionally I felt at a bit of a disadvantage. But I also really like history like this that focuses on the role of geography and how ...more
Fred Gorrell
This is a book that could be a valuable reference resource to someone working on a college research project. It covers the history of the Mediterranean from the first recorded instances of human travel through modern times, in exhaustive detail. The author, a Cambridge professor, references diligently; that section at the back of this book is longer than many published works. Great pains are taken to avoid drifting from the subject at hand -- the Sea, those who traveled on it, and the ports at i ...more
The snippet that convinced me to buy this book said "If you are looking for one history book to read this summer, this is it". I suppose they meant that because it's quite dense and really more of a text book than light read for the beach (not that I thought it was a light read, but I wasn't aware of its full depths). That said, I quite enjoyed it, even if the huge history of the Mediterranean means that at times it felt like a list of trading manifests, ships, and battles.
It does presume a hig
Loring Wirbel
Capturing a new and unique slice of history in an uncommon analysis is a legitimate task in its own right, and Abulafia has done a worthy job of skipping over 25,000 years of humans in the Mediterranean, in a work condensed to 650 pages. His result is readable and intriguing enough to almost warrant five stars for the book, though there are a few problems that may be inherent in an ambition this large. His decision to segregate the historical periods into five discrete Mediterraneans makes sens ...more
Robert Morris
This is excellent history. The Mediterranean Sea is at the center of the Western and Islamic experience, and this book provides a fascinating introduction to it. The author carefully surveys what we know about the history, and not just the famous bits. Many well-documented wars, from the foundation of the Roman Empire to World War II played out in and around the Great Sea. When the sources are plentiful, Abulafia tells that story. What makes this book special is that he also tries to tell the st ...more
Alex Telander
The Mediterranean Sea has been there for a very long time. Over the millennia it has shrunken and grown, given birth to islands, then drowned then, then birthed them once again; at one point it was even a dried-up seabed for a little while until the Atlantic began pouring into it once more, filling it up like a bathtub. Humanity has also played an important part with the Mediterranean; without it our history would be very different. From the days of the Neolithic people, to the ancient Egyptians ...more
A modern, fresh look at the Mediterranean. Very comprehensive, covering the entire period from the beginnings of mankind till 2010. I thought at times, the importance of the Jewish merchants was a bit exaggerated to the detriment of other merchant nations. But given the author's heritage and the fact that the Abulafia family seems to be very old and prominent in the Mediterranean affairs, it is acceptable and understandable. I highly recommend it to all history buffs and not only.
Kristin Gleeson
This is not a book to be undertaken lightly. It's also not something you can really dip into on occasion. I read this in great chunks but gave it breaks because the detail is so overwhelming. The story of a sea that has been washing up along shores and filling lagoons and bearing all kinds of vessels for thousands of years is not going to be a short read.

Abulafia takes an expansive approach in examining the effects the Mediterranean had on various cultures and races, how its mere existence prov
Phenomenal story of all the various peoples that have inhabited the lands that touch the Med, their cultures, and interactions with each other over thousands of years. Amazing how brutal early man was...makes you wonder how we survived. Far more ancient cultures and modern day countries touch the Med them you realize. Should be mandatory reading in school. Plus it's not dry, it's a fascinating and juicy read
John Findlay
Essentially a history book about the peoples who lived around the Mediterranean Sea during different periods, and the various empires that rose and then fell. The book was quite dry at times, and the maps in the Kindle version were hopeless. A good book for history buffs but I would recommend getting a hard copy. Also very helpful to keep Googling the places and peoples that are described as you read the book.
Hans-Peter Merz
Dec 25, 2014 Hans-Peter Merz is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Nun, der Autor ist sicher kein großer Erzähler, sein fulminantes Werk liest sich streckenweise wie das Telefonbuch von Braunschweig. Erst nach einiger Leseausdauer wird aus der Fülle der ausgebreiteten Fakzen allmählich ein Bild der vielfältigen kulturellen und wirtschaftlichen Beziehungen zwischen den verschiedenen Völkern des Mittelmeerraumes. Sehr spannend ist die enorme Bedeutung ganz speziell der Keramikfunde, die inzwischen wohl hochdifferenziert aufbereitet vorliegen. Hier hätte ich mir m ...more
I'm a huge fan of history and regularly seek out non-fiction on the subject, particularly when it covers early civilizations. Abulafia's book has a much broader scope than that, reaching from the dawn of recorded history to the present day, but I found it fascinating. It's a dense book, well-written and engaging, with enough information in it that it could easily be used as a textbook for a multi-semester history course in an undergraduate program. But unlike many textbooks, the writing's rarely ...more
A lot of this book was absolutely fascinating, for example, the chaos and the end of the Bronze Age and early Semitic history, how much travel (pilgrimage)and trade there was between Christian and Muslim lands even during troubled times; the importance of Jewish traders; the importance of prevailing winds etc., but some of the chapters were more difficult, partly because the author doesn't give a lot of history of the places he deals with but mostly talks about trade. It would also have been nic ...more
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David Samuel Harvard Abulafia is a British historian with a particular interest in Italy, Spain and the rest of the Mediterranean during the Middle Ages and Renaissance.
His published works include Frederick II, The Mediterranean in History, Italy in the central Middle Ages, The Discovery of Mankind: Atlantic encounters in the age of Columbus and The Great Sea: a human history of the Mediterranean
More about David Abulafia...
Frederick II: A Medieval Emperor The Discovery of Mankind: Atlantic Encounters in the Age of Columbus The Mediterranean in History A Mediterranean Emporium: The Catalan Kingdom of Majorca Italy in the Central Middle Ages: 1000-1300 (Short Oxford History of Italy)

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