"The Ancient Mediterranean"

Rabee Hamdan

Lightning Talk Presented: March 12, 2014
Published: March 15, 2014

Tourist attractions? Vacation homes? In ancient times, the Mediterranean sea was not used for these reasons. There wasn't fancy five star hotels all lined up along the coast and people booking reservations to stay for the summer. It was used to enhance and improve societies.

Ancient Egypt was the first society to exploit its geographic location. Historian Paul Johnson tells us that the Egyptians "were the first people on earth to create a nation-state. This state served as the framework of a culture of extraordinary strength, assurance and durability which lasted for 3,000 years and which retained almost to the end its now unmistakable purity of style. In the Egypt of antiquity, state, religion and culture formed an indisputable unity."

Region was key in development of many modern societies and in Egypt's case it was not only bordered by the sea, it had the Nile river stretching almost 4,160 miles long from its remotest head stream, the Lavironza river in Burundi, in central Africa to its delta on the Mediterranean sea north east of Egypt. The Nile River flows northward and about tenth the size of Africa, passing through ten African countries. Two of the first commonly noted human civilizations began near the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

The Nile River valley of ancient Egypt was unified under the Pharaohs in the 4th millennium BC and civilization quickly spread through the Fertile Crescent to the east coast of the sea and throughout the Levant; which happens to make the Mediterranean countries of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Israel part of the cradle of civilization. Not only being around the Mediterranean sea and rivers benefited trade but also it kept the soil fertile and kept the agricultural state alive giving the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans a much better chance at developing. But again, it was just as important to ancient societies, that they had fast form of transportation to be able to trade and have alternate routes for merchants and travelers as well.

Without the sea being so close to Greece, it would not of had the same success as it did because its mountainous location greatly affected its agriculture. Greeks expanded throughout the Black Sea and south through the Red Sea. Greeks were active seafarers and with this success they found new independent cities at coastal sites and translated them into Greek colonies and settlements stretching all the way from western Asia Minor to southern Italy, Sicily, North Africa and even to the coasts of southern France and Spain. Again, mountainous regions of Greece were still hard to grow agriculture with the limited land the Greeks had, so relying on cash crops like olives and grapes for wine on a large scale trade was a must.

Whenever you are near the ocean or rely on ships or boats for transportation, a big problem you have to deal with is piracy. Even in today's society, pirates are still making their mark. But, in the ancient world, pirates were referred to as mankind's enemy. The oldest evidence of the pirates' existence is an inscription on a clay tablet from the time of Pharaoh Echnaton (1350 BC). This document describes a pirates' ship attacking in North Africa. There is also epigraphic evidence from the 340s from Athens. Ships sailed coast to coast in ancient Rome and Greece so it made it relatively easy for pirates to strike and take their captives. Before they held captives for ransoms they would sell them as slaves

Whichever Cilician pirate had the smart idea to take high politically powerful people into captivity did not think it through well enough. For example, the Cilician pirates are best known for capturing Julius Caesar in 78 BC and keeping him on Pharmacua till the ransom was paid. However, Caesar had his revenge by having his people stop at nothing till all of the pirates responsible and or associated with his kidnapping were tortured and killed.

As I have mentioned throughout my talk, trade was a big role in ancient times and the sea made it a lot easier than traveling by horse or camel. Expanding trade was so popular in so many societies that people not only were exchanging merchandise but also ideas, foods, clothing cultural ideas, medicine, tools. This all helped societies prosper and rise to power. Medicine that was traded along with the merchants helped make life expectancy longer providing answers to diseases that in some places were thought of as not curable. Finding shortcuts to help architecture become more stable and durable to last longer through earthquakes and flooding was huge as well.

Water has been a consistent factor in urban development and since water behavior is always going to be the same, the only thing that is different is how societies kept it in control. Hydraulic engineers give us information on how ancient societies managed water systems. For example, when modern engineers look for dams and bridges to be build in Rome, they find ancient ruins in the same location.

I was fortunate to watch Guns, Germs, and Steel in which Jared Diamond argues that geography — which controls climate, altitude, and so much more — is responsible to the unequal distribution of wealth in the world. This makes perfect sense to me after doing this research on geography because whichever society was able to take a natural occurrence — like taking water from a dam and turn it into a natural energy source — held the key to survival in ancient times.

Works Consulted

    DeBrohun, Jeri. "Power Dressing in Ancient Greece and Rome." History Today 51.2 (2001): 18. Academic Search Complete. Web. 2 Feb. 2014.

      "Power Dressing in Ancient Greece and Rome offers a look at the meanings expressed in the style of clothes and personal adornment adopted by men and women in the ancient Greece and Rome. Contexts in which the ancients manipulated the expressive the potential of clothing and adornments; Modifications and manipulations of the term dress and fashion by the ancients; Innovations in ancient dress."

    Golia, Maria. "As Egyptian As The Sphinx?" Middle East 403 (2009): 60-61. Academic Search Complete. Web. 2 Feb. 2014.

      "Family Clothing Stores, discusses the issue concerning the less acceptance of galabiyya as the national costume in Egypt. It mentions that majority of the Egyptian males favour the local costume as their daily dress, however they are refused admittance to all public places. The author notes that galabiyya is a symbol that brought the self perceptions of the society with its post-revolutionary ups and downs."

    King, Helen. "Food As Symbol In Classical Greece." History Today 36.9 (1986): 35. Academic Search Complete. Web. 2 Feb. 2014.

      "Humans do not simply eat anything that they find is edible. We can find patterns in cultures from the way they eat and also beliefs as well. For example, in the Greek culture only men can cultivate yam gardens."

    Koutsoyiannis, D., et al. "Urban Water Management In Ancient Greece: Legacies And Lessons." Journal Of Water Resources Planning & Management 134.1 (2008): 45-54. Academic Search Complete. Web. 2 Feb. 2014.

      "The evolution of urban water management in ancient Greece, beginning in Crete during the early Minoan period, resulted in a variety of remarkable developments on both the mainland and islands of Greece. Important developments include the implementation of hygienic living standards, advanced hydraulic technologies for water transportation, constructions for flood and sediment control, and sustainable urban water management practices, which can be compared to modern-day practices. During oligarchic periods the emphasis was on the construction of large- scale hydraulic projects, whereas in democratic periods the focus of water management was on sustainable small-scale, safe, and cost-efficient management practices and institutional arrangements related to both the private and public sectors. Such practices and institutions are relevant even today, as the water-related problems of modern societies are not very different from those in antiquity."

    López-Bertran, Mireia, and Agnès Garcia-Ventura. "Music, Gender And Rituals In The Ancient Mediterranean: Revisiting The Punic Evidence." World Archaeology 44.3 (2012): 393-408. Academic Search Complete. Web. 2 Feb. 2014.

      "Music and sounds are usually essential elements in rites, and bodies play an essential role in bringing together music and rituals. These issues focusing on Punic terracotta figurines playing musical instruments recovered from the island of Ibiza (fifth to third centuries bc)"

    Semple, Ellen Churchill. "Climatic And Geographic Influences On Ancient Mediterranean Forests And The Lumber Trade." Annals Of The Association Of American Geographers 9.(1919): 13-40. Academic Search Complete. Web. 2 Feb. 2014.

      "Discusses the climatic and geographic influences on ancient forests and the lumber trade in the Mediterranean Basin. Type of vegetation whose common physiognomy reflects the prevailing climatic conditions; Location of the Mediterranean vegetation; Fluctuations in the life conditions of the region"

    Golia, Maria. "As Egyptian As The Sphinx?" Middle East 403 (2009): 60-61. Academic Search Complete. Web. 2 Feb. 2014.

      "Family Clothing Stores, discusses the issue concerning the less acceptance of galabiyya as the national costume in Egypt. It mentions that majority of the Egyptian males favour the local costume as their daily dress, however they are refused admittance to all public places. The author notes that galabiyya is a symbol that brought the self perceptions of the society with its post-revolutionary ups and downs."






Nile River Valley