“The Great Sea. A Human History of the Mediterranean”, by David Aboulafia, translated from English by Olivier Salvatore, Les Bell Leiter, 758 pages, 35 euros.
Is human history governed by natural forces beyond it, such as geography, climate, and epidemics? David Aboulafia, in great sea (published in English 2011), he chose to study the Mediterranean, a seemingly immutable geophysical entity. This thing is not innocent: the British academic deals with a monument to historical thought, the thesis defended by Fernand Braudel in 1947, The Mediterranean and Mediterranean World in the Time of Philip II (Armand Cullen, 1949). For Braudel, who rejected the event-based concept of history, the physical environment has long been defined, and has always been dominant over political events. David Aboulafia reflects perspective and puts humans at the center of his story.
His ambitious choice—painting a fresco from prehistoric times to the present day—turned out to be a success. Rather than searching at all costs for the eternal Mediterranean, the historian emphasizes the diversity of experiences of exchange, conflict, and coexistence among populations at all times. Tracing continuities and divisions, he describes the development of societies with an interesting narrative, in a story brimming with character and life.
The driving role of traders
For antiquity, it presents the reader with exciting mysteries, such as those of the language and origins of the Etruscan civilization in Italy. By comparing the fascinating stories presented by antiquity with our present knowledge – many Italian traits mingled with others, of distant or still unknown origins, to form a unique culture – he shows that this assemblage of different elements was favored by the dynamism of Greek and Phoenician trade that introduced a connection between The inhabitants of the Mediterranean, their cults, aesthetics and social customs.
Because, for centuries, merchants have played a leading role. Beach-to-shore trade and communication by means of a lingua franca made up of several terms, caused the development of living standards, beliefs, and specific settlements, and influenced political struggles. This explains the characteristic plurality of the major Mediterranean ports, from Amalfi in southern Italy to the gigantic Constantinople or Alexandria. From the pen of Daoud Abu Alafia, the meandering ways of the navigators and the tricks of bankers or shipowners, including their inventions and a thousand daring, embezzlement and piracy, lend to economic phenomena all the flavor and color of Mediterranean counters.
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