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The Making of the Middle Sea: A History of the Mediterranean from the Beginning to the Emergence of the Classical World

by Cyprian Broodbank

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1644167,428 (4.41)6
The Mediterranean has been for millennia one of the global cockpits of human endeavor. World-class interpretations exist of its Classical and subsequent history, but there has been remarkably little holistic exploration of how its societies, culture and economies first came into being, despite the fact that almost all the fundamental developments originated well before 500 BC. This book is the first full, interpretive synthesis for a generation on the rise of the Mediterranean world from its beginning, before the emergence of our own species, up to the threshold of Classical times, by which time the "Middle Sea" was already in effect made. Thanks to unrivalled depth and breadth of exploration, Mediterranean archaeology is one of the world's richest sources for the reconstruction of ancient societies. This book is the first to draw in equal measure on ideas and information from the European, western Asian and African flanks, as well as the islands at the Mediterranean's heart, to achieve a truly innovative focus on the varied trajectories and interactions that created this maritime world. The Mediterranean combines unusual conditions in a strictly unique fashion that goes a long way towards explaining its precocious development: it is the world's largest inland sea, easily the largest of the five challenging, opportunity-rich "mediterraneoid" environments on the planet, and adjacent to the riverine cores of two of the earliest civilizations, in Mesopotamia and Egypt. No wonder its societies proved exceptional. Extensively illustrated and ranging across disciplines, subject matter and chronology from early humans and the origins of farming and metallurgy to the rise of civilizations--Egyptian, Levantine, Hispanic, Minoan, Mycenaean, Phoenician, Etruscan, early Greek--the book is a masterpiece of archaeological and historical writing.… (more)
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  mrsnickleby | Nov 12, 2023 |
One can't help but to be impressed with this sweeping synthesis of a range of time from how tectonic forces brought the Mediterranean into being, through the various "stone ages" of Human existence, up to the verge of the Persian wars with the Greek city states. In telling this story, Broodbank privileges particular adaption to environmental niches in the wine-dark sea, always carefully correlating various cultures with the climatic conditions of the time.

Perhaps the historic break point that best illustrates what Broodbank is about is his personal take on the great crack-up that saw the palace culture of the High Bronze Age overthrown. Not to dismiss the destructiveness of it all, he also is not impressed with these cultures simply because of their literacy. Broodbank sees the authoritarian tendencies of the Egyptian New Kingdom, the Hittites, and the like, as begging for an overthrow by more agile and adaptive societies; societies that laid the immediate foundation of the Classical World.

While Broodbank deserves all the praise he has received, I do have a few caveats here. One is that the earlier the period he is covering, the more aplomb that the man displays; by the time one reaches the "Iron Age" (Broodbank dislikes the old periodization based on material culture), the book starts to feel like a gallop as Broodbank races past the final turn. Also, the more reading you have done in anthropology and ancient cultures the more you're likely to get out of this work, as connections between cultures, rather than the cultures themselves, is the real subject of this book. This is also more a book that one dips into in places, rather than read it cover to cover as I did. ( )
  Shrike58 | Sep 14, 2023 |
A thorough work on the history of human civilization around the Mediterranean. Occasionally some eloquent flourish in the writing due to the author being a Cambridge boy. Was recommended to me by Dr. Brian Fagan so I suspect Broodbank is one of his Cambridge buds. Very long, but very good, there is, after all, a lot of history in the Med. ( )
  Chickenman | Sep 13, 2018 |
This is a thoroughly enjoyable, fascinating and thought provoking overview of the prehistory of the Mediterranean, the Middle Sea of the title, with sufficient detail to allow you to understand the local impact of larger trends and plenty of interesting facts.
Written for the educated layman, I had read a couple of books about Ancient Egypt, Ancient Mesopotamia and archaeology, so had a little knowledge before coming to this excellent synthesis. It is written using some technical terms, but these are explained sufficiently.
Broodbank starts by providing a framework and terms of reference for his work, then in chapter 3 covers (1.8 million to 50,000 BC, with subsequent chapters of shorter and shorter time duration as more changes over a shorter time scale with greater information available to provide detail, finishing in chapter 10 covering 800-500 BC. This may sound challenging and it is, but Broodbank's approach works very well, trying to provide sufficient overview for you to follow the overall "story arc", whilst providing sufficient specific examples for the reader to understand the practical implications of the overview.
Broodbank's approach is also, as much as possible, to tell the story for all of the Mediterranean, including Iberia and Africa, whilst admitting that often there is little archaeological evidence for Africa west of the Nile. Broodbank also emphasises that the story is not of progress, but of change, and that there are losers as well as winners as times change.
The book is well illustrated (as you would expect from Thames & Hudson) with an excellent map at the beginning of each chapter detailing the position of sites mentioned in that chapter, as well plenty of black & white illustrations and about 50 colour illustrations. I bought the Kindle version, which was good to jump around, but have also bought the hardback for the illustrations and map, which a Kindle cannot really show to best advantage.
A really readable and enlightening book. I now want to learn more, especially about the Stone Age and Neanderthals, but that is what a good book does. ( )
1 vote CarltonC | Aug 9, 2015 |
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The Mediterranean has been for millennia one of the global cockpits of human endeavor. World-class interpretations exist of its Classical and subsequent history, but there has been remarkably little holistic exploration of how its societies, culture and economies first came into being, despite the fact that almost all the fundamental developments originated well before 500 BC. This book is the first full, interpretive synthesis for a generation on the rise of the Mediterranean world from its beginning, before the emergence of our own species, up to the threshold of Classical times, by which time the "Middle Sea" was already in effect made. Thanks to unrivalled depth and breadth of exploration, Mediterranean archaeology is one of the world's richest sources for the reconstruction of ancient societies. This book is the first to draw in equal measure on ideas and information from the European, western Asian and African flanks, as well as the islands at the Mediterranean's heart, to achieve a truly innovative focus on the varied trajectories and interactions that created this maritime world. The Mediterranean combines unusual conditions in a strictly unique fashion that goes a long way towards explaining its precocious development: it is the world's largest inland sea, easily the largest of the five challenging, opportunity-rich "mediterraneoid" environments on the planet, and adjacent to the riverine cores of two of the earliest civilizations, in Mesopotamia and Egypt. No wonder its societies proved exceptional. Extensively illustrated and ranging across disciplines, subject matter and chronology from early humans and the origins of farming and metallurgy to the rise of civilizations--Egyptian, Levantine, Hispanic, Minoan, Mycenaean, Phoenician, Etruscan, early Greek--the book is a masterpiece of archaeological and historical writing.

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