The Middle Sea A History of the Mediterranean eBook ñ


The Middle Sea A History of the Mediterranean I reviewed this for someone maybe the Spectator a few years ago like this‘Its character is complex awkward and uniue’ wrote the French historian Fernand Braudel in the preface to the First Edition of his The Med and the Med World in the Age of Philip II ‘No simple biography beginning with date of birth can be written of this sea; no simple narrative of how things happened would be appropriate to its history’ But then no French historian could reckon on JJN either Historian broadcaster champion of Venice he can be viewed almost any day in the year in the Reading Room of the London Library where he bones up on his facts and writes his books Over the years these have included a history of Sicily two volumes on Venice and three on Byzantium If anyone could come up with a simple narrative of how things happened in the Mediterranean it would be the man who has travelled and guided other travellers across those wine dark seas for well over half a centuryIn the preface to this amusing absorbing and companionable history Norwich claims to be an amateur not a scholar; a claim we can take with a pinch of sel gris because he has done an impressive amount of research here taking us from the first pyramids to the outbreak of the First World War The airy disavowal is I suppose a reminder that history can be a pleasure; it helps to establish his role as a genial storyteller slipping across a surprisingly large amount of important information The trick is always to make it look easy and Norwich never falters; his tone throughout is that of a brilliant conversation with his readerIt’s a totally one sided conversation of course like the talk that opens a Conrad novel between men drawing on cigars in the warm darkness Norwich must cover the whole of classical civilization as well as the renaissance He must deal with Nelson Nice Nineveh and the War of the Sicilian Vespers It is a Muslim story a Christian story – and the cockpit of the Jewish story too Art music sailing rigs gunpowder these are a few of the obvious topics; but Julius Caesar Constantine Jesus Christ and Roger the Norman king of Sicily need their say too among a cast of characters which must run into the thousands Above all it’s the weave as any decent rug merchant from Tyre to Gadez would be likely to point out Now that the shores of the Med are coated in an almost continuous line of resinous foliage and concrete holiday houses lapped by a warm embrocation of salt algae and Factor 15 connected like a cat’s cradle by no frills airlines charter yachts ferries and motorways borders extinguished between Gibraltar and Kylithos poverty to the south prosperity to the North with euros doubling as currency the whole way round – we need reminding that the Middle Sea was until recent times a varied universe; a stew of such variety that only a fisherman’s paella could do it justiceNorwich’s answer is to toggle the focus as the centuries unwind Egypt Crete and ancient Greece the rise and fall of Rome all these are covered in the first seventy pages He devotes fifty pages to the Napoleonic escapade and its fallout in Egypt as well as Italy Spain and France He often uses great set pieces – the Battle for Malta the story of Gibraltar – as forward bases to launch raids into neighbouring territories – a techniue which allows full rein to his enthusiasm for vigorous narrative and the telling detail And when Norwich says he’s no scholar all he means is that he lacks the desire to be dispassionate The Middle Sea is a book that Braudel could never have foreseen but he might have welcomed its air of high tone gossip Piazza San Marco which Norwich knows so well was the finest drawing room in Europe; but step through the French windows and there’s a party on the lawn going on outside too Those Phoenicians? ‘Herodotus tells us that in about 600BC at the behest of Pharaoh Necho they circumnavigated the continent of Africa’ Fellow with the red beard? Kheir ed Din ‘He may not have had uite the panache of Aruj but he possessed all his brother’s ambition all his courage and – arguably – rather statesmanship and political wisdom’ Avoid the kumiss by the way ‘that fermented mare’s milk so unaccountably popular with Turks and Mongols alike’ Stout lady in a veil? Caterina wife of James of Lusignan; her father was a diplomat her uncle the Auditor of Cyprus; ‘on her mother’s side her lineage was still distinguished there she could boast as a great grandfather no less a person than John Comnenus Emperor of Trebizond’The Emperor of course is there as well; and so with the urbane Lord Norwich murmuring the introductions at your elbow you move gracefully through the best Mediterranean society ‘There is little point in speculating on how history might have been changed had Constantine Dragases indeed married Maria Brankovich’ he murmurs; but it’s worth a small aside isn’t it? The Byzantines were doomed – we shake our heads and now we’re off again with the Ottomans rolling up the eastern Mediterranean to discover the fate of the islands and the shores of Greece Everyone stands to learn things from this book However well we think we know our patch most of us have difficulty placing our knowledge in context; the march of events eludes us; whole epochs and areas are to us a closed book Our historical training and experience from school to university has been bitty and selective in direct opposition to the sort of history Norwich – or Braudel for that matter – revel in We need these grand sweeps these energetic narratives because we just don’t know enough How did the Knights of Rhodes wind up in Malta? Why did the puff go out of the Venetians? What was all jokes aside the War of Jenkins’ Ear? How did we get Gibraltar – and who won the War of Spanish Succession? Norwich is a superb narrative historian he will give you the lowdown on say the history of Greek independence or Giulia Gonzaga’s escape from Barbarossa’s clutches without distorting the facts or leaving out the jokes; his grasp of the diplomatic essence is no less assured than his command of strategy Nor does he overreach Nowhere does he really present an argument for taking Mediterranean history as a whole he assumes it just as we do People connect; battle is joined; there may not have been since the time of the Greeks a pan Mediterranean culture but the sea has always been a stage Constantine moved his capital from Rome to Byzantium 2000 miles across the sea; Roger of Sicily lit up the world with his fertile tolerance; Barbarossa uartered his sailors in Toulon with French connivance in 1546; and an English admiral Nelson destroyed the French fleet and effectively created the emperor Napoleon on the Nile in 1799Norwich leaves us with the impression that we share an old friend the wide locus of our hopes our speech our culture and ideals with ever a leavening hint of spice from the world beyond You can take your Blue Guide or your Rough Guide anywhere you like; but if you are planning to go anywhere south of the Alps or north of the Sahara to an island perhaps studded with Venetian fortresses orthodox churches cafes and pines this is your book I found this book an entertaining read which filled in a few gaps in my knowledge within its stated remit A thoroughly educated student of history would probably regard it as review material only but as a lay reader catching up on the history he never learned at school I found it a pleasant and fairly thorough introduction to the political history of the governments of the states on the Mediterranean littoral If you are also a lay reader of history for enjoyment this book may be for you However it promotes and partakes of a typical bias in history writing that has come to grate on my nerves over the years the invisibility of the life of the common man and woman their diet their tools and their homesYou will not find information on the following in this book1 How the inhabitants won salt2 How fish catch has changed how it was caught and how it affected the culture and cuisine of the region3 How the climate has been governed by the presence of the sea and how this has affected agriculture4 The economic significance of the olive5 How the fertility of the Mediterranean has been affected by the growth of civilisation6 How the Scylla and Charybdis of the the Straits of Messina entered Greek mythology and how they have influenced water borne commerce7 How shipbuilding has progressed and how the conditions on the Mediterranean influenced it8 Anything else about fish or olivesIt is basically the usual annotated list of who fought whom in order to rule over whom If you like hearing about kings it's a good read If you like hearing about cooks farmers and shipwrights it's disappointing All the same it is an entertaining introductory volume There is little point in speculating on how history might have been changed had Constantine Dragases indeed married Maria BrankovichThe Middle Sea is as generous sweeping and relentless as he Mediterranean itself might prove but likely not I am all about half measures this morning We have been given an airport history but one of a relative heft I am not ashamed to admit it filled in gaps I didn't have a clue about the fate of the Republic of Venice This is also the historical euivalent of Gosford Park as events become the focus until attention drifts elsewhere without resolution I found that compelling except when it wasn't I think this is a fair assessment of the coastal players and I don't belief anyone is ignored Norwich is obviously self conscious about tying things up at war's end and the 1919 treaties There is an illuminating epilogue in the chapter on the Suez Canal where Ike is allowed his Nah to the UK France and Israel This was a disappointing book I was really looking forward to a history of the Mediterranean which included both shores and a history of the maritime and geographical impact of the sea on the peoples living around it and really it was little than an historical travelogue The work focused on traditional histories of the people on the Med and offers nothing new If you are unfamiliar with Southern European history this is a good intro But if you are interested in a comprehensive history of the Med this isn't it The work is hamstrung by a powerful Euro centric sensibility and pretty much discounts the southern inhabitants of the sea and wholly ignores the importance and impact of the Black Sea Very disappointingbut a good noob intro to South European History Not really worth the time it would take to read I read this one little by little savoring John Julius Norwich's fluent prose and lively commentary on European history as it impinged on those countries in Europe Asia and Africa bordering on the Mediterranean the middle sea I had previously read his long narrative history of the The Normans in Sicily The Normans in the South 1016 1130 and the Kingdom in the Sun 1130 1194 but he is probably best known for his histories of Byzantium and of Venice All of these specialties of his got their due attention in this book but he cast light on other topics such as Napoleon's ill fated foray into Egypt and the breakup of empires after World War I Norwich is in some ways idiosyncratic and anecdotal in his approach he is a writer not an academic historian but throughout offers a memorable perspective in a skillful storytelling voice a modern bard of history This book is reminiscent of one of those tours where today you visit the Eiffel tower tomorrow you rush through the treasures of the Hermitage Museum and the following day you find yourself in the outer Hebrides Having time travelled through several centuries on a whirlwind tour of the history of the Mediterranean I am now suffering from a severe case of information overload Don't get me wrong; this book is excellent but there is a lot of information to process In places I became confused than enlightened simply because of my own lack of knowledge and the sheer volume of information To be honest I have managed to only absorb a small fraction of the information presented here Fortunately John Julius Norwich has written several books which provide information on specific subjects which will allow me to focus on those topics of particular interest to meEssentially this book is a summary of the history of the Mediterranean starting about 3000BC and continuing to the first half of the twentieth century condensed into 688 pages Almost anything I say is bound to be inadeuate but here is a listing of the chapters plus a few miscellaneous tidbits to give you some idea of what is discussed in this bookBeginnings Egyptians Phoenicians Crete Mycenae Troy Canaan Palestine Babylon etcAncient GreeceThe Golden Age Aeschylus Sophocles Euripides Aristophanes Socrates Plato Aristotle ”Aristotle was than a philosopher; his surviving oeuvre also contains works on ethics history science politics literary and dramatic criticism nature meteorology dreams and –a particular interest of his –zoology He was in short a polymath –perhaps the first in history And he left behind him the first true library a vast collection of manuscripts and maps which was the prototype for Pergamum Alexandria and all the other great public libraries of antiuity”Alexander the Great Ptolemy CleopatraRome The Republic Carthage Hannibal Punic Wars Sulla Pompey Marcus Licinius Crassus Gaius Julius Caesar Spartacus Mark AntonyRome The Early Empire Virgil and Horace Roman art and literature vs that of the Greeks plus Roman achievements in law science and engineeringRome’s golden age and the Emperor HadrianConstantine and Constantinople “When Constantine first set eyes on Byzantium the city was already nearly a thousand years old” JustinianGoths Huns Visigoths and VandalsThe Huns “For clothing they favoured tunics made from the skins of field mice crudely stitched together These they wore continuously without ever removing them until they dropped off of their own accord Their home was the saddle; they seldom dismounted not even to eat or to sleep”IslamThe Prophet Mohammed Charles Martel Tari Abdul Rahman and his grandson Abdul Rahman II ”Abdul Rahman’s later years were a good deal tranuil He never succeeded in imposing political unity on Spain but he was a wise and merciful ruler and a deeply cultivated man His capital city of Cordoba he transformed endowing it with a magnificent palace a famously beautiful garden and –most important of all –with the Mezuita its great mosue begun in 785 on the site of the early Christian cathedral which when completed was the most sumptuous mosue in the world and still stands today”The Alhambra Palace complex in Granada Spain ”Mathematics and medicine geography and astronomy and the physical sciences were still deeply mistrusted in the Christian world; in that of Islam they had been developed to a point uneualled since the days of ancient Greece”Adelard of BathMedieval Italy The LombardsPepin King of the FranksThe Papal States CharlemagneInvasion of Sicily by North African ArabsThe arrival of the Normans in the south and the de Hauteville family ”In Roger II Europe saw one of the greatest and most colourful rulers of the Middle Ages Born of an Italian mother raised in Sicily where – thanks to his father’s principles of total religious toleration – Greek and Saracen mingled on eual footing with Norman and Latin in appearance a southerner in temperament an oriental he had yet inherited all the ambition and energy of his Norman forebears and combined them with a gift for civil administration entirely his own” His supreme monument is the Palatine Chapel which he built during the 1130s and 1140s on the first floor of the royal palace of PalermoThe Christian Counter AttackThe crusades The Knights of St John and the Templars Louis VII of France and his ueen Eleanor of AuitaineSalah ed Din Saladin Emperor Frederick Barbarossa Richard Coeur deLion of England Philip Augustus of France etc ”Constantinople in the twelfth century was the most intellectually and artistically cultivated metropolis of the world and the chief repository of Europe’s classical heritage both Greek and Roman By its sack Western civilisation suffered a loss far greater than the sack of Rome by the barbarians in the fifth century – perhaps the most catastrophic single loss in all history”The Two DiasporasStupor MundiFrederick II Holy Roman Emperor known as Stupor Mundi ”It was impossible to find a subject which did not interest him He would spend hours not only in study but in long disputations on religion philosophy or mathematicsThe Emperor took full control of criminal justice instituted a body of itinerant judges acting in his name curtailed the liberties of the barons the clergy and the towns and laid the foundations of a system of firm government paralleled only in England with similar representation of nobility churchmen and citizens”The End of OutremerCharles of Anjou The Sicilian Vespers ”The French were already hated throughout the Regno both for the severity of their taxation and for the arrogance of their conduct and when on the evening of 30 March a drunken French sergeant began importuning a Sicilian woman outside the Church of Santo Spirito just as the bells were ringing for vespers her countrymen’s anger boiled over The sergeant was set upon by her husband and killed; the murder led to a riot the riot to a massacre Two thousand Frenchmen were dead by morning”The Close of the Middle AgesPhilip the Fair and the TemplarsThe Knights Hospitaller of St JohnThe Black Death ”It was in 1341 only twenty years after Dante’s death that Petrarch was crowned with the poet’s laurels on the Capitol but in those twenty years lay all the difference between late medieval scholasticism and the humanism of the Renaissance”The Avignon PopesThe Fall of Constantinople “Cross gave way to Crescent; St Sophia became a mosue; the Byzantine Empire was supplanted by the Ottoman; Constantinople became Istanbul At twenty one Mehmet II had achieved his highest ambition”The Catholic Kings and the Italian Adventure ”The Spanish Reconuista was making slow progress but the salient date for Spain –perhaps one of the most significant dates in all Spanish history –was 17 October 1469 which saw the marriage of Ferdinand II of Aragon to his cousin Isabella of Castile”Christopher Columbus Cristoforo Colombo of GenoaCharles VIII of France Ludovico Sforza of Milan Girolamo Savonarola Francesco Gonzaga and the BorgiasThe King The Emperor and the Sultan King Francis I of France Charles V Holy Roman Emperor and Suleyman the GreatThe Sack of Rome 1527Barbary and the BarbarossasMalta and CyprusThe siege of MaltaThe Venetians and the struggle for CyprusLepanto and the Spanish Conspiracy ”And so Lepanto is remembered as one of the decisive battles of the world the greatest naval engagement between Actium – fought only some sixty miles away – and Trafalgar”The expulsion of the Moriscos from SpainThe Spanish Conspiracy ”For some weeks before the appointed day Spanish soldiers in civilian clothes would be infiltrated in twos and threes into Venice where they would be secretly armed by Bedmar Then when all was in readiness Osuna’s galleons flying his own personal standard would advance up the Adriatic and land an expeditionary force on the Lido together with a fleet of flat bottomed barges in which that force would be rowed across the lagoon to the city The Piazza Doge’s Palace Rialto and Arsenal would be seized their armouries ransacked to provide additional arms for the conspirators and for any Venetians who might be prepared to lend them support The leading Venetian notables would be killed or held to ransom”The remaining chapters areCrete and the PeloponneseThe Wars of Succession The Siege of GibraltarThe Young NapoleonNeapolitan InterludeEgypt After NapoleonThe Settlement of Europe Freedom for GreeceMohammed Ali and North AfricaThe uarantottoRisorgimentThe ueens and the CarlistsEgypt and the CanalThe Balkan WarsThe Great WarThe PeaceThis book is written in the author's signature chatty style and there are extensive notes at the end of each chapter In addition to the bibliography there are maps family trees and illustrations Another Did Not FinishThis one's just too detailed not the same as dense to hold my interest An electrifying narrative history of the Mediterranean from Ancient Egypt to 1919 from the bestselling author of The Popes and Sicily A Short History The Mediterranean has nurtured three of the most dazzling civilisations of antiuity witnessed the growth of three of our greatest religions and links three of the world's six continents John Julius Norwich has visited every country around its shores; now he tells the story of the Middle Sea a tale that begins with the Pharaohs and ends with the Treaty of Versailles in a dramatic account of the remarkable civilisations that rose and fell on the lands of the MediterraneanExpertly researched and ingeniously executed Norwich takes us through the Arab conuests of Syria and North Africa; the Holy Roman Empire and the Crusades; Ferdinand and Isabella and the Spanish Inuisition; the great sieges of Rhodes and Malta by the Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent; the pirates of the Barbary Coast and the Battle of Lepanto; Nelson and Napoleon; the Greek War of Independence and the Italian Risorgimento The Middle Sea is colourful character driven history at its most enjoyable and is the culmination of John Julius Norwich’s distinguished career as one of the greatest enthusiasts for anecdotal history‘An expertly paced exhilarating reada landmark in popular history tellinga splendid achievement for its memorable scope and vitality This wonderfully riveting history reveals our favourite holiday destination in all its glorious epic depth’ Sunday Telegraph John Julius Norwich radio and television host and prolific author has written his most expansive work yet His past works have focussed primarily on historical Britain or particular areasperiodscivilizations around the Mediterranean; this work weaves together chronologically the rich history of that Middle Sea focussed on the several great civilizations over the centuries and millennia but supplemented with the comings and goings of many many other small and middle powers leaders and peoplesUnfortunately Norwich has chosen as the book’s subtitle “A History of the Mediterranean” and if this is truly his aim he falls short It is a history of conflict in the Mediterranean with politics and religion playing supporting roles but with culture almost non existent On this slightly smaller but still enormous canvas Norwich delivers a very richly detailed and coloured portrait His writing is clear and straightforward with not infreuent sly asides or subtle humour Given the different eras civilizations and languages covered Norwich’s expansive lexicon will have readers scrambling freuently for their dictionaries I read the book on an e reader and found myself using its built in services almost every page To complicate matters further many historically significant places are now either small villages or non existent or have had their names changed over time think Constantinople to Istanbul but hundreds of times over and on a smaller scale The included maps and illustrations are helpful but readers will still benefit from either some prior knowledge or some supplementary reference materialAn abridged list of the 33 chapter headings gives an idea of the book’s scope Ancient Greece Rome Islam The Two Diasporas The Fall of Constantinople The Catholic Kings and the Italian Adventure Barbary and the Barbarossas The Young Napoleon The Settlement of Europe Mohammed Ali and North Africa Egypt and the Canal The Great WarWhat is apparent even from this selected list is that the level of detail increases dramatically as time progresses Ancient Greece gets one chapter Rome two and Napoleon than two Norwich himself notes in explaining why he chose to end the book at the conclusion of WWI states “In the early chapters of this book a century could be covered in a page or two; towards the end of it an entire chapter may barely accommodate a decade”For readers interested in Norwich’s particular focus and who don’t expect an eual treatment of all events Norwich is an excellent guide through the Mediterranean’s rich history A long but very enjoyable read 25 starsGood god this was a slog It felt like I was reading this book forever like a realtime reconstruction of Mediterranean history But it is certainly pretty comprehensive My biggest complaint would be that there is no particular perspective or structure on the part of the historian My favorite history books are those which use a macrohistoric point of view to follow recurring themes and concepts to make a broader point Instead this ends up being a rather dull recitation of facts

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