Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006.02.41

Irad Malkin (ed.), Mediterranean Paradigms and Classical Antiquity.   London and New York:  Routledge, 2005.  Pp. vi, 149; ills., maps, table.  ISBN 0-415-35635-0.  $105.00.  

Reviewed by Elias K. Petropoulos, Democritus University of Thrace (

[The individual essays are listed at the end of the review.]

The precious and inestimably rich scholarly inheritance of the great French historian and intellectual of the past century, Fernand Braudel, has left an indelible stamp on international historiography, making the following words of Ruggiero Romano, who collaborated with Braudel and continued his work at the École Pratique des Hautes Études, prophetic in the most literal sense: "Fernand Braudel is surely the historian who exercised the greatest influence on modern historiography. His influence on intellectuals and the organization of thought has been particularly revealed in recent years: his thought, which seems never to grow old, is daily reborn".1 A clear example of this continuing "Braudelian" influence on attempts to throw light on basic problems of post-modern historical scholarship is the volume under review, a collective work edited by Professor Irad Malkin entitled Mediterranean Paradigms and Classical Antiquity.2 The six papers in the volume represent the proceedings from an international workshop held in Tel Aviv in 2001. They focus on the application of Mediterranean paradigms to the study of classical antiquity as a whole.

The book's very interesting theme and its objectives are made completely clear right from the start in the book's prologue (1-8), written by the editor himself. We have here an attempt "to make students of antiquity more aware of the significance of applying Mediterranean perspectives to their field. Another [purpose] is to call to the attention of historians specializing in other periods the relevance to their work of the ancient Mediterranean" (5). There is also a third reason justifying the need for the writing of this work, which is connected to the way in which Mediterranean paradigms can be applied to the study of classical antiquity, as well as where one might draw the boundaries for application. From the opening pages, Malkin establishes the limits of, and precisely defines, the method by which the entire volume was tenaciously constructed and articulated. Basically, he is seeking to show how Mediterranean paradigms multiplied and became more subtle, nuanced, complex, and valuable as prisms for observing the past. "The contributors to this volume engage in dialogue with the past while testing the applicability of Mediterranean paradigms to antiquity" (2).

At first glance, starting from the title itself, one question that spontaneously arises is the following: why the Mediterranean is concerned, and indeed why use Mediterranean paradigms in relation to classical antiquity (Greece and Rome)? The editor understandably hastens to clarify from the first page that "the Mediterranean fits the new era of globalization and supranational frameworks." The ever-timely work by Fernand Braudel, La Méditerranée et le monde méditerranéen à l'époque de Philippe II, and his theory concerning the relativity and multiple levels of historical time -- three different times, each of which, like "la longue durée," moves at its own pace- is one of modern historical scholarship's most important discoveries. While previously historians from Leopold von Ranke to Karl Marx, Max Weber, and Oswald Spengler saw history as a movement within one-dimensional time (starting from the past and moving towards the future), with Braudel's theory and his La Méditerranée, a possibility is offered for an entirely different approach to world history through a spherical prism or -- as Braudel himself would say -- for a spherical history, where there is no such phenomenon as the isolated-independent historical event.

This conclusion of a "connected history" or "connected world history" also constitutes the basic approach of the book's first article, officially authored by N. Purcell (although Purcell himself reveals in a footnote that it was co-authored with P. Horden), who is known for his monumental work The Corrupting Sea: A Study of Mediterranean History (in collaboration with P. Horden). In the present text, Purcell attempts a brief summary of this larger work's most important conclusions, advancing in parallel to an apparent redefining of a number of important positions. At the same time, the author completes the picture one had until now of the characteristics of the Mediterranean as a space, with new data and evidence. The need for this redefinition and reorientation, which I believe emerges easily and constitutes a natural consequence, is entirely understandable and indeed required, considering that five years have now passed since the publication of The Corrupting Sea. During this period, both positive and negative comments have been expressed on this work. There is no absence in the relevant bibliography of reservations on the part of scholars; clearly, such reservations demand clear answers. A characteristic example is the apparent skepticism (supported by substantial scholarly underpinnings, it should be noted) of the volume under review's closing article, signed by Greg Woolf.

According to Purcell (and apparently Horden as well), the definitive role for a correct and more complete understanding of the history of the Mediterranean is held by the crucial and debatable Mediterranean of the following fourfold model describing primary production: a) a distinctive regime of risk; b) a distinctive logic of production; c) an extreme topographical fragmentation; and d) the distinctive regime of communications (10). This model was derived primarily from the social anthropology and archaeology of the final third of the twentieth century. Within this overall system of analysis, it became obvious that "the key variable in assessing the social and economic character of any Mediterranean microregion at a given historical moment was connectivity" (10). Among the characteristics of the Mediterranean that P. stresses (mobility, diversity, fragmentedness, complexity, reduction, and study of the model of the Mediterranean on a larger scale) is also the fact that one cannot discern a specific center. The author hastens to elucidate, noting that "it has no core, no substantial tract of quintessentially Mediterranean character to which other places can somehow be peripheral" (17). Finally, P. proposes that the study of Mediterranean history be carried out on the basis of frontier studies, with the presupposition that the fluctuating character of borders through time be a constant given. In consequence, "the Mediterranean is different because this is what its edges are like" (21). Of course, this should not constitute an argument for breaking the Mediterranean up and isolating it from neighboring and surrounding zones; on the contrary, it should be a criterion for "studies which make a formal comparison between regional economies and their interactions inside and outside the Mediterranean world" (22).

The following article by Jan Morris is situated within the same ideological framework. His text is based on two fundamental questions concerning the connectedness model: a) Why now? and b) What does it mean? It appears that the word connectivity, which one encountered in the previous article, has now been replaced by the word connectedness, which has the same semantic content as the former term. Like other scholars -- on the basis of Braudel's conclusion that "the Mediterranean is exchange" -- M. inclines towards the view that the 'Mediterranean' is a geographical unit. From this view there emerges quite a number of very significant conclusions concerning the character of ancient Mediterranean history. Thus, while until the 1970s or 1980s the history of this area was seen as unfolding under a regime of absolute division and sectioning into places and periods, with particular emphasis on localisms -- as M.I. Finley's theory shows us, for example -- with the impact of the ideas of "The Corrupting Sea", historical research has completely changed its scholarly basis, having now as chief reference-point the "connectedness of the Mediterranean basin and the fluidity of the movement of people, goods, and ideas" (50). This new theoretical framework, Mediterraneanism, for whose demonstration M. relates the case of Western Sicily in antiquity (800 to 300 BC), constitutes part of a broader movement among the humanities and social sciences. In M.'s view, this movement is the response to modern globalization.3

If the view of a movement in the general direction from "inward to outward" was diffuse throughout the two preceding texts, in the following article this movement is in the exact opposite direction, that is, from the periphery of the Mediterranean towards its interior and specifically, towards Greece. Irad Malkin, without deviating from Braudel's general position as noted above, attempts to approach the theme of the creation of a Greek identity and the cultivation of a common Greek awareness among the ancient Greeks. It would seem that the vital role in this process was played by ancient Greek colonization, which, with the significant assistance of the ancient Greek religious tradition, constituted a "significant, formative historical power with currents running along the different lines of a Greek Wide Web, shaping archaic Greek society at large and making it more Greek into the bargain" (72).4 We could say that M.'s goal is to supplement Braudel's model of the Mediterranean (referred to above) and to prove that this region presents itself more as a network connecting microregions, within each of which this model is replicated. To demonstrate the validity and possible implications of some Greek networks, M. focuses on geographical categories and settlements, on pan-Hellenic and self-conscious links within the sphere of the Delphic Oracle in particular, on mythical and heroic perceptions of origins, intra-Greek ethnic identities, and the terminology of social and religious orders in Greek societies.

The thesis of the following text turns on the question of agrarian ideology in Greece during the early period, and is based on a variety of archaeological, ethnographic, and historical data and evidence from both within and outside Greece. Its author, Lin Foxhall, attempts to discover the way or ways in which elites and non-elites might have perceived agrarian landscapes in archaic Greece. F. employs the term landscape in a more specific sense, understanding the term as "the long-term interaction between human societies and the larger biological, geological, and geographical environment in which they function" (89, note 2). The author's research leads to the important conclusion that during the archaic period in Greece there must have been no shortage of land -- particularly in Southern Greece -- although in all probability it appears that there were numerous political and social restrictions placed upon its acquisition.5 Furthermore, on the basis of F.'s study, the fact that there were natural and legal limitations on the extent of land that it was possible for a family to cultivate becomes clear. This data leads to the final conclusion that a shortage of land should not be included among the causal factors leading to ancient Greek colonization (7th and 6th c. BC), something that has been established as a commonplace since the time of K. J. Beloch and P. Guiraud.6 Consequently, it is also necessary to question the demographic problem that is normally counted among the causes of the same historical phenomenon of ancient colonization (see e.g. the text of J. Morris in the book, page 49).7

Continuing the study of Mediterranean paradigms in the non-deterministic structures of Braudel, this time in North Africa (as it is today designated), an unaccustomed geographic area for classical studies, the volume's penultimate text offers researchers a new interpretive paradigm in terms of 'islands,' including religious beliefs and their dissemination. The article's author, Brent D. Shaw, has as his basic objective "to try to understand in broader strategic terms the relationships between the Maghrib and the Mediterranean in the pre-modern era" (94). The first question posed by Shaw concerns the content of the concept 'North Africa.' A major feature of the latter is the fact that it evolved in a very different fashion from the other areas of the Mediterranean to north and east, which research has not taken seriously into consideration. This has led to "vested and misguided attempts to present various phases of North African prehistory as if they were somehow analogues of developmental processes taking place elsewhere in the European parts of the Mediterranean basin" (102). Thus, North Africa is a place where the Iron Age is absent.

The scene begins to change radically and rapidly from the moment the Phoenicians and Greeks discover this region, and thus begins the reception of complex new trans-Mediterranean cultural and economic packages, in contrast to the views of Marxist historians, who present the Maghrib as an 'exploited' and 'underdeveloped' area. Viewed from a long-term perspective, the Maghrib seems to be a peculiar Mediterranean island, while North Africa should be conceived as of many islands. This peculiar insularity of Maghrib created an unusual dialectic between it and the rest of the Mediterranean, one whose consequences may be traced in the repeated themes of Maghrib history during the pre-modern era. "The pattern that emerges is one of a Mediterranean dialectic between North Africa and the Mediterranean in which the Maghrib followed a stereotypical pattern of development in beliefs as well as in economics" (109).

In all of the preceding texts, the authors' basic theoretical stance was clearly influenced by "Braudelian" thought, though as we have seen there was no absence of specific attempts to redefine or even extend the French historian's thought. In the final and obviously most differentiated article by Greg Woolf, the reliability of this theoretical foundation is severely shaken by clear and well-documented views -- which doubtless require further working-out and investigation -- and by historical and archaeological evidence. W. presents himself as skeptical about using the concept of 'Mediterranean' as a heuristic strategy for explaining religious change. He believes that "Mediterranean paradigms are not particularly helpful in accounting for change. As an explanatory context, the Mediterranean will always offer more to synchronic than to diachronic analyses" (131). The problem lies in the fact that up until now, no complete theory of 'Mediterranean religion' has been presented. Besides this, research is unable to prove that one may speak of religious forms or practices that are characteristic of and exclusive to the Mediterranean. Indeed, a number of forms of worship are "as old as anatomically modern humans" (135). Finally, from a brief evaluation of the spatial distribution of ancient cults, one understands that "the social and cultural contexts available and the previous religious history of a region seem much more important variables than the opportunities offered by connectivity within the Mediterranean world" (140).

In concluding this review of Mediterranean Paradigms and Classical Antiquity, I think that the volume is well produced and the editor has done an excellent job. These papers are of noteworthy value for their strong concern with the clarification of how Mediterranean paradigms can be applied to the world of classical antiquity, from ancient Greece to the Roman empire. It will be a required addition to any serious reference library and of continuing interest to those dealing with the wide-ranging implications of how history can be viewed more generally.


Irad Malkin, "Introduction" (1-8)

Nicholas Purcell, "The Boundless Sea of Unlikeness? On defining the Mediterranean" (9-29)

Jan Morris, "Mediterraneanization" (30-55)

Irad Malkin, "Networks and the Emergence of Greek Identity" (56-74)

Lin Foxhall, "Cultures, Landscapes, and Identities in the Mediterranean World" (75-92)

Brent D. Shaw, "A Peculiar Island: Maghrib and Mediterranean" (93-125)

Greg Woolf, "A Sea of Faith?" (126-143)


1.   Ruggiero Romano, Braudel e noi: Riflessioni sulla cultura storica del nostro tempo (Greek translation by St. Papastavrou). Athens: Hellenika Grammata. 2004: 40.
2.   Another very characteristic and quite recent example where it is obvious to what extent "Braudelian" theory and thought on interdisciplinarity have doubtlessly fertilized the modern historical-philosophical scholarly quest is: Eberhard W. Sauer (ed.), Archaeology and Ancient History: Breaking Down the Boundaries. London and New York: Routledge, 2004. For a review, see BMCR 2005.05.39.
3.   However, I would suggest that for the principle of globalization to be thoroughly comprehensible, one should perhaps seek its roots in the whole work of the great representative of classical German philosophy, Immanuel Kant -- and not exclusively in his three "Critiques" -- where the philosopher's thought, passing beyond the limitations of localisms, is already tending towards the universal and the global (at least in political scope). Naturally, the extent to which the new theoretical framework for historical research called "Mediterraneanization" is reliable and well founded will be shown in due course by history itself.
4.   This is not the first time relevant views have been expressed in the bibliography. Cf. for example Carol G. Thomas & Craig Conant, Citadel to City-State. The Transformation of Greece, 1200-700 B.C.E. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1999: 124-125. In relation to this topic, one should note the major problem, pointed out in the international scholarship from time to time, that arises from the application of the recent terms "colonization" or "colonialism" and "colony" ("kolonizatsiya" and "koloniya" in the Slavic languages) in the study of the ancient Greek 'colonial' phenomenon. As is well known, these terms refer to other situations and conditions, very different from ancient Greek reality, and I suppose that we all would agree with I. Malkin's view regarding their inappropriateness and "riskiness" (5, 60-61): E. K. Petropoulos, Hellenic Colonization in Euxeinos Pontos: Penetration, Early Establishment, and the Problem of the "emporion" Revisited. British Archaeological Reports International Series, 1394. Oxford, 2005: vii. In the Eastern European bibliography, see: G. A. Koshelenko, V. D. Kouznetsov, "Gretcheskaya kolonizatsiya Bospora v svyazi s nekotorymi obshimi problemami kolonizatsii" (Greek Colonization of the Bosporos in relation with Some General Problems of Colonization), in Otcherki Arkheologii i Istorii Bospora (Essays on Archaeology and History of the Bosporos). Moscow, 1992: 6-7 (in Russian).
5.   At this point I would like to add one further bibliographical reference, more recent than those provided by Foxhall, in confirmation of the view that there must have been unoccupied land in Southern Greece: J. F. Cherry & J. L. Davis, "Northern Keos in Context," in L. G. Mendoni & A. Mazarakis-Ainian (eds.), Kea-Kythnos: History and Archaeology. Proceedings of an International Symposium, Kea-Kythnos, 22-25 June 1994. (Editions of Centre de recherches de l'antiquité grecque et romaine. Fondation National de la recherche scientifique), vol. 27. Athens, 1998: 220-221; see also Elias K. Petropoulos, op. cit., 2005: 7.
6.   See for example Carol G. Thomas & Craig Conant, op. cit., 1999: 125-134.
7.   See the comprehensive approach of Francois de Polignac, in the "Introduction" of his "La naissance de la cité grecque. Cultes, espace et société, VII-VII siécles". Editions La Découverte: Paris. 1995.

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