Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.02.26 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.02.26

Achim Lichtenberger, Constance von Rüden (ed.), Multiple Mediterranean Realities: Current Approaches to Spaces, Resources, and Connectivities. Mittelmeerstudien, 6.   Paderborn:  Wilhelm Fink; Ferdinand Schöningh, 2015.  Pp. 311.  ISBN 9783770557400.  €36.90.  

Reviewed by Gil Gambash, University of Haifa (

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

The conference that generated this edited volume took place in the spring of 2014. It was hosted by the Centre for Mediterranean Studies (ZMS), located at Ruhr University Bochum. The volume loyally mirrors the structure of the ZMS itself and of a growing number of similar institutions, which flex disciplinary boundaries to include under a single roof approaches to the Mediterranean originating in the humanities, cultural and social sciences, as well as natural and political sciences. The result is often eclectic or pixelized. Every so often, when it is integrative and synthetic, it is most rewarding.

Aptly opening both the collection and the first of the three general parts (titled ‘Spaces’) is Bernard Knapp’s ‘Prehistoric Cyprus: A “Crossroads” of Interaction?’. The editorial choice to ignite the discussion with Knapp’s article is appropriate not only given the chronological arrangement which the volume adopts, but, more importantly, because of the healthy doubt in ‘scholarly preconceptions’ (17) which is introduced to the reader early in the book, epitomized in the question mark closing the article’s title. It is not really the archaeological record itself that this essay aims to reevaluate or even analyse, but the broad generalization that has been adopted by modern research, treating Middle and Late Bronze Age Cyprus as a ‘crossroads of Civilizations’. Such an approach, claims Knapp, ascribes identity-defining processes to external influences, triggered for example by invasions or migration (24), while ignoring internal motivations and initiatives, which, to Knapp, would better explain changes in the island’s social and material reality.

Given the current historiographic effort to reevaluate and qualify such major Mediterranean themes as connectivity and mobility, Knapp’s question mark should be read as cast over all similarly-designated sites throughout the pre-modern era, and not just over prehistoric Cyprus. More broadly, it is a question mark that may be seen as confronting other generalizing conceptual approaches to the sea, including its very connecting potential. Accordingly, in the second article of the collection, Constance von Rüden wishes to challenge current notions of the sea as a mere facilitator of communication and trade — as an underground train whose sole importance to its passengers is in the places it surfaces, and not in its journey itself (33). Focusing, after Ingold,1 on individual and communal perceptions of seascapes, it is von Rüden’s aim here to demonstrate various social and historical perceptions of the sea, ultimately claiming that there is no universal phenomenology of the sea. Though she looks for examples at second millennium BCE Egypt, Ugarit, and Crete, her conclusion applies, of course, to the particular and different in every society’s perception of the sea.

In ‘Opportunity in Scarcity’, Gudrun Klebinder-Gauss and Walter Gauss attempt to explain shifts in the prosperity of the island of Aegina by means of its environmental conditions. While the starting point of the island’s economy is its scarcity of natural resources, its location in the center of the Saronic Gulf is identified as superior, though without any particular reason or telling comparanda. According to the writers, it is whenever the Aeginetans chose — circumstances allowing — to engage in intense maritime trade that the island evolved into a significant economic center, most notably in the late Early to early Late Bronze Age, and in the Archaic-Classical period. As in the articles before it, the conclusion here, while focusing on a distinct site during distinct periods, may be extrapolated to a wider paradigm, which would suggest that engagement in trade could compensate for scarcity in resources.

The next two articles in the part titled ‘Spaces’ are different in nature, in that they examine modern interpretations of the past and assume a historiographical and pedagogical approach to Mediterranean Studies. In the first article, Achim Lichtenberger analyzes the work of the classical archaeologist Guido von Kaschnitz-Weinberg, who was the founding father of archaeological structural analysis, and who explored concepts of Mediterranean art at the time Fernand Braudel published his work on the Mediterranean. Although von Kaschnitz-Weinberg’s ideas are outdated and little-heeded in current Mediterranean debates, Lichtenberger finds that much can be learned from them about the forces — internal as well as external — which shaped Mediterranean art, and, indeed, identity. The timing of the article is apt, as a translation into English by John Clarke has just appeared of von Kaschnitz Weinberg’s The Mediterranean Foundations of Ancient Art (Wilhelm Fink; Ferdinand Schöningh: 2015). In the next article, Lorraine Farrelly and Andrea Vernini examine modern solutions for introducing practical architectural changes in the urban landscape, while preserving aspects of historic identity ‘to respect the past and connect with the future’ (105). Venice and Portsmouth serve as prime examples, and, as in the choice of examples, it is not altogether clear what role the Mediterranean itself has to play in the obvious need of historic cities to find the appropriate balance between architectural preservation and development.

The second part of the book is titled ‘Resources’, and the themes it discusses begin to demonstrate the strengths of the entire volume, as they converse at multiple levels with the previous section on ‘Spaces’, and with the next and last section, titled ‘Connectivities’. In the first article, for example, Thomas Stöllner examines the influence of mineral resources on the Mediterranean economy — particularly metals during the 3rd to 1st millennia BCE — from the perspective of networks and connectivity. His conclusion that raw materials played a crucial role in the development of technological and social networks sheds revealing light on other articles in this volume, such as ‘Opportunity in Scarcity’, and it adds useful perspectives to the debate of Mediterranean exchange and the growth of the Mediterranean economy.

In Stefan Riedel’s article on the Trojan Palladion we discover that the editors of the volume refer to ‘Resources’ — just as they did with ‘Spaces’ — in a most general way, offering a discussion of narratives relating to the Palladion as a possible resource for the emergence and development of a pan-Mediterranean Greco-Roman identity. Riedel deconstructs depictions of the cult statue of the goddess Athena at Troy, evaluating in the process their relevance to the common self-perceptions of the Greeks and the Romans. His conclusion, in line with many of the volume’s articles, focuses on the particular while eyeing the general, stating that the Palladion served various roles and meanings where it was adopted — ‘as any other assumed symbol of this nature’ (164).

The next article, written by Michael Herzfeld, deals with present-day cultural stereotypes in Europe and the Mediterranean, particularly along the German-Greek frontline of recent economic upheavals. The transition from Bronze Age metals and the Palladion to Andreas Papandreou and Angela Merkel is not an easy one for those reading this volume cover to cover — an exercise that is nevertheless most recommended for scholars of the Mediterranean. The editors of the volume might have considered including an explanation for the rationale of its organization, whether in the general introduction or at the beginning of each of the three parts. Still, the role of anthropology in the current scholarly Mediterranean discourse is crucial, and Herzfeld has been a significant contributor to the debate since its resurgence. His contribution here, relying on an elaborate body of earlier publications, introduces the concept of the reciprocity of stereotypes within cultural/geo-political discourse — in the Mediterranean in our case, but also universally, one might suspect. Grossly put, Herzfeld suggests that, within a given geo- political sphere, negative cultural stereotypes, while seemingly used to attack ‘the other’, are actually employed to create a zone of ‘cultural intimacy’, where the recognition of the accusers’ own vices is made possible (177). Thus, ‘in caricaturing Greece as a cesspool of corruption Western Europeans are actually acknowledging the otherness they see within themselves as a collective entity’ (179).

Iain Chambers opens the next article in the volume with a quote by Ali Farka Touré, which traces the origins of American blues back to African melodies and rhythms. The music of the Malian musician himself was often appreciated as containing the very DNA of the blues, and the article explores this highly suggestive connection by drawing abstract maps of music and sound, whose purpose is to offer an alternative history (and historiography) for the Mediterranean. As in other currently prevailing paradigms of the region — widely represented in this volume — the Mediterranean is accepted here as a complex cultural and historical formation which provides unity in difference. It offers, for example, a diversity in music, which may nevertheless allow for distinct common traits, such as the omnipresence of string instruments — from the Oud and the guitar to the mandolin and the bouzouki (187). We are therefore urged to approach music not as a mere metaphorical form of art, but as an actual historical narrative, representing — and, indeed, unifying — the region’s many opposing features.

The last part of the volume deals with ‘Connectivities’, and the plural form of this intensely-studied phenomenon is explained in the general introduction to the volume, where Lichtenberger and von Rüden state they wish to include in their discussion ‘the diversity of possible ways, extents and dimensions of connectivity within the Mediterranean’ (11). In the first article in this part, Stefan Altekamp surveys the movement of Christian saints’ relics to and from North Africa across the longue durée, from late antiquity to the 20th century. The survey conducts an interesting dialogue with the Pirenne paradigm: on the one hand, working against it, the sea is portrayed as a sphere of lively interaction between Europe and Africa; on the other hand, in agreement with it, such connectivity is not seen to lead to cultural cohesion, and the seashores remain, according to Altekamp, rigid social and political boundary lines.

Staying with Pirenne, Sebastian Kolditz examines in the next article the Mediterranean character of the Carolingian state and culture, putting once again to the test the validity of the theory which ascribes the emergence of the world of Charlemagne to the Muslim conquest. Decades after Goitein’s A Mediterranean Society (University of California Press: 1967), there is still usefulness in such an exercise, especially when it adds fresh perspectives to the debate — in Kolditz’s case the telling correlation between the representation of the Mediterranean in the intellectual discourse and the state’s foreign relations in the Mediterranean arena.

As elsewhere in the volume, the editors choose this place to rise once again to the purely methodological level, with Martin Baumeister presenting an elaborate survey of the state of the field of Mediterranean studies (and politics) starting with the familiar background of pilgrimage, tourism, and geography in the 18th-19th centuries; continuing with the even better known historiography of the 20th century; and culminating with recent developments, from the debate on ‘Mediterraneanism’ to the Barcelona Declaration and the Mediterranean Union.

Baumeister summarizes in skeptical tones these recent efforts to create a real Euro-Mediterranean partnership. The next article, which concludes the part on ‘Connectivities’, and the volume as a whole, echoes this pessimism in highlighting current undocumented transnational mobilities in the Mediterranean, particularly those instigated by the Tunisian revolution of 2010-11. Music and digital media, and the way they voice movement, serve Heidrun Friese in offering a social background for the young men of Tunisia — the harragas — and their quest to transgress rules, rebel against a reality of corruption and injustice, and defy their exclusion from the universal right to mobility (300). This they do by burning their papers and leaving their country of origin, in an attempt to reach Europe.

The volume is no doubt edited roughly in its structure (and, on occasion, in its style). But this fact only serves to add to its significant quality as a thought-provoking assemblage of ideas, whose wide spectrum stretches to the very limit of Mediterranean multi-disciplinarity. The cumulative effect is an intriguing representation of Mediterranean realities past and present, and an inspiring exercise in the way we approach these realities in current debate.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Multiple Mediterranean Realities. Spaces, Resources and Connectivities / Von Rüden and Lichtenberger
Part 1: Spaces
Prehistoric Cyprus: A ‘Crossroads’ of Interaction? / Knapp
Making the Way through the Sea. Experiencing Mediterranean Seascapes in the Second Millennium B.C.E. / Von Rüden
Opportunity in Scarcity: Environment and Economy on Aegina / Klevinder-Gauß and Gauß
Multiple Mediterranean Forces: Guido von Kaschnitz Weinberg’s Mediterranean Art / Lichtenberger
Schizophrenic Urban Reality. The Changing Urban Landscapes of the Mediterranean Region and Developmental Influences / Farrelly and Vernini
Part 2: Resources
Mineral Resources and Connectivity in the Mediterranean and its Hinterland /Stöllner
The Trojan Palladion—Visual Expression of a pan-Mediterranean Identity in Antiquity? / Riedel
Perpetration and Perpetuation: The Persistence of Reciprocal Stereotypes in the Geo-Politics of Mediterranean Culture / Herzfeld
Mittelmeer-Blues. Musik und postkoloniale Melancholie / Chambers
Part 3: Connectivities
Crossing the Sea—The Translation of Relics to and from North Africa / Altekamp
Some Thoughts on the Carolingians and the Mediterranean—Theories, Terminology and Realities / Kolditz
The Return of Ulysses. Varieties of the ‘New Mediterranean’ between Mediterraneanism and Southern Thought / Baumeister
Transnational Mobilities, Digital Media and Cultural / Friese


1.   Ingold, T. (2010), ‘Footprints through the Weather-world: Walking, Breathing, Knowing,’ Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 16: S121-S139; Ingold, T. (2011), ‘Stories against Classification: Transport, Wayfaring and the Integration of Knowledge,’ in Being Alive. Essays on Movement and Description, London, New York: Routledge: 156-164.

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