BMCR 2019.11.46

The Early Mediterranean World, 1200-600 BC. Brill’s New Pauly. Supplements, 9

, The Early Mediterranean World, 1200-600 BC. Brill's New Pauly. Supplements, 9. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2018. xxi, 593. ISBN 9789004339323 €299,00.

Table of contents

The volume under review is yet another excellent volume in supplement series of Brill’s New Pauly, an indespensible tool for scholars of classical antiquity. This volume was originally published in German in 2015 by Metzler Verlag ( Der Neue Pauly Supplemente 10: Frühgeschichte der Mittelmeerkulturen) and is an English translation of the German original.

The period covered in the volume, 1200-600 BCE, is more or less the Iron Age of the eastern Mediterranean, the period preceding the floruit of Classical Greek culture and history. That said, as the volume deals with cultures around the Mediterranean in which periodization is not always uniform, it is not the Iron Age per se in all regions. In addition, the title might be a bit misleading, as this hardly represents the “early Mediterranean world”, as there are a broad range of earlier cultures of the Mediterranean region, which also were of relevance for the study of the later Graeco-Roman world, which of course is the main focus of the entire New Pauly series.

Quite a few excellent synthetic overviews of the Mediterranean have appeared in recent years.1 These have been much broader in coverage, however, and written by one or two authors, and thus are of a very different character than the volume under review. The current volume, with contributions by ca. 70 authors, deals with a much more limited time frame (ca. 1200-600 BCE; though it should also be noted that in some cases, the surveys go beyond, both a bit earlier and/or later, than this). Anne Marie Wittke is to be admired and congratulated for the excellent choice of writers and the topics and chapters that were chosen, undoubtedly quite a difficult task. The volume commences with several chapters covering various theoretical and methodological issues, then goes on to deal with the cultural history of the various sub-regions of the Mediterranean, and concludes with a section with studies on choice aspects of interaction between the various cultures. All told, the volume is an impressive collection of first-rate studies, providing for the most part superb overviews of most of the relevant issues in the study of the Mediterranean region during this period. While experts in specific topics may have comments on specific details in the various chapters, I’m not aware of a better general overview on the cultures of the Mediterranean during this time frame, one that serves well as introduction and to a large extent, a statement of the state of research, in these various fields. Each chapter has a very useful bibliography, which easily enables the interested reader to delve deeper in the relevant topics. In some cases, the bibliography is predominantly in German, which might make it less useful for an English-reading constituency that the English translation of the original German of this volume might be aimed for. This is useful for advanced scholars wishing to get a feeling about areas not within their expertise, as well as advanced students who want to get a broad overview of this region during this period.

Following the front matter, including the introduction (pp. 1-13), which explains the volume and its aims, the volume has three sections:

1. “The Mediterranean region, ca. 1200-600 BC” (pp. 21-62), provides introductory essays on central methodological issues relating to this region and period. The chapters in this section are: “Landscapes of the Mediterranean World”, “Chronological Contexts”, “Cultures and Culture contacts”, and “Sources”. These chapters very nicely set the stage for the two larger sections of the volume.

2. In “Regions of the Mediterranean world” (pp. 65-391), which is the major part of this volume, overviews of eight major regions are presented: 2.1. The Iberian Peninsula (and related islands);
2.2. Southern France and Central Europe;
2.3. Italy with Sardinia and Sicily (but do note that unfortunately, there is no separate discussion of the island of Corsica);
2.4. Continental Southern Europe;
2.5. Greece and the Greek Islands;
2.6. Asia Minor;
2.7. Eastern Mediterranean World: Syria, Palaestina, northern Arabia and Cyprus;
2.8. North Africa and Canary Islands.

3. “Aspects of cultural contact” (pp. 395-509) are choice overviews of various issues relating, broadly speaking, to culture contact. Importantly, each section begins with a theoretical background, and then provides the overview of the topic. These are the chapters in this section:

3.1. Settlement and Mobility;
3.2. Society and Authority;
3.3. Religion;
3.4. War and Warfare;
3.5. Economy and Raw Materials;
3.6. History of Law in the Eastern Mediterranean World;
3.7. Cultural Technologies and Knowledge.

Following these three sections, the Appendix (pp. 513-561) offers very nice and useful chronological charts of the various regions (with important relevant bibliography), and well-made regional maps of the various parts of the Mediterranean. The volume ends with detailed indices.

As stated in the beginning, experts in the various fields, cultures and methodologies covered in the various chapters will undoubtedly have comments and criticisms of various points that were raised (or not). As an expert on eastern Mediterranean cultures, I clearly saw some of these lacunae. Examples of topics on the ancient Levant which I believe the volume would have benefited from are: a discussion of the complex transition between the Late Bronze and Iron Ages and the processes and issues involved; a more specific discussion of the so-called “Sea Peoples” phenomemon; a more detailed discussion of the thorny issues of the relationship between archaeological and various ancient texts, such as the Bible. That said, the combinations of overviews written by experts in their respective fields in a well-written, accessible and mostly up-to-date manner overrides these issues. As we live in a time of increasing micro-specialization, any attempt, and especially one as impressive as this, to bridge the gaps between the various micro-expertises and present a meta- perspective on the Mediterranean in any period is an important and noteworthy achievement. Scholars dealing with specific cultures and regions have an easy and accessible tool to see the state of the art research relating to the cultures of other regions during this period, and without a doubt gain insights for their research. To this I can add that students in the early and middle stages of their career will have in this volume an excellent overview and starting point for further study of the Mediterranean during this timeframe. This will enable them to choose topics for their study and provide comparative materials as they advance in their studies.

One of the things that I felt would have improved the volume, although it would have made this project more expensive, is been the inclusion of representative illustrations of choice aspects (sites, finds, etc.) relating to the various cultures and topics that were surveyed. Due to the broad coverage of the volume, many of the readers are undoubtedly unfamiliar with aspects of the various cultures discussed, and some illustrations might have assisted in this. Perhaps, if the publisher is interested in improving this lacuna, an online supplement to the volume, with relevant illustrations, could be produced.

Without a doubt, this volume should be on the shelf of all academic institutions in which study of the ancient Mediterranean and neighboring cultures is studied and researched. Moreover, I believe it should be on the personal bookshelves of scholars as well. That said, the very expensive price (ca. 300 Euros for ca. 600 pages) would make this somewhat difficult for many libraries and of course, for personal libraries. This though is a known-problem with many books produced by European publishing houses. Finally, I believe it will be of interest to interested lay people. In summary, I highly recommend it and I believe it will be of use for many years to come.


1. E.g.: Horden, P., and Purcell, N. 2000. The Corrupting Sea: A Study of Mediterranean History. Oxford: Blackwell; Harris, W., ed. 2005. Rethinking the Mediterranean. Oxford: Oxford University Press; Abulafia, D., 2011. The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean. Oxford University Press; Broodbank, C. 2013. The Making of the Middle Sea: A History of the Mediterranean from the Beginning to the Emergence of the Classical World. Oxford: Oxford University Press; Horden, P., and Kinoshita, S., eds. 2014. A Companion to Mediterranean History. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell.