Victor Davis Hanson: The Stagnant Mediterraneantags: Islam, Africa, Europe, National Review, Victor Davis Hanson, Mediterreanean
Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His new book, The Savior Generals, is just out from Bloomsbury Books. You can reach him by e-mailing email@example.com.
From the heights of Gibraltar you can see Africa about nine miles away to the south — and gaze eastward on the seemingly endless Mediterranean, which stretches 2,400 miles to Asia. Mare Nostrum, “our sea,” the Romans called the deep blue waters that allowed Rome to unite Asia, Africa, and Europe for half a millennium under a single, prosperous, globalized civilization.
Yet the Mediterranean has not always proved to be history’s incubator of great civilizations — Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, Florentine, and Venetian. Sometimes the ancient “Pillars of Hercules” at the narrow mouth of the Mediterranean here at Gibraltar marked not so much a gateway to progress and prosperity as a cultural and commercial cul-de-sac.
With the rise of the Ottoman Empire, the old city-state powerhouses of Italy and Greece faded from history, as the Mediterranean became more a museum than a catalyst of global change. In contrast, the Reformation and the Enlightenment energized Northern European culture, safely distant from the front line of the exhausting wars with Islam.
By the early 17th century, Northern Europeans more easily and safely reached the rich eastern markets of China and India by maritime routes around Africa. The discovery of the New World further shifted wealth and cultural dynamism out of the Mediterranean....
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