OSPM Module 2: Download Complete Teaching Module (3 FILES)
OSPM Module 2: Download Complete Teaching Module (3 FILES)
Module 2: The Mediterranean and Beyond in Antiquity
Lessons in this module highlight numerous important developments that diffused into or from regions adjacent to the Mediterranean: horse riding and the wheel, food crops and spices, and three important language groups and writing systems, for example. Other lessons trace the expansion of trade networks and the cultural exchange they made possible in the arts of living, religion, war and statecraft. A lesson on Carthage and a bridge lesson on empires explore the phenomenon of empire building and how it affected power relations and ordinary people as boundaries shifted through warfare and diplomacy. The central theme of all the lessons is the scope of the Mediterranean during this period. The broad questions they pose are, “What lands and people are in contact within and beyond the shores of the Mediterranean?” and “What impact did these contacts have in creating new possibilities and challenges?”
Teachers’ Introduction to Module 2
Geographic scope: “Where is the Mediterranean” in this period?
This question refers to the question of what areas around and adjacent to the Mediterranean Sea during this period impacted the life of its inhabitants?
The Mediterranean region is an arena that is usually the primary focus of world history after the syllabus briefly touches on “pre-history.” The river valleys of the Fertile Crescent are often mistakenly viewed as the cradle of agriculture and domestication of animals, when in fact, both began in adjoining regions. River valleys could only be settled on a large scale when the diffusion of crops and mastery of simple irrigation technology had been achieved elsewhere in the highlands on the margins of the river valleys. Only then could the much larger-scale problems of major river systems be mastered.
The changes that took place in the formation of cities, large states, and empires—what is often called “civilization”—are seen by world historians as expressions of complexification and intensification. Human organization got more intense (more people, more technologically able to exploit the environment and fellow humans, more accumulating learning and exchanging), and more complicated (social specialization and stratification, monumental and sophisticated ways of doing things, human systems of law, communication/learning, and beliefs).
Crucial technologies that enabled these changes and solved their resulting problems had developed by the first millennium BCE—and many of them even by around 3000 BCE. Irrigation and water-raising technologies, mining and metallurgy with alloys of different metals, transportation breakthroughs such as riding and saddling horses and camels and hitching them to wheeled carts and chariots, and advanced weapons were just a few major developments that emerged within, outside of, and in connection with the Mediterranean region.
On the less material side, systems and tools that facilitated the recording and sharing of ideas developed after 3000 BCE, including writing systems and materials, culminating in the development of alphabetic writing systems and libraries for storing knowledge. In China, the invention of paper around this time would impact the Mediterranean region a few centuries later. Scientific, administrative, and religious learning made great strides.
Lessons in this module highlight numerous important developments that diffused into or from regions adjacent to the Mediterranean: horse riding and the wheel, food crops and spices, and three important language groups and writing systems, for example. Other lessons trace the expansion of trade networks and the cultural exchange they made possible in the arts of living, war and statecraft. A lesson on Carthage and a bridge lesson on empires explore the phenomenon of empire-building and how it affected power relations and ordinary people as boundaries shifted through warfare and diplomacy.
The central theme of all the lessons, however, is the scope of the Mediterranean during this period. The broad questions they pose are, “What lands and people are in contact within and beyond the shores of the Mediterranean?” and “What impact did these contacts have in creating new possibilities and challenges?”
Periodization: “When is the Mediterranean” in this period?
Following the World History For Us All periodization scheme (See World History: the Big Eras), this module bridges between Era 3 (10,000 to 1000 BCE) and Era 4 (1200 BCE to 300 CE), and extends somewhat beyond it. Important elements arrived in the region from around the fourth millennium, and from the second to the first millennium BCE. Complex societies built upon and intensified the foundational elements that were developed toward the end of Era 3. During Era 4, urbanization increased, giant empires arose, literacy and science expanded, and the great world religions or belief systems arose. All of these developments involved people of many different languages, ethnicities and cultures, and the Mediterranean region was involved in all of them.
The decision about where to end this era is subject to debate. World history periodization for the “classical period” often ends at 300 CE or 500 CE. The scholars who advised us on this project emphasized that neither of these dates adequately reflects important continuities in the Mediterranean region, particularly because the rise of Islam did not initially represent a rupture. The famous thesis by Henri Pirenne, according to which Mediterranean unity forged under the Roman Empire “broke up” and various invaders such as Vandals, Vikings, Muslims disrupted urbanization and trade, does not deserve to set the tone for life in the Mediterranean. Whether in the eastern regions where trade continued, or in the Iberian Peninsula and Sicily in which new connections with the east and the south were forged, or on the north African coast, important continuities with the past in trade and ways of life can be detected. A smoother transition with the so-called medieval or post-classical period might push the end-date to 700 CE or beyond, when the initial period of the spread of Islam, Arabic language, and the consolidation of Muslim states took hold. With that in mind, however, it should be remembered that the unitary Islamic state began to fragment almost as soon as it was created, especially from a Mediterranean perspective. The history of this period and region during the centuries after 700 CE were not a contest between two monoliths—Islamdom and Christendom.
Events in the Mediterranean after 500 CE involve the Sassanid and Byzantine contest, the spread and coexistence of multiple varieties of Christianity, the continuing existence of Jewish communities, and the presence of Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Mazdeans and very diverse local religious traditions. With regard to trade, the period includes the continuation of the incense and spice routes, the introduction of courtly silk manufacturing centers in the Mediterranean region, and the movement of artisans and styles in architecture, glass and mosaic techniques.
If an end date for the period must be chosen, then 700 CE would perhaps be more logical, as mentioned above, for the conquests of Iberia and southern Europe, and further afield, the conquests in South Asia. The growing Frankish influence in Western Europe, the division of Christianity between Latin-speaking and Greek-speaking parts is another factor around 700 CE.
Most importantly for students, we need to appreciate that historians no longer search for definitive ruptures like Pirenne’s Mediterranean break-up, as much as they look for elements of both continuity and change, even when major new developments appear on the horizon. Just as the Mediterranean did not cease to exist as a zone of interaction upon the voyages of Columbus and Vasco Da Gama, it did not split on a jagged axis into Occidental and Oriental halves with the rise of Islam in 632 CE.
 John Pryor, “The Mediterranean Breaks Up: 500-1000,” in David Abulafia, ed., The Mediterranean in History (London: Thames & Hudson, 2003), pp. 155-181.
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