Ancient Maritime World

Workshop – Summer School – Research

The Maritime World of Classical Antiquity

From the Late Bronze Age to Late Antiquity the history of classical antiquity is to a large extent a maritime history and in numerous ways influenced by the Mediterranean Sea, its conditions and opportunities. The mare mediterraneum was, of course, the main factor for the emergence and development of countless coastal settlements, their cultural influence on neighbouring regions as well as the spread of ancient culture in general. It gave rise to several maritime powers, most prominent e.g. the Phoenicians, Athenians and Carthaginians, as well as to piracy in its various forms. With imperial Rome and its political supremacy over the Mediterranean world, the opportunities and prosperity of a large, interconnected and mainly maritime – i.e. globalised world then became apparent for the first time on this geographical scale. But also before and for centuries, the sea enabled easy connections over long distances and a largely free exchange of goods and culture. And because of the sea, one can certainly speak of a globalised Mediterranean world already at a very early stage.

Nevertheless, various conditions in individual areas of the Mediterranean could hardly have been more diverse. Unlike today, navigation and trade routes were highly dependent on regional and supra-regional meteorological conditions as well as on the specific geographical environment, while respective routes were in turn influenced by the hinterland of coastal regions, their resources and trade routes over land. Furthermore, the coastal geography determined access to the sea and the location of corresponding settlement, while the omnipresent sea itself was always both a connecting and a dividing element. It is these diverse maritime influences that had a far-reaching impact on the cultural and historical development of antiquity – a development in which the simultaneity of the non-simultaneous was not the exception, but the rule. 

The Ancient Maritime World

The Ancient Maritime World takes a closer look at the maritime context of classical antiquity. It focuses on both the complexity of cultural and historical developments as well as the underlying and determining maritime factors in particular cases and regions. It is obvious that early epochs like the Mycenaean or Archaic periods offered specific and, in many ways, different historical settings than the Roman Empire or Late Antiquity. And socio-historical conditions, exploitation of natural resources or technical know-how are just some of the varying factors that influenced the course of history in different ways, while geographical and maritime conditions, on the other hand, remained largely the same throughout antiquity.

In this regard, a critical perspective from the sea can provide a more comprehensive understanding of cultural-historical developments in ancient times, their respective conditions and consideration. It also offers a clear view on the significance that geographical and maritime settings had for ancient Mediterranean civilisations. And it certainly offers a quite practical understanding of ancient time and space as well as of the opportunities, difficulties and dangers of the Mediterranean Sea with its various characteristics and its overall presence in the world of classical antiquity.

Above: Towards Kythnos

International Workshop / Summer School – Ancient Maritime World VII

Towards Troy

Sept 2024