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The broken core of the western world

With its multi-ethnic ports, the Mediterranean sea was once the centre of western civilisation. David Gilmour reviews a new work that charts its decline into fragmentation and nationalism

By David Gilmour   May 2011

This Roman mosaic from the third century depicts Ulysses tied to the mast of his ship to resist the call of the sirens

The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean by David Abulafia (Allen Lane, £30)

Scholars who write histories of the Mediterranean run a similar risk to those who describe the decline and fall of empires. Both are likely to be compared unfavourably with the established masters in their fields, in these cases Fernand Braudel and Edward Gibbon. One option open to them is iconoclasm, a brave and brazen assault on their widely revered predecessor; another, less…

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