The History of Medieval Europe

By Lynn Thorndike; James T. Shotwell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
THE ROMAN EMPIRE

THE Roman Empire included all the lands bordering upon the Mediterranean Sea, which was for long the great thoroughfare of civilization. Speaking in a general way and allowing for local differences and irregularities, the climate of this basin and the vegetation of its coasts are uniform. That is to say, the coastal region north of the Sahara Desert belongs with the southern coasts and peninsulas of Europe rather than with the bulk of the African continent; and the French Mediterranean littoral is more like the coasts of Spain and Italy than it is like the rest of France. It is, indeed, easy to cross from Africa to Spain, or to Italy by way of Sicily, while the islands of Cyprus and Crete form stepping-stones from Egypt to Greece and from Syria to the Ægean Sea and west coast of Asia Minor. Owing to the narrowness of the Straits of Gibraltar and to their shallowness as well, -- since a sunken ridge stretches under water from Spain to Africa, -- neither tide nor cold ocean currents exert much influence in the Mediterranean. The air is sunny and the water warm, but it is very salt because of rapid evaporation. The tide. less sea leaves the mouths of rivers obstructed by silt and unfit to serve as ports; and the coast-line changes with pass. ing years. In ancient times it was difficult to put out to sea from a harbor without a favoring wind; on the other hand, small vessels could be drawn up on almost any sandy beach and left there without fear of their being carried off by the tide. Cæsar lost most of his fleet in one of his expeditions to Britain when he imprudently left his ships drawn up in this way on an exposed shore. Even the Mediterranean, however, could be stormy enough in winter, so that the ancients did little navigation at that time of year. Fishing is not a very important industry in the Mediterranean, but in

The Mediterranean Basin

-19-

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