the great inland or Mediterranean Sea,
which washes the coasts of Southern Europe, Northern Africa, and Asia Minor.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, this sea, on the W. of Palestine, and therefore behind a person facing the E., is called the “Hinder Sea” (Deut.
2.20), and also the “Sea of the Philistines” (Exod.
22.81), because that people occupied the largest portion of its shores. Pre-eminently it was “the Great Sea” (Num.
34.6, 7; Josh.
1.4, 9.1, 15.47; Ezek.
47.10, 15, 20), or simply “the Sea” (1 Kings,
5.9; comp. 1 Mfacc.
In the same way, the Homeric poems, Hesiod, the Cyclic poets, Aeschylus, and Pindar, call it emphatically “the Sea.” The logographer Hecataeus speaks of it as “the Great Sea” (Fr.
349, ed. Klausen). Nor did the historians and systematic geographers mark it off by any peculiar denomination. The Roman writers call it MARE INTERNUM (Pomp. Mela, 1.1.4; Plin. Nat. 3.3
) or INTESTINUM (Sal. Jug. 17
; Flor. 4.2
; ἡ ἔσω θάλαττα, Plb. 3.39
; ἡ ἐντὸς θάλ., Strab. ii. p.121
, iii. p. 139; ἡ ἐντὸς Ἡρακλείων στηλῶν θάλ.,
2.1), or more frequently, MARE NOSTRUM (Sal. Jug. 17
; Caes. Gal. 5.1
; Liv. 26.42
; Pomp. Mela, 1.5.1; ἡ κάθ̓ ἡμᾶς θάλ., Strab. ii. p.121
The epithet “Mediterranean” is not used in the classical writers, and was first employed for this sea by Solinus (100.22
; comp. Isid. Orig.
13.16). The Greeks of the present day call it the “White Sea” (Ἀσώρι Θάλασσα
), to distinguish it from the Black Sea.
Throughout Europe it is known. as the Mediterranean.
2. Extent, Shape, and Admeasurements.
The Mediterranean Sea extends from 6° W. to 36° E. of Greenwich, while the extreme limits of its latitude are from 30° to 46° N.; and, in round numbers, its length, from Gibraltar
to its furthest extremity in Syria, is about 2000 miles, with a breadth varying from 80 to 500 miles, and, including the Euxine, with a line of shore of 4500 leagues.
The ancients, who considered this sea to be a very large portion of the globe, though in reality it is only equal to one.seventeenth part of the Pacific, assigned to it a much greater length.
As they possessed no means for critically measuring horizontal angles, and were unaided by the compass and chronometer, correctness in great distances was unattainable. On this account, while the E. shores of the Mediterranean approached a tolerable degree of correctness, the relative positions and forms of the W. coasts are erroneous. Strabo, a philosophical rather than a scientific geographer, set himself to rectify the errors of Eratosthenes (ii. pp. 105, 106), but made more mistakes: though he drew a much better “contour” of the Mediterranean, yet lie distorted the W. parts, by placing Massilia 13 1/2° to the S. of Byzantium, instead of 2 1/4° to the N. of that city. Ptolemy also fell into great errors, such as the flattening--in of the N. coast of Africa, to the amount of 4 1/2° to the S., in the latitude of Carthage, while Byzantium was placed 2° to the N. of its true position; thus increasing the breadth in the very part where the greatest accuracy might be expected. Nor was this all; for the extreme length of the Internal Sea was carried to upwards of 20° beyond its true limits.
The maps of Agathodaemon which accompany the Geography of Ptolemy, though indifferently drawn, preserve a much better outline of this sea than is expressed in the Theodosian or Peutingerian Table, where the Mediterranean is so reduced in breadth as to resemble a canal, and the site, form, and dimensions of its islands are displaced and disfigured.
The latitudes were estimated by the ancient observers in stadia reckoned from the equator, and are not so discordant as might be expected from such a method.
The length between the equinoctial line and Syracuse, or rather the place which they called the “Strait of Sicily,” is given as follows:--
|Marinus of Tyre
Their longitudes run rather wild, and are reckoned from the “Sacrum Promnontorium” (Cape St. Vincent
), and the numbers given are as the arc from thence to Syracuse:--
|Marinus of Tyre
In Admiral Smyth's work (The Mediterranean,
p. 375) will be found a tabular view of the abovementioned admeasurements of the elder geographers, along with the determination resulting from his own observations; assuming, for a reduction of the numbers, 700 stadia to a degree of latitude, for a plane projection in the 36° parallel, and 555 for the corresponding degree of longitude. (Comp. Gosselin, Geographie des Grecs,
1 vol. Paris, 1780; Geographie des Anciens,
3 vols. Paris, 1813; Mesures Itinéraires,
1 vol. Paris, 1813.)
3. Physical Geography.
A more richly-varied and broken outline gives to the N. shores of the Mediterranean an advantage over the S. or Libyan coast, which was remarked by Eratosthenes. (Strab. ii. p.109
The three great peninsulas,--the Iberian, the Italic, and the Hellenic,--with their sinuous and deeply indented shores, form, in combination with the neighbouring islands and opposite coasts, many straits and isthmuses. Exclusive of the Euxine (which, however, must be considered as part of it), this sheet of water is naturally divided into two vast basins; the barrier at the entrance of the straits marks the commencement of the W. basin, which descends to an abysmal depth, and extends as far as the central part of the sea, where it flows over another barrier (the subaqueous Adventure Bank,
discovered by Admiral Smyth), and again falls into the yet unfathomed Levant basin.
Strabo (ii. pp. 122--127) marked off this expanse by three smaller closed basins.
The westernmost, or Tyrrhenian basin, comprehended the space between the Pillars of Hercules and Sicily, including the Iberian, Ligurian, and Sardinian seas; the waters to the W. of Italy were also called, in reference to the Adriatic, the “Lower Sea,” as that gulf bore the name of the “Upper Sea.” The second was the Syrtic basin, E. of Sicily, including the Ausonian or Siculian, the Ionian, and the Libyan seas: on the N. this basin runs up into the Adriatic, on the S. the gulf of Libya penetrates deeply into [p. 2.58]
the African continent. The E. part of this basin is interrupted by Cyprus alone, and was divided into the Carpathian, Pamphylian, Cilician, and Syrian seas.
The third or Aegean portion is bounded to the S. by a curved line, which, commencing at the coast of Caria in Asia Minor, is formed by the islands of Rhodes, Crete, and Cythera, joining the Peloponnesus not far from Cape Malea, with its subdivisions, the Thracian, Myrtoan, Icarian, and Cretan seas.
From the Aegean, the “White Sea” of the Turks, the channel of the Hellespont leads into the Propontis, connected by the Thracian Bosporus with the Euxine: to the NE. of that sheet of water lies the Palus Maeotis, with the strait of the Cimmerian Bosporus.
The configuration of the continents and of the islands (the latter either severed from the main or volcanically elevated in lines, as if over long fissures) led in very early times to cosmological views respecting eruptions, terrestrial revolutions, and overpourings of the swollen higher seas into those which were lower. The Euxine, the Hellespont, the straits of Gades, and the Internal Sea, with its many islands, were well fitted to originate such theories. Not to speak of the floods of Ogyges and Deucalion, or the legendary cleaving of the pillars of Hercules by that hero, the Samothracian traditions recounted that the Euxine, once an inland lake, swollen by the rivers that flowed into it, had broken first through the Bosporus and afterwards the Hellespont. (Diod. 5.47
A reflex of these Samothracian traditions appears in the “Sluice Theory” of Straton of Lampsacus (Strab. i. pp. 49, 50), according to which, the swellings of the waters of the Euxine first opened the passage of the Hellespont, and afterwards caused the outlet through the Pillars of Hercules.
This theory of Straton led Eratosthenes of Cyrene to examine the problem of the equality of level of all external seas, or seas surrounding the continents. (Strab. 1. c.;
comp. ii. p. 104.) Strabo (i. pp. 51, 54) rejected the theory of Straton, as insufficient to account for all the phenomena, and proposed one of his own, the profoundness of which modern geologists are only now beginning to appreciate. “It is not,” he says (1. c.
), “because the lands covered by seas were originally at different altitudes, that the waters have risen, or subsided, or receded from some parts and inundated others.
But the reason is, that the same land is sometimes raised up and sometimes depressed, so that it either overflows or returns into its own place again. We must therefore ascribe the cause to the ground, either to that ground which is under the sea, or to that which becomes flooded by it; but rather to that which lies beneath the sea, for this is more moveable, and, on account of its wetness, can be altered with greater quickness.” (Lyell, Geology,
p. 17; Humboldt, Cosmos,
vol. ii. p. 118, trans., Aspects of Nature,
vol. ii. pp. 73--83, trans.)
The fluvial system of the Internal Sea, including the rivers that fall into the Euxine, consists, besides many secondary streams, of the Nile, Danube, Borysthenes, Tanais, Po, Rhone, Ebro, and Tyras.
The general physics of this sea, and their connection with ancient speculations, do not fall within the scope of this article; it will be sufficient to say that the theory of the tides was first studied on the coast of this, which can only in poetical language be called “a tideless sea.” The mariner of old had his charts and sailing directories, was acquainted with the bewildering currents and counter-currents of this sea,--the “Typhon” (τυφών
), and the “Prester” (πρηστήρ
), the destroyer of those at sea, of which Lucretius (6.422
) has given so terrific a description,--and hailed in the hour of danger, as the “Dioscuri” who played about the mast-head of his vessel (Plin. Nat. 2.437
; Sen. Nat. Quaest.
ii.), the fire of St. Elmo, “sacred to the seaman.” Much valuable information upon the winds, climate, and other atmospheric phenomena, as recorded by the ancients, and compared with modern investigations, is to be found in Smyth (Mediterranean,
pp. 210--302). Forbiger's section upon Physical Geography (vol. i. pp. 576--655) is useful for the references to the Latin and Greek authors. Some papers, which appeared in Fraser's Magazine
for the years 1852 and 1853, upon the fish known to the ancients, throw considerable light upon the ichthyology of this sea. Recent inquiry has confirmed the truth of many instructive and interesting facts relating to the fish of the Mediterranean which have been handed down by Aristotle, Pliny, Archestratus, Aelian, Ovid, Oppian, Athenaeus, and Ausonius.
4. Historical Geography.
To trace the progress of discovery on the waters and shores of this sea would be to give the history of civilisation,--“nullum sine nomine saxum.” Its geographical position has eminently tended towards the intercourse of nations, and the extension of the knowledge of the world.
The three peninsulas--the Iberian, Italic, and Hellenic--run out to meet that of Asia Minor projecting from the E. coast, while the islands of the Aegean have served as stepping stones for the passage of the peoples from one continent to the other; and the great Indian Ocean advances by the fissure between Arabia, Aegypt, and Abyssinia, under the name of the Red Sea, so as only to be divided by a narrow isthmus from the Delta of the Nile valley and the SE. coast of the Mediterranean.
“ We,” says Plato in the Phaedo (p. 109b.), “who dwell from the Phasis to the Pillars of Hercules, inhabit only a small portion of the earth in which we have settled round the (Interior) sea, like ants or frogs round a marsh.” And yet the margin of this contracted basin has been the site where civilisation was first developed, and the theatre of the greatest events in the early history of the world. Religion, intellectual culture, law, arts, and manners--nearly everything that lifts us above the savage, have come from these coasts.
The earliest civilisation on these shores was to the S., but the national character of the Aegyptians was opposed to intercourse with other nations, and their navigation, such as it was, was mainly confined to the Nile and Arabian gulf. The Phoenicians were the first great agents in promoting the communion of peoples, and their flag waved in every part of the waters of the Internal Sea. Carthage and Etruria. though of less importance than Phoenicia in connecting nations and extending the geographical horizon, exercised great influence on commercial intercourse with the W. coast of Africa and the N. of Europe.
The progressive movement propagated itself more widely and enduringly through the Greeks and Romans, especially after the latter had broken the Phoenico-Carthaginian power.
In the Hellenic peninsula the broken configuration of the coast-line invited early navigation and commercial intercourse, and the expeditions of the Samians (Hdt. 4.162
) and Phocaeans. (Herod. [p. 2.59]
1.163) laid open the W. coast of this sea. During the period of the Roman Universal Empire, the Mediterranean was the lake of the imperial city. Soon after the conclusion of the First Mithridatic War, piracy, which has always existed from the earliest periods of history to the present day in the Grecian waters, was carried on systematically by large armies and fleets, the strongholds of which were Cilicia and Crete. From these stations the pirates directed their expeditions over the greater part of the Mediterranean. (Appian, Bell. Mith.
92; Plut. Pomp. 24
.) Piracy, crushed by Pompeius, was never afterwards carried on so extensively as to merit a place in history, but was not entirely extirpated even by the fleet which the Roman emperors maintained in the East, and that cases still occurred is proved by inscriptions. (Böckh, Corp. Inscr. Graec.
nn. 2335, 2347.) The Romans despised all trade, and the Greeks, from the time of Hadrian, their great patron, till the extinction of the Roman power in the East, possessed the largest share of the commerce of the Mediterranean. Even after the Moslem conquests, the Arabs, in spite of the various expeditions which they fitted out to attack Constantinople, never succeeded in forming a maritime power; and their naval strength declined with the numbers and wealth of their Christian subjects, until it dwindled into a few piratical squadrons.
The emperors of Constantinople really remained masters of the sea. On all points connected with this sea, see Admiral Smyth, The Mediterranean,
London, 1854. [E.B.J