The maritime city in the Graeco-Roman perception. Carthage and Alexandria: two emblematic examples
The Sea in European History, edited by Luc François and Ann Katherine Isaacs (Edizioni Plus, 2001)
In Ancient History, from the Bronze Age to the beginning of the Middle Ages, the sea, especially the Mediterranean, was the main instrument of communication between civilizations. But it was also the place of their conflicting interactions.
In the Minoan and Mycenaean ages, in the archaic Greek civilization and in the age of Phoenician, Punic and Greek colonization, the development of seamanship brought about great development in maritime cities. These cities gained their distinct commercial role from the sea, or at least the sea enabled them to keep in contact with their home country and other cities, even if their most important economic activity was agriculture. It is not by chance that the location of ancient centres on the coast are of great importance in Plato’s famous metaphor, in which he discusses the size of the area where the Greeks live in comparison to the whole world.
He says, through Socrates, that he believes that the earth is very large and that those who dwell between the pillars of Hercules (Gibraltar) and the river Phasis (Caucasus) live in a small part of it about the sea, like ants or frogs about a pond. Art and literature inform us about sailing on the Mediterranean during these times and offer testimonies of real and mythical journeys. In these we can see the importance given to the sea as a factor for defining a city and a population. We can also see the sea’s role as one of the most efficient methods for the circulation of goods, men and ideas.