|Annals of the MBC - vol. 5 - n'
1 - March 1992
THE INFLUENCE OF THE ANCIENT MEDITERRANEAN
CIVILIZATION ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF HUMAN CULTURES
Athens University, Athens, Greece opening
Lecture, Athens MBC Meeting, November 1991
SUMMARY. An account is given
of the contributions made to Mediterranean culture by all the peoples that have populated
the various countries, at different moments of history.
The ancient Mediterranean civilization, from ancient times to the beginning of the
Middle Ages, is a result of remarkable historical events, and it is one of the most
distinguished civilizations which have influenced positively a wide development of the
Many favourable circumstances have contributed to this, especially
the privileged geographical location of the Mediterranean area between 3 continents, the
mild and healthful climate, the inheritance of important civilizations of Mesopotamia,
India and China, the facile communication by maritime routes, as well as the invention of
Here in parenthesis I mention what the Greek philosopher Plato states in - his writings:
"people established themselves around the seashores of the Mediterranean Sea, like
the frogs which do the same around the water".
This lecture will therefore briefly describe in chronological order the ancient
Mediterranean populations and their principal contributions, upon which the human cultures
of modern times subsequently developed.
First I will mention the Egyptians.
The ancient Egyptians were the first in techniques of building, architecture to combine
sculpture and painting.
Their techniques were formulated prior to 3000 B.C. The pyramid of a
sovereign was begun as soon as he ascended the throne. In painting, a monumental treatment
was given to designs, many in colour. There was a rapid development of the stylistic
conventions which characterize Egyptian art, throughout its history.
The Minoan Civilization on the island of Crete
The Cretan Mediterranean civilization, on the island of Crete, one of the world's earliest
civilizations dating to about 8000 B.C., was followed by the Minoan and Aegean period,
contemporaneously with the first dynasty of Egypt (3000 B.C.).
Crete developed its greatest prosperity about 1é00,-~ B.C., when it
played an important role in ancient Greece. The famous palaces of Cnossus, Phaestos and
other cities, their indelible colours preserved as in the original state, exhibit
architecture and engineering of the highest order.
The Phoenicians, who achieved a high level of activity in 1200 B.C., when they became
great traders, colonizers and explorers, established settlements in many parts of the
Mediterranean Sea. They invented the alphabet, which was later taken over by the Greeks,
and the use of symbols for sounds, in place of clumsier cuneiform shapes or hieroglyphics,
was a tremendous advance. At that time, the Greeks also colonized parts of Asia Minot,
-North Afric,&; Italy, Sicily and Gaul.
The Lydians, who were of Indo-European origin, became in Asia Minor prosperous
merchants, and producers of gold. They knew the art of smelting and working gold, which
was washed down by the sand of the river Pactolus. Their last ruler was Croesus.
Among the relatively small nations w~re the Hebrews, who after a long history of about
4000 years came to the Land of Promise (Canaan), and by 1.000 B.C. a flourishing state had
been created. Their supreme achievement was in religion, and the Bible became a precious
legacy to Western civilization. Frequently moving from place to place, they absorbed local
civilizations, to take advantage of their knowledge. Judaism, an older religion, gave
basic principles to the younger faiths, Christianity and Islam.
The island of Cyprus
Excavation has proved the existence of cultures from 4000-3000 B.C. In the ancient period
after 1500 B.C. contact with Greece greatly influenced Cypriot civilization. The
Phoenicians settled in 800 B.C., and later the Assyrians and Egyptians. Under Alexander
the Great (333 B.C.) a Greek civilization was installed. Then Cyprus became a centre of
commerce, and a centre of the cult of Aphrodite. The Apostles Paul and Barnabas brought
Christianity to Cyprus.
Syria and Lebanon
The Canaanites, following the Amorites, called Phoenicians by the Greeks because of the
red and blue (purple) colour of their merchandise, entered Syria and Lebanon in the middle
of the 3rd millenium B.C. Later, by 2000 B.C., they settled in the region. Their later
activity, as merchants and colonizers along the seashores of the Mediterranean, and the
invention of the alphabet have already been described at the beginning of this lecture.
Later, the Hebrews, the Assyrians, Alexander the Great, and, finally, the Romans conquered
In Lebanon, from ancient times (1500 B.C.), Beirut was the capital,
at that time named Beirutus, During the Roman period, it shared the general prosperity,
when a famous law school flourished there.
In Syria, the Seleucids, after Alexander the Great, formed colonies, successfully
introducing the Hellenistic civilization. Christianity later exerted its influence.
Subsequently, largely converted to Islam, Damascus became the capital of Syria and a
period of great splendour began.
The Arabs are mentioned first in Assyrian inscriptions of the 9th century B.C. The Arabs
founded a vast empire, which at its height stretched from the Atlantic Ocean, across North
Africa and the Middle East, to Eastern Asia. By using educated men who knew the Greek
language, they achieved the translation of famous Greek philosophers. In this way
Aristotle first became known to European people, through wise Arab translators, and Arabic
cultural development proceeded rapidly. Philosophy, mathematics, law, history and science
were also developed. No ancient power ever attempted the complete conquest of Arabia,
because of the formidable difficulties of crossing the deserts.
The Persian Empire
This empire, which extended as far as the Black Sea, tried to gain a foothold by attacking
Greece, but the valour of Athens and Sparta foiled this ambition. Its contribution was
mostly religious, in a faith known as Zoroastrianism: the word Paradise is of Persian
The Classical Period between 500 B.C.-300 A.D.
Incredible progress was made. There was the first approach to the study of science, the
arts and literary forms, as also to the practice and philosophy of government. In this
period, especially between 500 and 200 B.C., Greeks were among the builders of the
Classical Mediterranean civilization and the first experiment of democracy began. They
also established the study of philosophy, by -raising basic questions regarding the nature
of truth, justice and destiny. This period was called the Golden Age.
Meanwhile, in 35é B.C., with Alexander the Great, King of
Macedonia, who had Aristotle as his tutor, Persia faced a united Greece, and Alexander
became a spreader of Pan-Hellenic ideas. He entered Syria and Egypt, where he was
acknowledged as the son of Amon-Ra, and founded the city of Alexandria. He then went into
North India, and with a fleet crossed the unknown route to the head of the Persian Gulf.
In 500 B.C. the Romans overthrew their foreign rulers, the Etruscans, and established
their hegemony. Later, they dominated Spain, Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica and the northern
shores of Africa, and became an indisputable power in the Mediterranean. In 170 B.C. the
Romans subjugated the Greeks, and adopted their culture and technology, making
contributions to engineering, government administration, and the law. A Graeco-Roman
period was thus created, dominating the Mediterranean region. The Roman colony was an
integral part of the Empire, and the Romans sought to assimilate native cultures with
their own, in some cases bestowing Roman citizenship upon the native born.
In early times France was known as Gaul (Gallia), and it was inhabited largely by Celts.
Settlements on the Mediterranean coast, notably Marseilles, were made by the Phoenicians
and the Greeks. Later it was colonized by Rome, and in the 2nd century B.C. Gaul accepted
Latin speech and developed a Gallo-Roman civilization. The merge, mostly with Franks,
contributed to the construction of a new nation, with the support of the Christian
religion. Later France was united nationally and linguistically, with its own intellectual
personality, and culture began to develop. Literature developed after 1000 A.D. with
epics, novels, fables and other literary forms, and the emergence of civilization was
During the age of colonization, soon after 1000 B.C., the Phoenicians and Greeks arrived
in various Spanish harbours. In the south and east, t e indigenous Spanish population
developed a separa e culture. Iberian culture reached its heights duri t e 3rd and 2nd
centuries B.C. Spain occupies a nota le place in the history of education. Among the great
Spanish teachers and orators were Lucius Seneca and Marcus Quintilian, in Roman times. The
fusion of the Roman and Spanish peoples led to advances in philosophy and science. Later,
contact with the Arabs produced a reciprocal influence which promoted joint studies and a
Until the 12th century B.C. the history of Portugal is indistinguishable from that of the
Iberian Peninsula. But later, important developments led to the birth of the Portuguese
nation. At the beginning of this historical period, the area was dominated by Iron Age
cultures. In the 2nd and I st centuries B.C. the inhabitants of Portugal strongly resisted
the Romans. Religious tolerance was practised. Roman ways were adopted and the Latin
language ultimately developed into Portuguese. Portugal became a Christian country early
on, and it developed its own important culture.
Morocco, Algeria, Malta Tunisia, Libya, and the island of
In the lands of North Africa the earliest inhabitants were nomadic native groups who
contended for regional power over the area. In the 9th century B.C., a famous region was
founded, Carthage. This began to dominate Mediterranearr, establishing colonies in
Sardinia, Malta and the Balearic Islands, extending its power over the seashores of
all the above lands. Hannibal, the grandson of Hamilear, destroyed Acragas and imposed
complete dominion. Later he invaded Italy and marched towards Rome, but unsuccessfully.
With Scipio the African the Romans reconquered Carthage. They rebuilt the city, the
inhabitants became Latinized, and a civilization with a Roman culture developed.
Cyrenaica in Libya was very important in ancient times, the Greeks
founding Cyrene, Barca and other cities. An eminent school of philosophy which drew upon
Socratic ethical views flourished in the 5th and 4th centuries B.C.
The native population of Malta believes itself to be of Phoenician descent. The island is
of great historical, archaeological and architectural interest, with contributions in turn
from Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans.
Dalmatia of Yugoslavia
The early inhabitants of Dalmatia were Greeks, Illyrians and Dalmatians, and in the 3rd
century B.C. the Illyrians succeeded in establishing an independent state, which lasted
until the year 12 A.D., when it was conquered by the Romans. The Greeks, Illyrians and
Dalmatians were continuously struggling against the Roman penetration. They used the Roman
alphabet and accepted Christianity. After the disintegration of the Roman Empire a new era
began in the history of Dalmatia.
This brief account may be concluded by the statement that the ancient Mediterranean
civilization was a result of the continuous process of advancement, enhanced by the
inheritance from previous civilizations, by easy maritime communication, and by the
exchange of ideas through migration and colonization.
As I finish my lecture, I would like to point out that meetings like
the one that is starting today, besides the progress of vital medical subjects such as
burns treatment, also aim at the development of individual cultures, friendly relations
and cooperation for the solution of common problems, as well as reviving and promoting the
spirit of Mediterranean civilization, for the benefit of all mankind.
RESUME L'auteur décrit les contributions d la culture méditerranéenne
de la part de tous les peuples qui ont habité les divers pays pendant les différentes périodes