The Making of the Modern Mediterranean: Views from the South

The Making of the Modern Mediterranean: Views from the South

by University of California Press

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Studies of the pivotal historic place of the Mediterranean have long been dominated by specialists of its northern shores, that is, by European historians. The seven leading authors in this groundbreaking volume challenge views of Mediterranean space as shaped by European trajectories, and in doing so, they challenge our comfortable notions. Drawing perspectives from the Mediterranean’s eastern and southern shores, they ask anew: What is the Mediterranean? What are its borders, its defining characteristics? What forces of nature, politics, culture, or economics have made the Mediterranean, and how long have they or will they endure? Covering the sixteenth century to the twentieth, this timely volume brings the early modern world into conversation with the modern world in new ways, demonstrating that only recently can we differentiate the north and south into separate cultural and political zones. The Making of the Modern Mediterranean: Views from the South offers a blueprint for a new generation of readers to rethink the world we thought we knew.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520304604
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 07/09/2019
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 232
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Judith E. Tucker is Professor of History at Georgetown University and author of Women, Family, and Gender in Islamic Law, In the House of the Law: Gender and Islamic Law in Ottoman Syria and Palestine, and Women in Nineteenth-Century Egypt.

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The "Mediterranean" through Arab Eyes in the Early Modern Period

From Rumi to "White In-Between Sea"

Nabil Matar

The Sea of Andalus, the Sea of Maghrib, the Sea of Alexandria, the Sea of Syria, the Sea of Constantinople, the Sea of the Franks, and the Sea of the Rum [Europeans/Byzantines] ... are one sea.


The sea belongs to Christians — as it is said, the sea belongs to the Rum.


This essay will examine Arabic writings about the Mediterranean Sea in the period after Fernand Braudel's terminus ad quem (1598) until Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798 — the period in which European naval powers, chiefly Britain and France, came to dominate the Mediterranean basin. It focuses on the writings of the Arabic-speaking peoples who inhabited the Arab mainland (Barr al-'Arab), extending from Iskanderun on the southeastern border of Turkey to Tangier, situated at the intersection of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. Accordingly, it does not take into account the Turkish mainland (Anatolia; Barr al-Turk) or the Euro-Christian shores. The reason for this Arabic focus is that, even though the Ottomans ruled the eastern and southern Mediterranean basins (excluding Morocco), Arabs and Arabic speakers constituted the largest population at sea: merchants, scholars, jurists, travelers, fishermen, pilgrims, princes, ambassadors, migrants, and families. And these Arabs held entirely different views regarding the name and significance of the sea than the Ottoman Turks. At the same time, they differed markedly from their European counterparts.


After the end of World War I, and as soon as European powers gained control of the Arab countries around the Mediterranean basin, Henry Pirenne wrote in Muhammad and Charlemagne that the expansion of Islam from the seventh century on had partitioned what had been a unified sea under the Roman emperors Constantine and Justinian (fourth–sixth centuries CE) into a religious space of confrontation between Christianity and Islam. Disagreeing with Pirenne, his pupil Fernand Braudel showed in The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II (1949) that trade, negotiation, travel, and diplomacy had brought Ottomans together with Frenchmen, Britons with Algerians, and Dutchmen with Aleppans in a manner that turned the sixteenth-century Mediterranean into an interactive geographic unit. Braudel explained that "the movement of boats, pack animals, vehicles and people themselves made the Mediterranean a unit and gave it a certain uniformity in spite of local resistance." Such Braudelian unity was possible only because by 1949, the sea and its shores had been turned into a European lake, with all the Arab countries around the basin under European or European-sponsored mandate/colonization: Morocco (France and Spain), Algeria and Tunisia (France), Libya (Italy), Egypt and Palestine (Britain and Israel), and Lebanon and Syria (France). Looking back, Braudel projected twentieth-century European navigational and commercial hegemony over the Mediterranean onto the sixteenth century, when the "northern invaders" (chiefly British and French, with the Dutch playing some role) had begun to consolidate their control over the sea.

At the end of his book, however, Braudel admitted that the evidence he had used to build his case for a "unifying" Mediterranean had been limited. He had not consulted sources in Arabic or Ottoman — the languages of the southern, of the eastern, and of part of the northern shores of the Mediterranean basin — and he urged scholars to do that. One of his students, Ömer Lutfi Barkan, began studying the Mediterranean through Ottoman population and taxation records to test Braudel's theory of the unity of the Mediterranean, yet half a century after Braudel, Peregrine Horden and Nicholas Purcell in The Corrupting Sea (2000) paid no attention to the non-European sources, dealing with the history of the sea in a synchronic manner. Faruk Tabak's extensive study of trade, ecology, and geography in The Waning of the Mediterranean 1550–1870 (2008) also reflected an exclusively European epistemology of the sea, with a special focus on Venice and Genoa and on the food production (grains, wine, olives) in the hillsides and mountains beyond the Euro-Mediterranean basin. And much as David Abulafia in The Great Sea (2011) aimed to study both the sea itself and those who sailed its waters, what he called the "human history of the sea ... those who dipped their toes into the sea" (more so than Braudel's people's history), he too ignored Turkish and Arabic cartography and geography.

The view of the Mediterranean as a single unity and the interest in Its connectivities (Horden and Purcell's term) has not been confined to academe. The 1995 Barcelona Process of Euro-Mediterranean partnership made the Mediterranean part of European/Western political strategy, and in 2005, the European Union "defined the Mediterranean as a strategic priority;" two years later, the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, proclaimed the "unity of the Mediterranean" (later changed to the "unity for the Mediterranean" as a result of German insistence). This "unity" served to resolve historical dilemmas, as well as to confirm European hegemony: it retroactively justified the European colonization of the Arab-Islamic coast in the first half of the twentieth century. At that time, Mussolini and other leaders replaced Arabic place names in North Africa with their Latin precedents, while, since their conquest of Algeria in 1830, the French had appealed to the classical past to turn Algeria into France. The unity established the Mediterranean basin as a European "middle sea" of geographical and commercial connectivities, recapitulating thereby the mare nostrum of Roman imperial memory. That is how Braudel (and for that matter Albert Camus before him) could present the sea as a "humanistic Mediterranean" shared by all the peoples of the basin, from the French to the Syrians and Moroccans.

Ironically, crises in the Arab-Islamic Mediterranean have begun to cast their shadow over Europe in recent years. As refugees and migrants from the Mediterranean countries have flooded into western Europe, the Mediterranean has changed in recent discourse into "an area of permanent conflict faced with immigration, inequality, racism and impassable frontiers," as the brochure for "Between Myth and Fright: The Mediterranean as Conflict," a 2016 exhibition at the Institut Valencià d'Art Modern, demonstrates. It seems that the idea of a "unified" Mediterranean no longer serves the ideological goals of European governments, which now would prefer that it serve as a hajiz (barrier) between them and the desperate refugees in their ships of death.


The European construction of a Mediterranean of connectivities was made possible by the fact that the European colonial conceptualization of the Mediterranean completely ignored Arabic writings and Arab voices — even though over half the Mediterranean basin in the early modern period was populated by Arabic speakers with their own histories, chronicles, travelogues, and nomenclatures of the sea. Had Arabic sources been examined, they would have shown that the conceptualization of the Mediterranean as a unifying basin not only was not present but was also widely contested, which is why Arab writers used different names for the sea but never the "In-Between Sea" of Roman Latin derivation. The name al-Mutawassit, or In-Between, does not appear on any of the medieval maps that have survived, and as Tarek Kahlaoui has shown, al-Mutawassit was rarely used in chronicles or geographical texts. Rather, names such as Rumi (Byzantine Sea), Shami (Syrian Sea), Akhdar (Green Sea), Malih (Salty Sea), and others dominate the cartographic and historical nomenclature (along with Qubti [Coptic Sea] on fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Ottoman maps).

Actually, as far back as the tenth century, al-Mas'udi (d. CE 956), one of the greatest Arab travelers and historiographers, showed in his Muruj al-dhahab and al-Tanbih wa-l-ishraf that the name most frequently associated with the Mediterranean Sea was Rumi. The sea belonged and was named after the adversarial "other." The Mediterranean as a sea unifying the peoples and civilizations around it did not appear in Arabic because the sea was many seas with many names reflecting many and different peoples. It was also a sea of danger because, as Arabs moved their boats and pack animals (in the words of Braudel), they saw a Rumi/European mare nostrum, which brought on them naval attacks and invasions. The "Mediterranean" Sea made up of an "immense network of regular and casual connections," as Braudel imagined it, did not exist. Arab geographers also did not recognize the sea as "part of Mamlakat al-Islam" /the dominion of Islam. Rather, it was a "disappearing Muslim space that was being challenged by the Rum," a multiplicity of regional seas with the Rum assuming control over it. Actually, as historian Shams al-Din al-Kilani has noted, it was the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea that were viewed by Muslim Arabs as extensions of the Islamic barr (region), and not the Rumi Sea. After all, the only sea associated with the Arabs is the Arabian Sea near the Indian Ocean.

In addition, the medieval Arabic view of the sea was that of a Space separating, rather thaan connecting, two adversaria shores: a hajiz (barrier) between bilad al-Rum and bilad Misr, or a defensive space between the lands of the Europeans and of the Egyptians, as the thirteenth-century Yaqut al-Hamawi put it. Clearly, after Genoese and Venetian ships started carrying crusader armies to the East, al-Hamawi could not but hope that the sea would serve as a defense against the invaders. The atlas of the Tunisian al-Sharafi al-Sifaqi produced two centuries later in 1551, along with its subsequent renditions, has no name for the sea, even though the maps were intended as a "reconstruction of political landscape." It is possible that as Spain and the Ottoman Empire were vying for control of the Mediterranean, the Sifaqi cartographers used neither a Spanish nor a Turkish designation for the sea because they did not know how to name it. After Yusuf ibn 'Abid al-Fasi traveled in 1587 along the Atlantic coast of Morocco, he launched eastward on his journey to Yemen, using the coastal road near what he called simply al-Bahr al-Malih (the Salty Sea), a name that dates as far back as al-Idrisi (d. 1161) and Ibn al-Athir (ca. 1234). His compatriots warned him, however, to stay inland, since the Rum came from the sea to hunt for Muslims (yatasayyadu li-l-muslimin) on land. Common to him and to other Muslims was the image of the sea as terrifying, not because Arabs and Muslims had a religiously engrained or an instinctive hostility to the sea, but because they feared attacks from European fleets and pirates.

The attacks had been relentless. From 1415 on, North African port cities had been conquered and occupied by Europeans: Ceuta (1415) and Melilla (1497), both of which remain in Spanish hands today; Asila and Tangier (1471), occupied by the Portuguese, with the latter in British hands until 1684; Santa Cruz/Agadir (1505–41), occupied by the Portuguese; Tripoli (1510), attacked first by the Spanish and then by The Knights of Malta (1530); Mazagan/El Jadida (1502–1769), occupied by the Portuguese; Azemmour (1513–41), occupied by the Portuguese; Tunis (1535), attacked and occupied by Spain until 1574; Algiers (1661), attacked by the British; Jijel, Algeria (1664), attacked by the French; Tripoli, attacked by the British (Libya, 1675); and Algiers, bombarded by the French (1682, 1683, 1688). From July 1 to 16, 1688, the French navy, according to a report by an Englishman, blasted the city of Algiers with 10,420 bombs. Europeans not only conquered these outposts but also Christianized them, holding processions with the Virgin Mary (in Catholic outposts) that marked physical and spiritual possession. Throughout the period, pirates and colonists of all European nationalities seized North African men, women, and children for domestic and transatlantic slavery. 'Ali ibn Muhammad al-Tamjruti sailed from Tetuan to Istanbul in 1590 and, as did his contemporaries, worried about danger at sea. His account is the only pre–late eighteenth-century travelogue that has survived in Arabic of such a journey from one end of the Mediterranean to the other, but in it he has neither a conception of a larger, or unified, "Mediterranean" nor indeed even a name for the sea. Although he had access to a map/sura "of the sea, [drawn] on animal skin with names on both sides of the sea," he did not pick up from this portolan map the name of the sea but focused instead on coastal names. Al-Tamjruti mentioned al-Bahr al-Aswad/the Black Sea and Bahr al-Muhit/the Atlantic, and consistent with other Arab writers who gave the sea a local name, he referred to Bahr Tanja/the Sea of Tangier. Sailing from Tetuan, al-Tamjruti made numerous references to Christian pirates, whose nationalities he did not know. In this context of sea fear, al-Tamjruti told the story of a man from Dar'a in Morocco, who so feared European pirates that he decided to migrate inland to a region where its people did not even know what a sea was.

British and French naval attacks so frightened the North Africans that they moved away from the sea coast. After British admiral Robert Blake bombarded Tunis in April 1655, the bey wrote that Muslims had their subsistence from the land and did not expect help from the sea. English diplomat Sir William Temple (d. 1699) confirmed that "for many Years they [North Africans] hardly pretend to any Successes on that Element [sea], but commonly say [that] God has given the Earth to the Mussulmans, and the Sea to the Christians." In 1699, Mulay Isma'il of Morocco (r. 1672–1727) wrote a letter to James II, the exiled king of England in Paris, saying that had he not been an "an Arab" belonging to "a people who knew nothing of the sea," he would have sent him a fleet to help invade Britain and regain his throne. Although Morocco had a long coastline, and although in the first half of the seventeenth century Saletian pirates had caused havoc on European shipping, neither Morocco nor, for that matter, any of the Ottoman regencies were able to advance their naval and maritime technology to repel the attacks by the ingliz, ajam, and fransis (English, Spanish, and French).

North African pirates and privateers spread fear among European travelers and coastal inhabitants, from Italy to England and from Ireland to Iceland. But what was different between the Europeans and the North Africans in their maritime aggressions was that the latter confined themselves to the abduction of captives and to hit-and-run raids, as opposed to the former, who permanently enslaved Muslims (sometimes sending them off to North and South America) at the same time that they were establishing what they hoped would be permanent colonies on North African soil. Furthermore, their fleets bombarded port cities with weapons that were unmatched by their North African counterparts. No fleet in North Africa developed the high-powered naval projectiles or guns that could bomb European coastal cities in the manner that the British and the French fleets bombed Muslim ports, destroyed their shipping, burnt their food supplies, and sank their fishing vessels.

The North African failure at sea was a result of a steady decline in navigation, ship-building, and cartography. Such decline helps to explain the absence of any uniformity in the Arabic conceptualization of the sea. Ahmad ibn Qasim, an Andalusian who fled to Morocco at the end of the sixteenth century, served as translator and emissary in the Sa'dian court in the first quarter of the seventeenth century. Although he was exposed to European maps and atlases, as he mentions in his memoir, he still described the sea that surrounded Africa from the north as the "Small" Sea and the Rumi Sea. Muhammad ibn 'abd al-Rafi' al-Andalusi, another Andalusian who fled to Tunisia, viewed all the sea coast as belonging to the Rum: sahil al-bahr kulluhu li-l-Rum. Although the seventeenth-century chronicler of al-Andalus al-Maqqari (d. 1631) is the only writer in the period under study to use the designation mutawassit, he most frequently referred to al-Bahr al-Shami (the Syrian Sea) — having traveled to and lived in Syria. A quarter of a century later, in 1663, the Moroccan traveler Abu Salim al'Ayyashi recounted how he and his companions arrived in Damietta by way of Bahr al-Rum. There they rented a ship to take them across a buhayra (lake) but were terrified when they saw some Nasara (Christians) on board the ship. Fortunately these Christians were peaceful, and they all parted "amicably." For him, the sea was the Salty (Malih) Sea, as it was for his contemporary, Ibrahim ibn 'Abd al-Rahman al-Khiyari, who wrote of the Salty Sea that led not only to Alexandria but, more ominously, to the "lands of the infidels." In his compendium of seventeenth-century biographies, Muhammad Amin ibn Fadlallah al-Muhibbi (d. 1699) gave no name to the sea. The approximately fourteen hundred biographies he included range in length from a few lines to multiple pages and describe a huge amount of travel and mobility. Interestingly, cities on the sea's coastline appear very infrequently: Gaza in al-diyar almuqaddasa (the Holy Lands), and Tripoli in Lebanon (and even less so Tripoli in Libya). But in all his account, al-Muhibbi never names the sea, mentioning only the danger of captivity in Malta. Others gave the sea different names. The historian of Tunis Ibn Abi Dinar (d. ca. 1698) called the sea between Tunis and Sicily Bahr Ifriqiya (Sea of Tunis), seemingly dissociating it from the other seas, and in the next century, the chronicler Ahmad al-Damurdashi (ca. 1755) mentioned that a certain Jarkas Muhammad Bayk had fled from the Egyptian delta toward the Libyan city of Derna on the coast of al-Bahr al-Malih (Salty Sea), after which he boarded a Russian ship to Mosco. The Tunisian Hammudah ibn Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Aziz (d. 1788), wrote of Bahr al-Sham, the sea in which malik al-Mosco (the king of the Russians) raided British and French ships and captured Tunisians on board them. In the nineteenth–century Bulaq edition of the Arabian Nights, al-Bahr al-Malih and Bahr al-Ajam (non-Arabs) appear together in the stories about Muslim captivity in Italy. From the sea, came the danger of abduction and forcible conversion to Christianity.


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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Judith E. Tucker
1. The “Mediterranean” through Arab Eyes in the Early Modern
Period: From Rūmī to the “White In-Between Sea”
Nabil Matar
2. The Mediterranean of the Barbary Coast: Gone Missing
Julia Clancy-Smith
3. The Mediterranean of Modernity: The Longue Durée Perspective
Edmund Burke III
4. Piracy of the Ottoman Mediterranean: Slave Laundering and
Joshua M. White
5. Piracy of the Eighteenth-Century Mediterranean: Navigating
Laws and Legal Practices
Judith E. Tucker
6. The Mediterranean in Saint-Simonian Imagination:
The “Nuptial Bed”
Osama Abi-Mershed
7. The Mediterranean in Colonial North African Literature:
Contesting Views
William Granara

Selected Readings

Customer Reviews