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A quiz on the Great Sea — the Mediterranean

The Trojan War. The history of piracy. The great naval battles between Carthage and Rome. The Jewish Diaspora into Hellenistic worlds. The rise of Islam. The Grand Tours of the 19th century. The mass tourism of the 20th. We may have missed World Maritime Day on March 17th, but we can still admire the watery wonder of the sea and its peoples. As brilliant and sweeping as the Mediterranean itself, The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean interweaves major political and naval developments with the ebb and flow of trade. Author David Abulafia stresses the remarkable ability of Mediterranean cultures to uphold the civilizing ideal of convivencia, “living together,” exemplified in medieval Spain, where Christian theologians studied Arabic texts with the help of Jewish and Muslim scholars, and traceable throughout the history of the region. And now a quick quiz on the history of the Mediterranean…

What are the oldest large-scale buildings of the Mediterranean?
(1) The Acropolis in Athens
(2) Mnajdra temple complex in Malta
(3) Leptis Magna in modern day Khoms, Libya
(4) The necropolis of Orvieto, Italy

What do the famous Cycladic figurines depict?
(1) Kings with a distinctive left foot stepped forward
(2) Female companions of the dead
(3) The bull-leapers, ancient athletes who performed acrobatics using bulls
(4) Fertility goddesses with distinctly long hair

What destroyed the Akrotiri on Thera in 1500 BC?
(1) A succession of difficult weather and poor growing seasons led to them abandoning the island
(2) A series of raids from nearby Minoan Crete devastated their population and economy
(3) A mysterious illness
(4) A massive volcanic eruption

The Battle of Actium played what decisive role in Mediterranean history?
(1) Lord Nelson of the British Navy defeated Napoleon and the French fleet — the first in a series of victories ensuring the British naval dominance of the Mediterranean during the Napoleonic Wars
(2) Cleopatra and Mark Antony’s forces were defeated — the last resistance to Octavian’s power grab — which eventually allowed him to transform the Roman Republic into the Empire
(3) Roman forces, so weakened by the cost of their victory at Actium, could no longer defend against invading Germanic tribes on the Italian peninsula
(4) The Venetian fleet led by Andrea Dandolo defeated the Genoese fleet, allowing Venice to dominate the glass trade in Renaissance Europe

What did the Venetians steal from fellow Christian city Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade and erect in front of St Mark’s Basilica?
(1) The throne of Constantine
(2) The gold and jewel encrusted reliquary of Saint Mark’s head
(3) Four magnificient horses of ancient Greek workmanship
(4) A Persian statue, symbol of Constantinople’s reach across trade routes

In the Battle of Lepanto, an alliance of Mediterranean Christian states defeated the Ottoman fleet. Which famous writer was known as “the cripple of Lepanto”?
(1) Ben Jonson, English playwright and notorious fighter
(2) Petrarch, Italian poet and father of Humanism
(3) Cervantes, Spanish author of Don Quixote
(4) Michel de Montaigne, French essayist and aristocrat

To which war does the Marine’s hymn refer with the verse “The shores of Tripoli”?
(1) The Revolutionary War (the British navy routinely press-ganged American citizens across the seas into becoming British sailors)
(2) First Barbary War (American involvement to end piracy and enslavement along the coast of North Africa)
(3) The Mexican-American War (American forces couldn’t pronounce Tapachula correctly)
(4) Second World War (a decisive victory outside Tripoli allowed an American invasion of Sicily)

What was the role of the attack at Mers-el-Kébir in northwestern Algeria during the Second World War?
(1) The American forces destoyed the small portion of the Italian fleet in the western Mediterranean (most of it was concentrated in the eastern half around Greece at the time), which gave Allied forces a crucial amount of time to smuggle people, arms, and information in to the resistance fighters in Europe
(2) French newspapers were forced by Nazi occupiers to attack images and reports French colonial forces (“les indigènes”) in Mers-el-Kébir, leading to widespread public outrage in occupied and Vichy France who claimed them as Frenchmen and soldiers of France
(3) German forces destroyed the French fleet, which was moving to join the British fleet as Charles de Gaulle gathered forces in the French Colonial Empire to mount an attack to reclaim France
(4) The British destroyed the French fleet, which had refused to withdraw to neutral waters, leading to resentment and poor relations throughout the war.

What plagues many of the smaller islands of the Mediterranean today?
(1) Migrants from Africa and elsewhere attempt to reach Europe via the sea, often becoming ill and then stranded on the island by the government, while the small fishing communities are unable to support them
(2) While they are officially part of large nations such as Italy or Spain, they receive less investment and infrastructure than the mainland
(3) Wealthy individuals and hotels buy up property and don’t allow the small communities to use areas to which they once had access
(4) Increasing economic turmoil and budget cuts are leading to less regular transport between the mainland and the islands, resulting in even greater economic difficulties for the islands



AND NOW THE ANSWERS…

What are the oldest large-scale buildings of the Mediterranean?
Mnajdra temple complex in Malta

What do the famous Cycladic figurines depict?
Female companions of the dead

What destroyed the Akrotiri on Thera in 1500 BC?
A massive volcanic eruption

The Battle of Actium played what decisive role in Mediterranean history?
Cleopatra and Mark Antony’s forces were defeated — the last resistance to Octavian’s power grab – which eventually allowed him to transform the Roman Republic into the Empire

What did the Venetians steal from fellow Christian city Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade and erect in front of St Mark’s Basilica?
Four magnificient horses of ancient Greek workmanship

In the Battle of Lepanto, an alliance of Mediterranean Christian states defeated the Ottoman fleet. Which famous writer was known as “the cripple of Lepanto”?
Cervantes, Spanish author of Don Quixote

To which war does the Marine’s hymn refer with the verse “The shores of Tripoli”?
First Barbary War (American involvement to end piracy and enslavement along the coast of North Africa)

What was the role of the attack at Mers-el-Kébir in northwestern Algeria during the Second World War?
The British destroyed the French fleet, which had refused to withdraw to neutral waters, leading to resentment and poor relations throughout the war.

What plagues many of the smaller islands of the Mediterranean today?
Migrants from Africa and elsewhere attempt to reach Europe via the sea, often becoming ill and then stranded on the island by the government, while the small fishing communities are unable to support them.

Situated at the intersection of Europe, Asia, and Africa, the Mediterranean Sea has been for millenia the place where religions, economies, and political systems met, clashed, influenced and absorbed one another. Author David Abulafia offers a fresh perspective by focusing on the sea itself: its practical importance for transport and sustenance; its dynamic role in the rise and fall of empires; and the remarkable cast of characters — sailors, merchants, migrants, pirates, pilgrims — who have crossed and recrossed it. Ranging from prehistory to the 21st century, The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean is above all the history of human interaction across a region that has brought together many of the great civilizations of antiquity as well as the rival empires of medieval and modern times. David Abulafia is Professor of Mediterranean History at Cambridge University and the author of The Mediterranean in History.

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