Chapter Summary and Key Concepts

Learning Objectives

After reading this chapter, students should be able to:

  • discuss how the Mediterranean environment has influenced the development of cultures in the region
  • characterize the differences between Classical archaeology and other types of archaeology, and discuss its impact on Mediterranean archaeology
  • describe Bronze Age cultures in the Mediterranean, and their interactions and influences
  • discuss theories about the rise of social complexity and states in the Aegean Bronze Age
  • outline the development of palace culture on Crete
  • describe the development and use of record-keeping and writing technology
  • discuss the rise and nature of Mycenaean culture on Mainland Greece
  • explain theories regarding the “Dark Age” in the Aegean
  • understand the debate over causal factors in the rise of the Greek polis
  • characterize the Greek polis, and the interactions between different poleis during the Archaic and Classical periods
  • discuss the role of colonialism in the western Mediterranean
  • characterize the rule of Alexander the Great and the concept of a Hellenic world system
  • outline the activities of the Phoenicians in the western Mediterranean and the development of the Carthaginian Empire
  • describe the Iron Age cultures of the Roman peninsula during the foundation and early rise of Rome
  • explain the causal factors behind Roman expansion and the strategies used to realize the Roman empire
  • outline the trends toward integration over time, alongside the retention of cultural differences, in the Mediterranean region.

Chapter Summary


Mediterranean cultural boundaries are difficult to define. Rainfall and temperature patterns conducive to olive, grain, and grape cultivation (the “Mediterranean triad”) are sometimes used. Here, “Mediterranean” comprises the littoral territories of the inland sea in all directions. Greece and Rome overshadow the region, and were long the domain of “Classical archaeology,” which focused on texts, formal analysis of art and architecture, with conservative fieldwork methods, primarily at large sites. Recently, Classical archaeology has matured in subject matter, theory, and fieldwork, and Mediterranean archaeology is now comparable with the study of other regions.


The Bronze Age comprises the 4th through the 2nd millennium bc. Despite potential for social display and wealth, bronze technology only resulted in the emergence of “civilization” in the Aegean, on Crete around 2000 bc, and on the Greek mainland from the 16th century bc onwards. Elsewhere, farming communities largely remained modest. Even where elites emerged, state societies or “civilization” did not follow in some areas.

During Crete’s Early Minoan (or “Prepalatial”) period, c. 3500–2000 bc, evidence of emerging social complexity is slight. Tholos tombs were built as communal burial places for only a few, and excluding many. Grave goods of copper daggers and sealstones indicate desire to display personal identity, rank, and access to imported materials and craft specialists. In the Cycladic Islands cemetery sites mostly comprise a few dozen simple cist graves. Exceptions include Chalandriani on Syros

Ceramic analysis on mainland Greece has led to the discovery of hundreds of hamlet-sized settlements, along with the development of the “Corridor House,” of which the House of the Tiles at Lerna is the largest and best-known. Rectilinear buildings from Period II at Troy are similar. These structures disappeared amid upheavals in the Early Bronze Age.

Minoan Crete: the Palace Period

The palace, or regional center, at Knossos is one of several. The First Palace period (c. 2000–1700 bc) saw development of complexes at Knossos, Mallia, and Phaistos. These were remodeled, following earthquakes, in the Second Palace period (c. 1700–1490 bc) and joined by others. A number of other sites also have court-centered buildings. The palaces are not identical but share many features.

Various systems of seals and sealings, and several forms of script (hieroglyphic, Linear A, and Linear B) emerged as administrative technologies to manage the stored commodities. Minoan palaces were multi-functional spaces.

Fertility and female iconography suggest goddess worship, but the precise belief system is not yet understood. Palatial authorities probably controlled religious power. Both Phaistos and Knossos are aligned with the peak sanctuaries; at some, cult apparatus and Linear A inscriptions are links with palace culture.

A number of substantial towns, such as Gournia, are known. In the Second Palace period, “villa” complexes appear, elite residences mimicking palaces. Whether palaces and their territories were independent, or were controlled by Knossos, remains uncertain. The Minoans’ well-developed sailing skills extended their influence beyond Crete.

At the end of the Second Palace period, the villas and all but one of the palaces were destroyed. Knossos survived, but a new administration appeared, with new material culture and the Linear B script, used to write Greek: the Mycenaeans had assumed power in the region. Explanations range from armed invasion to peaceful annexation. Once, volcanic eruptions on Thera (Santorini) were blamed, but scientific dating places the eruption too early.

Mycenaean Greece

Mycenae (the type site of Mycenaean culture), in contrast to Minoan centers, was fortified with massive walls of Cyclopean masonry. A key feature of this and other Mycenaean centers is the megaron: a three-roomed rectangular structure with columned porch leading to an antechamber, then a columned hall with central hearth. Residential quarters, storage facilities, shrines, and workshops also lie within and outside the walls. Wall paintings and other fine craft products (many reflecting Minoan influence) are common. Unlike Minoan Crete, the socio-political stratification of Mycenaean society is clear. Road networks, bridges, dams, port installations, and drainage projects comprise state-directed development of infrastructure. Mycenaean influence overseas is traceable through widely distributed ceramics, perhaps traded for bronze-working resources.

Mycenaean palaces were destroyed or abandoned over several decades approaching c. 1200 bc. Once, invasions by northern people (later called Dorians) were blamed, but warfare between kingdoms, internal unrest, and crop failure now seem more plausible.


The late 2nd millennium BC saw instability throughout the eastern Mediterranean. With the collapse of palace civilization, a “Dark Age” followed in the Aegean. Yet during this era, the Greek city-state emerged as a new settlement form that characterizes the 1st millennium bc.

During the succeeding Archaic period (c. 750–480 bc) the Greek polis, or city-state appeared, which comprised a central, urban settlement and a rural hinterland. Its inhabitants shared political, economic and religious ties. Free-born males had the status of “citizen.”

The Archaic and Classical (480–338 bc) periods saw the development of these cities and their interactions as autonomous, often warring states. Most were territorially and demographically small; thus, political and military alliances often resulted, led by a single more powerful leader.

Beyond these volatile alliances, the Greeks acknowledged shared identity as “Hellenes” through common language, values, and deities. Outsiders were termed “barbarians.” This was invoked when the Persians invaded in 490 and 480 bc. The Greek victory increased Greek, particularly Athenian, self-confidence, leading to the 5th-century bc expansion of Athens into an imperial power, with tax-paying “allies” in a confederation called the Delian League.

The Peloponnesian War (431–404 bc) between Athens and Sparta drew in distant parties: colonial Syracuse (Sicily) and the Persian Empire. After Sparta defeated Athens, political turbulence continued. In the 4th century bc Thebes rose, Athens reemerged, and the Macedonian kingdom grew influential under Philip II.

Greek Colonization

Beginning in the 8th century bc, Greek city-states established colonies in Sicily and Italy (Magna Graecia), Mediterranean France, North Africa, and the Black Sea. Causal factors may include over-population, desire for land, internal civic tensions, and expulsion of rebellious elements. Colonial locations suggest an interest in metal ores, fish, and riverine trade routes. Greek colonies included an urban center, public buildings and residential quarters, and a tomb or monument to the colony’s founder. A rural hinterland was also essential.

The Phoenicians and Phoenician Expansion

The Phoenicians, based in what is modern coastal Lebanon, conducted activities parallel with the Greeks, organizing independent city-states early in the 1st millennium bc, and establishing colonies to mitigate their conquest by the Assyrians and Persians.

The Greek alphabet was borrowed from the Phoenicians, later spreading to Etruria and Rome, and Phoenician influence is seen in Greek sanctuaries.

By the 8th century bc, the Phoenicians had established colonies in Spain, North Africa, and Sicily, where proximity with Greek colonies resulted in tension and conflict. Phoenician site selection had exchange-oriented motivations: coastal, with good harbors, in metal-bearing regions. The Carthaginian empire was crushed by Rome in the 2nd century bc.

The Etruscans and the Italian Peninsula

By the middle 1st millennium bc, Italy contained Greek colonies in the south; Etruscan cities north of Rome, and numerous Italic peoples (i.e. Samnites and Umbrians), among whom were the inhabitants of Rome in Latium. The Etruscans (c. 700–400 bc) were originally known primarily through their rich tombs. Recently, landscapes, settlements, and non-funerary art and cult materials have been studied, showing similarities with other Mediterranean societies.

The Structure of the Archaic and Classical Greek Polis

The Greek polis was not uniform, but varied according to resources, territoriality, deities, art and architecture, and history. Athens serves as a case study for shared elements.

The urban center (astu) and rural hinterland (chora) subsisted on the triad of grains, olives, and grapevines, with sheep and goat husbandry. Additionally, coastal settlements could exploit and trade in fish, salt, and sponges. Due to frequent warfare, urban centers were walled. Cemeteries lay outside the city, with fine statues sometimes used as votive dedications and grave markers. Cities had residential quarters, an acropolis, and an agora, or marketplace. Temples were important agora features. Theaters, where dramas were presented, were also featured.

Celebration and reinforcement of an inclusive Hellenic identity is displayed by panhellenic sanctuaries at Delphi, Olympia, Nemea, and Isthmia; where, on a four-year cycle, all Greeks participated in festivals and games where athletes and performers competed under a temporary sacred truce.


By the late 1st millennium BC Alexander the Great’s empire had risen and fallen, Carthage controlled North Africa and Spain, and the small city-state of Rome had used militarism to annex its neighbors. These powers ultimately came into conflict.

Alexander and the East

Alexander only ruled from age 20 to 33, but he transformed the eastern Mediterranean and Near East and created a “Hellenistic” world. Military victories in Turkey, Iraq, Phoenicia, Egypt, and India ultimately annexed regions as far off as Afghanistan. After his death, Alexander’s empire was quickly broken up by his generals and heirs. From this emerged the Antigonid kingdom (Macedonia), the Seleucid empire (Syria and the Near East), and the Ptolemaic kingdom of Egypt.

Carthage and the Carthaginian Empire

Carthage was prosperous, agriculturally rich, with a busy trade in both exports and imports. The Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage occurred in the 3rd and 2nd centuries bc, with victories on both sides. But in 146 bc, Rome sacked Carthage, slaughtered or enslaved most of its population, destroyed its buildings and written records, and created the Roman province of Africa.

The Rise of Rome

Rome began like other communities in Italy. Kings ruled early Rome, and Etruscan influence was strong. In 509 bc, a Roman republic was established. By this era, Rome had already acquired urban features. Around 600 bc a low-lying area below the Capitoline and Palatine hills was drained and became the Forum Romanum, with multiple economic, religious, judicial, and political functions as in the Athenian agora.

Rome expanded through wars, annexations, and alliances, eventually controlling a mosaic of Italic tribes, Etruscan city-states, and Greek colonies. Thus, Roman culture was diverse and complex. Military success was rewarded with political authority and extreme wealth, driving expansion. Julius Caesar extended the empire beyond the Mediterranean by conquering Gaul (France) in the mid-1st century bc. Competition between generals and other elites led to factional disputes.

A turning point for both the Roman Republic and Greek culture occurred with the naval battle of Actium in 31 bc. Upon Octavian’s victory, he became sole ruler of the Mediterranean world, known as Augustus, the first emperor of Rome.


Augustus reorganized the Roman Empire. His rule initiated several centuries of militarily enforced peace (the pax Romana). Beginning with Augustus, an unbroken chain of emperors ruled over the entire Mediterranean, parts of temperate Europe and the Near East for many centuries, an empire that stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to modern Iraq, from Scotland to the Sahara. Imperial succession was through primogeniture, assassination, adoption, and military acclamation

Rome was maintained at the expense of the empire. Romans paid no taxes, many received handouts of food, and all were entertained by free spectacles and games. The city grew increasingly complex. Aqueducts brought water to the city, and legislation was enacted for fire fighting and waste disposal; elites lived well, while many lived in slums. The city’s first walls date to Republican times, but were renewed in the 3rd century ad as Rome experienced troubles. Roads (such as the Via Appia) were well-engineered hallmarks of imperial infrastructure, facilitating military and economic movement. Urban features found in Rome appear in cities throughout the empire: fora, amphitheaters, temples, walls, and roads all marked a well-run community. A sense of day-to-day life is best seen in the buried city of Pompeii.

The Provinces and Frontiers

Imperial annexation had profound effects on local societies and Rome benefited from provincial holdings. While the center helped the provinces after an earthquake or famine, taxes were levied across the empire, funding imperial extravagance and free food distributions in Rome, and the army was provisioned through provincial supplies.

Roman Legions, consisting of 5000 citizen infantrymen and auxiliary units of subject peoples, were placed along the frontiers or in troubled provinces such as Judaea. The Roman army was an efficient and successful fighting force but was often an occupying force.

The Later Empire

Conflicts with Christians ended when Emperor Constantine (died ad 337) converted in ad 312 after a sign in the heavens promised him victory in battle at the Milvian Bridge. Christianity became the new state religion with the Edict of Milan (ad 313), adding an additional level of administration and moral authority to the empire.

The redistribution of imperial power, coupled with military reforms, extended the life of an increasingly uncontrollable empire, but in the end it foundered and divided, broken in two with the death of Theodosius I in ad 395 and then fragmented further. By the 5th century ad, destabilization came when Alaric the Visigoth sacked Rome in ad 410 and the Huns attacked both the eastern and western empire around 40 years later, invading Italy itself under their leader Attila (died ad 453).

Box Features

Key Controversy: Early Cycladic Marble Figures

Key Controversy: What Did Greek Sculptures Really Look Like?

Key Controversy: Farming the Desert: A Lesson from Libya

Key Controversy: Pompeii: All Problems Solved?

Key Discovery: Linear B

Key Discovery: Mining in the Etruscan World

Key Discovery: The Mahdia Shipwreck

Key Site: The Necropolis at Metapontum

Key Sites: Olympia and Other Panhellenic Sanctuaries

Key Site: Alexandria-by-Egypt

Key words and terms

Climate, geography, environment

  • Mediterranean
  • the littoral territories of the inland sea
  • land-locked inland sea
  • crossroads of cultures
  • immense diversity: fertile land, pleasant climate vs. still arid and difficult topography
  • agricultural uncertainty and risk; unpredictability of life: complex responses
  • Taurus Mountains (Turkey)
  • Troödos Mountains (Cyprus)
  • Cycladic Islands
  • Crete
  • Mount Ida
  • Mount Iuktas
  • Peloponnese
  • Dodecanese
  • Latium
  • Macedon
  • Tiber river
  • seven hills of Rome
  • Capitoline and Palatine hills
  • Pergamon
  • Asia
  • Gaul

Terms, Concepts

  • Mare Nostrum
  • Nuraghi, torri, talayots
  • “core cultures” vs. all others
  • Classical archaeology
  • “Mediterranean triad” of food staples: olive, grains, grape
  • world system
  • thalassocracy
  • “Hither” and “Further” provinces
  • Greek city-state or polis
  • citizenship, democracy in the Greek polis
  • “barbarians” and Hellenes
  • Delian League
  • Greek Colonial activity: Sicily and southern Italy France, North Africa, Black Sea region
  • Magna Graecia
  • colonialism
  • Phoenician exploration and colonial activity: Spain, North Africa, Sicily
  • Etruscan League
  • astu, chora
  • opson
  • acropolis, agora, bouleuterion, tholos, stoa
  • Olympic Games
  • Panhellenic identity
  • metopes
  • the Hellenistic World
  • koine
  • “ruler cult”
  • Virgil’s Aeneid
  • fasces
  • res publica
  • imperator
  • Res Gestae
  • pax romana
  • urbs
  • circus, games
  • gladiators
  • taxation
  • mining activity
  • Romanization
  • Roman legions; auxiliaries
  • Tetrarchy
  • similitudo and concordia

Arifacts, architecture, art

  • bronze (alloy of copper and other metals, such as tin, arsenic)
  • tholos tombs
  • riveted daggers
  • sealstones, sealings
  • Early Cycladic marble figures
  • “frying pans”
  • “sauceboats”
  • “Corridor House”
  • rectilinear buildings, Troy II
  • Palaces on Crete: monumental but without defensive walls, large, open-air central court, residential quarters, spaces for entertainment and ritual performance, frescoed walls, painted architectural elements, storage magazines, granaries
  • pithoi
  • rhyton
  • Minoan scripts: hieroglyphic, Linear A, and Linear B
  • Minoan religious iconography: double axes, female figurines, bulls and bull-leaping, “horns of consecration”
  • peak sanctuaries
  • Kamares ware
  • “villa” complexes on Crete
  • plank-built ships with sails depicted in Minoan art
  • Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey
  • Mycenaean palaces: defensible locations, fortified, walled, megaron, residential quarters, storage facilities, shrines, workshops; wall paintings
  • Cyclopean masonry
  • Lion Gate
  • Grave Circles
  • Treasury of Atreus
  • Palace of Nestor
  • Mycenaean road networks, bridges, dams, port installations, and drainage projects
  • wide distribution of Mycenaean artifacts throughout Mediterranean
  • Etruscan necropoleis
  • Greek polis: residential quarters, acropolis, agora, bouleuterion, tholos, stoa, temples, theaters
  • kouros, kore
  • Athenian Black and Red Figure wares
  • Athenian silver coins (“owls”)
  • the Parthenon
  • Long Walls
  • Hephaisteion
  • Altar of the Twelve Gods
  • Panathenaic Way
  • Temple of Zeus at Olympia
  • the Colossus of Rhodes
  • the Great Altar of Zeus at Pergamon
  • the Tophet at Carthage
  • Rome: Capitolium on the Capitoline hill, temples to Jupiter Optimus Maximus, Juno, and Minerva
  • Forum Romanum
  • Cloaca Maxima
  • Prima Porta Augustus
  • the Doryphoros
  • Pantheon of Hadrian
  • Flavian amphitheater, or Colosseum
  • aqueducts
  • The Forum of Trajan
  • Trajan’s Column
  • Via Appia
  • Roman roads
  • Roman walls
  • Roman baths
  • Arch of Titus
  • Temple in Jerusalem
  • Hadrian’s Wall


  • Arthur Evans
  • V. Gordon Childe
  • Colin Renfrew
  • Heinrich Schliemann
  • Harriet Boyd Hawes
  • Anthony Snodgrass

Ancient and mythological people

  • Minos
  • Agamemnon
  • Nestor
  • Darius I
  • Xerxes
  • Pheidias
  • Philip II of Macedon (383–336 bc)
  • Alexander the Great (356–323 bc)
  • Darius III
  • Ptolemy I
  • Aeneas
  • Queen Dido
  • Hannibal
  • Romulus, Remus
  • Tarquinius Superbus, Lucretia
  • Julius Caesar
  • Pompey the Great
  • Octavian (Augustus)
  • Mark Antony
  • Cleopatra VII
  • Suetonius
  • Julio-Claudian dynasty
  • Nero
  • Vespasian
  • Flavian dynasty
  • Diocletian
  • Hadrian
  • Trajan
  • Septimius Severus
  • Horace
  • Josephus
  • Constantine (died ad 337),
  • Maxentius
  • Attila (died ad 453)
  • Alaric the Visigoth
  • Theodosius I (died ad 395)

Civilizations, cultures, periods, phases

  • Bronze Age
  • Los Millares culture (Spain)
  • Sardinia, Corsica, Balearic Islands
  • Minoan
  • Early Minoan (or “Prepalatial”) period, c. 3500–2000 bc
  • First Palace period (c. 2000–1700 bc)
  • Second Palace period (c. 1700–1490 bc)
  • Mycenaean period (c. 1600–1200 bc)
  • Dorians
  • Greek Dark Age (c. 1000–750 bc)
  • Archaic period (c. 750–480 bc)
  • Classical period (480–338 bc)
  • Celts
  • Scythians
  • Phoenicians
  • Sikels and Elymians (Sicily)
  • Carthaginian Empire
  • Punic culture
  • Etruscans
  • Samnites and Umbrians
  • Macedonians
  • Empire of Alexander the Great
  • Antigonid kingdom
  • Seleucid empire
  • Ptolemaic kingdom of Egypt
  • Roman regal period ended, Roman Republic founded, 509 bc
  • Parthians
  • Illyrians
  • Dacians
  • Roman provinces: Gallia, Hispania, Britannia, Asia, Judaea, Africa, Greece
  • Jews
  • Christians
  • Huns
  • Visigoths
  • Byzantine empire, “Rhomaioi”
  • Vandals
  • Germanic kingdoms


  • Persian War; battles of Marathon and Salamis, 490 and 480 bc
  • Peloponnesian War (431–404 bc)
  • Battle of Chaeronea 338 bc
  • assassination of Philip of Macedon 336 bc
  • Battle at the Granikos River (Turkey)
  • Battle at Gaugamela (Iraq)
  • Alexander’s conquest of Tyre (332 bc)
  • Alexander’s campaign in India (326/325 bc)
  • Punic wars
  • sack of Carthage and Corinth (146 bc)
  • naval battle of Actium (31 bc)
  • Dacian wars
  • First Jewish Revolt
  • Edict of Milan (ad 313)
  • Battle of Milvian Bridge
  • Visigoth sack of Rome (ad 410)


  • Athena (Promachos, Nike, Parthenos)
  • Zeus Olympios
  • Herakles
  • Zeus-Ammon
  • Alexander
  • Baal Hammon
  • Melkart
  • Astarte
  • Tanit
  • Eros
  • Aphrodite
  • Mithras
  • Isis and Serapis
  • Artemis of Ephesus


  • Çayönü Tepe (Turkey)
  • Çatalhöyük (Turkey)
  • Varna (Bulgaria)
  • Troy (Turkey)
  • Uluburun shipwreck (Turkey)
  • Knossos (Crete)
  • Mochlos (Crete)
  • Myrtos (Crete)
  • Vasiliki (Crete)
  • Chalandriani and Kastri (Syros, Greece)
  • House of the Tiles at Lerna (Greece)
  • Mallia (Crete)
  • Phaistos (Crete)
  • Kato Zakros (Crete)
  • Petras (Crete)
  • Archanes (Crete)
  • Galatas (Crete)
  • Chania (Crete)
  • Kamares Cave (Crete)
  • Atsipadhes (Crete)
  • Gournia (Crete)
  • Tylissos and Vathypetro (Crete)
  • Akrotiri (Thera/Santorini, Greece)
  • Mycenae (Greece)
  • Tiryns (Greece)
  • Pylos (Greece)
  • Menelaion (Greece)
  • Athens (Greece)
  • Thebes (Greece)
  • Iolkos (Greece)
  • Gla (Greece)
  • Orchomenos (Greece)
  • “Heröon” (Euboea, Greece)
  • Metapontum (Italy)
  • Syracuse (Italy)
  • Sybaris (Italy)
  • Pithekoussai (Ischia, Italy)
  • Massalia (France)
  • Olbia (Crimea)
  • Chersonesus (Black Sea)
  • Vix (France)
  • Tyre and Sidon (Lebanon)
  • Gadir (Spain)
  • Carthage (Tunisia)
  • Rome (Italy)
  • Veii, Cerveteri, and Tarquinia (Italy)
  • Portonaccio temple (Veii, Italy)
  • Banditaccia and Tarquinia cemeteries (Italy)
  • Laurion silver mines (Greece)
  • Mount Pentele marble quarries (Greece)
  • Piraeus (Greece)
  • Kerameikos cemetery (Greece)
  • panhellenic sanctuaries: Delphi, Olympia, Nemea, and Isthmia (Greece)
  • Mount Pangaion gold mines (Greece)
  • Vergina (Greece)
  • Aï Khanum (Afghanistan)
  • Ostia (Italy)
  • Rio Tinto mines (Spain).
  • Mons Claudianus quarry (Egypt)
  • Dura Europus (Syria)
  • Pompeii (Italy)
  • Masada (Israel)
  • Jerusalem (Israel)
  • New Rome, Constantinople (Turkey)