So I started reading The Great Sea by David Abulafia and instead of reading it in order, I skipped right to chapter 6 of Part Two “The Lighthouse of the Mediterranean” (pg. 149). Which, as you might expect since the book’s all about the Mediterranean Sea, focuses, so far, on the ancient city of Alexandria.
I adore ancient Alexandria (can you feel that way about a city?) so this chapter so far as made me squee in joy.
Here are some choice quotes. The links are just for my future reference.
“[Alexander] decided to found a city on the northernmost edge of Egypt, on a limestone spur separated from the alluvial lands of the interior by a freshwater lake” (149).
I love this one because it gives a really distinct and unique visual in my mind. Plus, I like cities near or on lakes. (Tenochtitlan is another favorite historical city of mine).
“What was exceptional about it was its sheer scale: three miles (five kilometres) from west to east, and about half that from north to south: a long, narrow city, said to have resembled in shape a Greek cloak, or chlamys. Its harbors featured prominently in the plans, separated from one another by a long mole that linked the new city to the island of Pharos of which Homer had spoken” (151-2).
This one…just wow. I love the details of size and shape. Again, it creates a visual city in my mind.
“But Alexandria also became the one of the liveliest centres [sic] of reinvigorated Greek culture… What is distinctive about ‘Hellenistic’ culture is that it was not the preserve of Greeks; Hellenistic styles of art reached Carthage and Etruria, and Hellenistic ideas captivated Jews, Syrians, and Egyptians… [and] it was the Hellenistic world, and Alexandria in particular (rather than Hellas itself), that produced some of the most famous names in Greek science and culture: the mathematician Euclid, the inventor Archimedes, the comedian Menander” (152).
Yay! The diversity, the science, the art, the expansiveness. It just excites me so much! Also, I appreciate the mention that Hellenistic culture wasn’t really the same as Greek culture; yes, it was rooted in a certain period of Greek culture (400 B.C, I think?), but those little seeds percolated into other areas which created the Hellenistic culture. Fun times!
“Alexandria was of fundamental importance in the spreading of this new, open, version of Greek culture across the Mediterranean; it became the lighthouse of Mediterranean culture” (152)
I just like the metaphor.
“…there did exist a flourishing metal industry, and exports of gold, silver and bronze plate became one of the strengths of Alexandria, along with the export of textiles, pottery, and — a particular speciality — glass” (156).
This one’s nice because it gives me a sense of what’s in the city, like what would be in shops and be sold. Also: glass. It’s important in my writing, especially the story that has the Alexandria-inspired city.
“One of the most enthusiastic markets for these goods was Carthage…[and] Carthage was valuable to the Ptolemies because Spanish and Sardinian silver was funneled through the city” (157)
This just amuses me for some reason.
“Alexandria thus established itself as one of the major business centres [sic] of the entire Mediterranean” (157).
“…links beyond the Mediterranean — through the Red Sea to India — ensured Alexandria’s role as the prime entrepôt between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean, which it would maintain with only occasional interruptions for two millennia” (155).
I really like these quotes just because of how it reinforces the idea that Alexandria was a city of commerce, stretching all the from India to Spain. Which is one of the reasons I love it.
And that’s about all for now. Gosh, I love ancient history, especially the Hellenistic period. Joy! ♥
Also Alexandria itself is especially unique just from my perspective as a writer, since, as I said above, it’s more directly relevant to my writing; it’s an inspiration for a major locale in a long-enduring story (it’s on it’s fourth draft by now). So yay (?) for that, I guess.
Either way, ancient Alexandria is awesome. ♥
Abulafia, David. The Great Sea. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. (paperback edition)