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Tag Archives: Mediterranean Sea

Rivalries in the Middle East 1856 – 1912

ottoman

THE MIDDLE EAST where Europe, Asia and Africa meet had long been known as one of the great crossroads of the world. Most of its people were Moslems, but among them were many Christians and Jews. They spoke languages as different as Arabic and Latin, Slavic and Turkish. They had little in common except that they were all subjects of the Ottoman sultan in Constantinople. The Ottoman Empire — so called after its early founder, Othman — was the last of several empires to rule over a large part of Islam. Unlike the earlier empires, it was dominated not by Arabs, but by Turks. Centuries before, the Turks had fought their way west from Central Asia and founded a new homeland in the West Asian peninsula of Turkey. From there, they had pushed outward, conquering lands and peoples. In 1699, however, they had lost Hungary to the Austrians. After that, while the nations of western Europe grew stronger, the Ottoman Empire became weaker. Throughout the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Ottoman sultans had to combat enemies both within and without their empire. Their foreign enemies were the European powers, which snatched up their outlying lands. Their enemies at home were the subject peoples, especially in the Balkan Peninsula of southeast Europe, who demanded their freedom. Unrest was chronic and the Ottoman Empire, which was usually called simply Turkey, came to be known as “the sick man of Europe.” By the 1850’s, Turkey had lost lands north of the Black Sea to Russia and Algeria‚ in North Africa, to France. Of its former Balkan holdings, Greece was independent and both Serbia and Rumania had some freedom. A native Arab dynasty ruled much of Arabia. In Egypt, a former Turkish governor had set himself up as hereditary khedive, or viceroy, …

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Parceling Out a Continent 1841-1910

africa

Africa, the second largest continent in the world, extends south from the Mediterranean Sea four thousand miles. Along its north coast is a strip of land known to Europeans since ancient times. South of this strip lie mountains and deserts. The Sahara, an empty “sea” of sand and rock, crosses the continent in a belt several hundreds of miles wide; it is hot and dry, vast and rugged. Europeans knew very little about the lands beyond it. Almost all they knew of Africa were the coasts, which they could reach by sea. As late as the time of the American Civil War and the unification of Italy and Germany, Africa was still largely unknown – the “Dark Continent.” The people of North Africa were white — descendants of the early inhabitants and of Arabs who had conquered them for Islam. South of the Sahara lay “Black Africa” a land of Negroes. The Negroes were divided into thousands of tribes, but had no organized states. They spoke hundreds of languages, but had no writing. They lived by hunting, raising cattle and simple farming and worshiped tribal gods. All of Black Africa was Negro except for a few places on the Indian Ocean where Arab traders had settled and the southernmost part of the continent, where some European families had settled. STANLEY AND LIVINGSTON In the sixteenth century, Portuguese and Spanish ships had begun to stop at points on the Atlantic shore of Africa to trade. Later, traders came from other European countries. The names they gave to stretches of shoreland — the Gold Coast, the Ivory Coast, the Slave Coast — show what they came for. The Europeans found that the sultry coastland was ridden with disease. So many of them died there that West Africa came to be known as …

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Stepping-Stones for the West, 1869

suez

ON NOVEMBER 16, 1869, the sun rose over the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea and shone on the blue water. The squat buildings of Port Said, on the shore of Egypt, glowed against the clear sky. A new town, Port Said had begun to rise only ten years before from the barren plain that joins Africa to Asia. In the man-made harbour were crowded eighty ships. Some were warships, others merchantmen, but all were strung with brightly-coloured pennants. On board were distinguished visitors, among them the emperor of Austria-Hungary, the crown prince of Prussia, the prince of Holland and ambassadors, generals, admirals from many lands. As the sun climbed higher, passengers began to appear on the decks and hundreds of other people gathered on the piers and the seawall. At eight o’clock‚ the warships’ big guns boomed out salutes to the European monarchs‚ to the khedive’s of Egypt and to the khedive’s overlord, the sultan of Turkey. When the smoke cleared, a trim, graceful vessel came steaming toward the harbour — the French imperial yacht Aigle. Again the cannon thundered, to welcome Empress Eugénie, the wife of Napoleon III. She was the guest of honour and as her yacht glided past, the sailors on the other ships stood at attention, cheering, while music blared from several bands. The black-haired empress, standing on the Aigle’s bridge, smiled to left and right. She looked happy, proud and by the time her yacht had docked, everyone agreed she was as beautiful as she was said to be. In the afternoon, the visitors, in uniforms, frock coats and formal gowns and Egyptians‚ who wore flowing robes, all trooped out onto the desert. There, perhaps for the first time, Christians and Moslems worshiped side by side. The Moslems were led in prayer by the …

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Prince Henry’s School 1415 – 1499

Vasco da Gama

IN 1415, WHEN ALL OF CHRISTENDOM belonged to one church and Christians battled pagan Turks instead of one another, a force of Portuguese marines set sail for the coast of Africa. They planned to attack a town called Ceuta. A stronghold that guarded the narrow passage connecting the Mediterranean Sea with the Atlantic, Ceuta was the end link in the chain of fortresses and well-armed ports that the Turks had tightened around the southern and eastern boundaries of Europe. Held in by this chain, European merchants could not trade in the luxury-filled markets of the east, pilgrims could not journey to Jerusalem and missionaries could not carry the word of God to the countless “lost souls” of Africa and the Indies. While the Turks held Ceuta, it was dangerous for the merchants of northern and southern Europe merely to trade with one another. So the king of Portugal sent out an expedition of his toughest marines. At their head he placed his own son, Prince Henry, who was young but skilled in the tactics of war. With a favourable wind driving his ships at top speed, Prince Henry caught the Turks by surprise. He sank their fleet, destroyed their docks‚ burned their town and triumphantly sailed home to announce that the sea routes were free once more. The king rewarded his son by naming him master of the Naval Arsenal at Sagres, the port of Lagos and all of the Cape of St. Vincent, the rocky headland that jutted like a pointing finger from southern Portugal into the Atlantic. Prince Henry was delighted. Ships and the sea were his love and his life and he had many ideas for the fleet that now was his to command. These ideas were the beginning of a great age of exploration. They would …

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The Town and the Guild 1100 -1382

guilds

ONE FINE SPRING MORNING, in the French town of Troyes, in the county of Champagne, a bell rang out through the clear air. The people streaming along the road to the town knew why the bell was ringing; it signaled the start of another day of the fair. Now they walked faster or whipped up their horses, anxious not to miss any of the excitement. Most of them were merchants, who had come to buy the goods that were on display. Some were lords and ladies, who hoped to find gleaming silks from the Orient, or fine Spanish leather, or rich furs from Russia. The rest were peasants and workmen; they had little money to spend, but they might buy a few small things and they would enjoy the clowns, minstrels and jugglers who performed for the crowds on the streets. The fairs of Champagne, held at several towns in that county, had their beginning early in the twelfth century and continued for more than two hundred years. The feudal lords of Champagne, who were called counts, realized that the fairs brought many benefits to them and their people and wisely did everything they could to make Champagne a center of trade. They built spacious warehouses and pavilions for the storage and display of merchandise. To make it easier for merchants from various parts of the world to do business, the counts set up booths where the money of one territory could be exchanged for the money of another. They established a special court to settle disputes over business dealings and their troops protected travelers from the bandits who roamed the roads. The counts themselves profited from all this, for they collected fees from the merchants and traders who took part in the fair. Champagne’s location made it easy to …

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The Crusades 1096-1260

crusade

ON A COLD NOVEMBER DAY IN 1096, a great crowd of people gathered in a field at the town of Clermont in France. They had come from miles around and near them were pitched the tents they had put up for shelter. For some days, Pope Urban II had been holding a great council of cardinals, bishops and princes. Today he was to speak to the people and so many wanted to hear that no building was large enough to hold them all. A platform had been built in the center of the field and as Pope Urban stepped up on it a hush fell over the crowd. Pope Urban was a Frenchman and he spoke to the people around him as fellow Frenchmen. “Oh, race of Franks,” he said, “race beloved and chosen by God . . . set apart from all other nations by the situation of your country as well as by your Catholic faith and the honour which you render to the holy Church: to you our discourse is addressed. . . .” “From the confines of Jerusalem and from Constantinople a grievous report has gone forth that an accursed race, wholly alienated from God, has violently invaded the lands of these Christians and has depopulated them by pillage and fire. They have led away a part of the captives into their own country and a part they have killed by cruel tortures. . .” The people knew what he meant. He was speaking of the Holy Land, that lay on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Here were the cities of Jerusalem, Nazareth, Gaza and Damascus. Here Jesus Christ had lived and preached and had been crucified; here Christianity had begun. Here were many sacred shrines and during the Middle Ages thousands of Europeans …

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The Gift of the Nile 3300 B.C. – 30 B.C.

NILE

It was around 3500 B.C. and as it did every year around the middle of July, the Nile had begun to rise. Carrying tons of soil, the waters poured down from the mountains of Africa, where the rain and melting snow fed the streams that surfed northward into one great river. Wherever it ran free of the rocky canyons, the river overflowed onto the dry fields along its banks. It lapped against the villages on high ground and spread to market towns on the edges of the dessert. Moving northward, the river engulfed the entire Delta region and then emptied into the Mediterranean Sea. By mid-November the waters receded, leaving a thick, dark mud on the fields and in the canals. Near one of the largest towns far up the Nile, the farmers stood waiting at the edge of the fields. Then from the town came the king, followed by guards, priests and servants carrying large fans. The king wore a high white crown and carried a hoe. Scooping some fresh mud out of an irrigation ditch, he placed it in a basket held by an attendant. While the priests chanted, the mud was spread over the field. Now the farmers could plant in the fertile earth left by the floodwaters. The king, who was responsible for the well-being of his people, had performed a great duty. As his white crown indicated, this king ruled only in Upper Egypt. In the Delta to the North there was another king, who wore a red crown. For many years the people of Lower and Upper Delta had been fighting and raiding each other’s towns. However, they all had common ancestors who had come from Africa to the south, from Libya to the west and from Asia to the north and east. Through …

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