During my career in diplomacy and business I have worked both ends of the Mediterranean having been stationed at our embassy in Madrid twice and living twice in Turkey, once while at our embassy there and later running a joint venture between Americans and Turks.  I speak the languages of both countries.  In between I have travelled to most of the ports and islands of that sea.  And now I spend my summers at my home in Mallorca gazing out at the sea that has been a focal point of my life. 

If I ever wrote a historical novel I would write about the 16th Century struggle between  Spain and Turkey for control of the Mediterranean.  The back and forth flow of capture and capitulation is a wealth of material.  In fact, Cervantes wrote “Don Quixote” while being held as a prisoner taken during one of these many battles.  The conflict reached a stalemate with the famous Battle of Lepanto in 1571 when a Christian fleet and army defeated the Sultan´s fleet and best soldiers.  Both sides declared victory and left the Mediterranean tacitly divided between the Turks at the east end and the Christians at the west end.  The Aegean remained a Turkish sea and the Adriatic remained Christian. 

This war was just another wave in the constant conflict that washed over the Mediterranean.  And it was this constant conflict that developed the basic nature of the people who live on its islands and coast.  I tell people that when they come to Mallorca they are not so much coming to Spain, but instead to the Mediterranean, for the Mallorquins are very different from the people of the mainland, who they disparagingly refer to as “Godos” (Goths).   

No matter where you go in the Mediterranean you find the peoples of its islands and ports to be different from their compatriots who live inland.  These are people who have been robbed,  sacked, pillaged, raped, beaten and killed by the mainlanders in their endless wars for control of the “Middle Sea.” 

The Punic Wars between Carthage and Rome for control of, as the Romans called it, “Mare Nostrum,” ebbed and flowed around Mallorca.   Hannibal rested on Mallorca before launching his successful campaign against Rome.  And sling throwers from Mallorca were employed in all the armies of the day.  The sling throwers developed their deadly skills by hunting rabbits, the only wild animals native to Mallorca. 

The people of Malta keep alive in their memories the incredible siege laid by between 30,000 and 40,000 Turks on the fortifications  built on and into the island by the Knights of Malta.  Facing them were 500 Knights of Malta, supported by citizen soldiers numbering maybe 5000.    The Knights withstood the overwhelming Turkish host for four months before being relieved by a fleet of Christian ships led by Spain. 

Perhaps the easiest way to describe the truly “insular” nature of Mediterraneans is to read the book or see the movie or play, “Zorba the Greek.”  Crete is part of Greece but Zorba was called the “Greek” because he came from the mainland  and did not share the customs, traditions and values of the islanders.  And Cretins keep alive their key role in history as the link between the “old” Egyptian empire and the “new” Greek kingdoms.  

Perhaps the quintessential Mediterraneans are the residents of Gibraltar, the “Rock” that guards the entrance to the great sea.  Ethnically they are Spaniards but they live under British rule and try to emulate their British masters.  They are consummate traders and deal makers, which seems to be another characteristic of “Mediterraneans” who live on the world´s oldest trading routes. 

Yes history, at least “Western History,” and commerce began in the Mediterranean and its inhabitants have been subjected to all the rough and tumble of these two major factors in developing the world we have today.  The Mediterraneans have seen it all and learned from this vast experience.

More to come