The Unification of the Mediterranean: Cold War in the Ancient World, Part I

At the close of the third century B.C., Rome and the Seleucid Empire confronted one another in the neutral ground of disputatious Greece. By E. Badian.

Until 230 B.C.1 the Mediterranean world was not in any important sense one world. Greeks had settled as far west as the coasts of Spain, and Phoenicians had, in addition to many other colonies, founded Carthage in Tunisia; and the coastline of Sicily and Southern Italy had been made into a Greater Greece.

Yet politically the Western and the Eastern Mediterranean, divided roughly by a line through the Ionian Gulf, on the whole went their separate ways. There were startling exceptions, as when Athens tried to found a Sicilian empire late in the fifth century; and later still various Greek condottieri attempted, from time to time, to gain a foothold in Italy or Sicily and link it to their Greek possessions. But these attempts to throw a political bridge across the Ionian Gulf, few and disastrous as they were, merely serve to throw the dividing line into stronger relief.

Alexander the Great, who for the first time unified the Eastern Mediterranean, is credited with plans to conquer the West as well. But, whether or not he ever had such plans, he died before he had in fact shown any interest in westward expansion; and the struggle for power among his Successors strengthened the dividing line for another century. During this time, such attempts at crossing it as were made continued to come from the East. For the West had produced only one great empire—the Carthaginian; and Carthage had never been strong and secure enough to consider expansion to the Aegean area.

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