On the Ocean: The Mediterranean and the Atlantic from Prehistory to AD 1500

ISBN : 9780198757894

Sir Barry Cunliffe
592 Pages
189 x 246 mm
Pub date
Sep 2017
Send mail

For humans the sea is, and always has been, an alien environment. Ever moving and ever changing in mood, it is a place without time, in contrast to the land which is fixed and scarred by human activity giving it a visible history. While the land is familiar, even reassuring, the sea is unknown and threatening. By taking to the sea humans put themselves at its mercy. It has often been perceived to be an alien power teasing and cajoling. The sea may give but it takes. Why, then, did humans become seafarers? Part of the answer is that we are conditioned by our genetics to be acquisitive animals: we like to acquire rare materials and we are eager for esoteric knowledge, and society rewards us well for both. Looking out to sea most will be curious as to what is out there - a mysterious island perhaps but what lies beyond? Our innate inquisitiveness drives us to explore. Barry Cunliffe looks at the development of seafaring on the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, two contrasting seas - the Mediterranean without a significant tide, enclosed and soon to become familiar, the Atlantic with its frightening tidal ranges, an ocean without end. We begin with the Middle Palaeolithic hunter gatherers in the eastern Mediterranean building simple vessels to make their remarkable crossing to Crete and we end in the early years of the sixteenth century with sailors from Spain, Portugal and England establishing the limits of the ocean from Labrador to Patagonia. The message is that the contest between humans and the sea has been a driving force, perhaps the driving force, in human history.


1 Those in Peril on the Sea
2 The Combat that is called Navigation
3 Taking to the Sea
4 Two Seas, Many Responses: 5300-1200 B.C.
5 The Eastern Mediterranean Cauldron: 5300-1200 B.C.
6 Exploring the Ends of the World: 1200-600 B.C.
7 Of Ships and Sails: a Technical Interlude
8 Into the Outer Ocean: 600-100 B.C.
9 The Atlantic Community: 100 B.C.-A.D. 500
10 An End and a Beginning: A.D. 350-800
11 The Age of the Northmen: A.D. 780-1100
12 The New European Order: A.D. 1100-1400
13 To the Other Side of the World: A.D. 1400-1510
14 Reflections on the Ocean
Guide to Further Reading
Illustration Sources

About the author: 

Barry Cunliffe taught archaeology in the Universities of Bristol and Southampton and was Professor of European Archaeology at the University of Oxford from 1972 to 2008, thereafter becoming Emeritus Professor. He has excavated widely in Britain (Fishbourne, Bath, Danebury, Hengistbury Head, Brading) and in the Channel Islands, Brittany, and Spain, and has been President of the Council for British Archaeology and of the Society of Antiquaries, Governor of the Museum of London, and a Trustee of the British Museum. He is currently a Commissioner of English Heritage. His many publications include The Ancient Celts (1997), Facing the Ocean (2001), The Druids: A Very Short Introduction (2010), Britain Begins (2012), and By Steppe, Desert, and Ocean (2015), all published by Oxford University Press. He received a knighthood in 2006.

The price listed on this page is the recommended retail price for Japan. When a discount is applied, the discounted price is indicated as “Discount price”. Prices are subject to change without notice.