The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II: Volume I by Fernand Braudel

SEPTEMBER 20, 2006

9.5/10. One of the greatest works of history I have ever read. The command of primary sources is astounding and allows for any given point to be both grounded in ‘hard’ data and fascinating anecdote – a rare (and heady) combination indeed. This truly is a portrait of an entire world on a canvas that stretches from France to Turkey. While Braudel ‘Annales’ orientation means that there is perhaps a heavier load of statistics and the like than is usual for a historian – something I personally like and putting him someone between History, Geography and Economics – this never prevents the frequent rendering a lapidary judgement or illuminating aside. This is history as I dreamed it could be, vast, sprawling and all-encompassing yet still delivering insight and understanding, reaching, in its vast extent, the very limits of what it is possible for a single mind to achieve.

African Gold (p. 467)

It is probable that gold dust from the Sudan reached North Africa before the tenth century and led, after the year 1000, to the emergence in the South of coherent and spectacular states in the lop of the Niger and in the North, in the Maghreb, to the founding of new towns like Algiers and Oran. …

But Sudanese gold provided more than a basis for the prosperity of North Africa and Moslem Spain, the Western Islamic bloc which its isolation in the twelfth century from the chief trade routes obliged to be self-sufficient. This gold played its part in the history of the Mediterranean as a whole, entering general circulation from the fourteenth century, perhaps after the spectacular pilgrimage to Mecca of Mansa Musa, King of Mali, in 1324. North Africa with its supply of gold gradually became the driving force of the entire Mediterranean. In the fifteenth century it was invaded by Christian merchants who settled without difficulty in Ceuta, Tangier, Fez, Oran, Tlemcen, Bougie, Constantine, and Tunis.