‘I don’t have time for all that weird stuff. Cut it out!’ The professor was berating me for a passage in a textbook for US undergraduates. The weird stuff was about Mediterranean peoples of the first millennium BC: the Garamantes, who crossed the Sahara in chariots and built underground irrigation channels in the arid Fezzan; the Tartessians of southern Spain, with their legends of long-lived kings; the Etruscans, with their strangely deferential attitude towards women; the Illyrians, reputed descendants of Polyphemus and Galatea, who defended themselves against Greeks and Romans from behind Cyclopean walls.
My interlocutor insisted that, between the eras of Egyptian and Roman greatness, only the Phoenicians and Greeks were worth bothering undergraduates with. But without the context of a Mediterranean that teemed with creative, constructive, commercial and potentially imperial peoples, nothing in Greek or Roman history is intelligible.
Thanks to Cyprian Broodbank,