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Related to Mediterranean: Mediterranean climate, Mediterranean diet


1. short for the Mediterranean Sea
2. a native or inhabitant of a Mediterranean country
3. of, relating to, situated or dwelling on or near the Mediterranean Sea
4. denoting a postulated subdivision of the Caucasoid race, characterized by slender build and dark complexion
5. Meteorol (of a climate) characterized by hot summers and relatively warm winters when most of the annual rainfall occurs
6. Obsolete situated in the middle of a landmass; inland
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a natural region that includes the Mediterranean Sea and its islands and the adjoining territory of Europe, Asia, and Africa. More broadly, the Mediterranean includes the Southwest Asian Highlands. The Mediterranean region occupies an area of approximately 4 million sq km; including the Southwest Asian Highlands, it covers more than 5 million sq km. The name “Mediterranean” also refers to the historical region along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.

Natural features. The Mediterranean has fairly uniform natural conditions, chiefly because of the wide distribution of the subtropical Mediterranean climate. Furthermore, the Mediterranean Sea has an enormous influence on all aspects of the natural environment. A diversity of landscapes is also characteristic. Alongside high mountains snow-covered in winter lie depressions with hot climates where even palm trees are sometimes found.

Most of the Mediterranean is located within the Alpide geosynclinal (folded) region, and many areas experience significant neotectonic movements and seismic and volcanic activity (Etna, Vesuvius, and Stromboli). The terrain is for the most part mountainous, with predominantly linear folded and folded-block mountains alternating with high plateaus and hilly plains. The mountains have prevailing elevations of about 1,500 m and summits exceeding 3,000 m. Limestones with karst forms are widespread, and crystalline rocks, schists, and flysch occur in many areas. Only a few marginal regions in the southern Mediterranean, such as the northern part of the African-Arabian Platform, have platform conditions, with plains predominating.

The climate and landscapes of the Mediterranean have been significantly affected by the barrier formed by the great mountains—the Pyrenees, Alps, and Stara Planina (Balkan Mountains)—that border the Mediterranean on the north. Summers are hot, dry, and sunny, and winters are cool and rainy; in the eastern Mediterranean the maximum precipitation occurs in spring. The mean January temperature ranges from 0°–2°C in the northeast to 10°–12°C in the south; July temperatures range from 19°–20°C in the north to 28°–30°C in the south. The radiation balance is positive in all seasons, which ensures a growing season of more than 200 days with total active temperatures of more than 3,000°. The plains normally receive 300–400 mm of precipitation annually; the mountains, up to 3,000 mm; and the high interior plateaus, from 300 mm to 1,000 mm. The precipitation generally decreases from north to south and from west to east. During the warm half of the year there is insufficient moisture for one to six months (most of the year in parts of Africa and the Levant). making irrigation necessary almost everywhere. During the winter only the higher mountain slopes have a stable snow cover. Local winds, such as the bora, mistral, and sirocco, are typical of many regions.

The rivers, of which the largest are the Ebro, Tiber, Po, Rhône, and lower Nile, are fed chiefly by rain, with high water occurring during the cold season and low water in summer. They are extensively used for irrigation. Sudden heavy rainfalls frequently cause flooding. In summer many rivers dry up.

Cinnamon-colored soils with a high carbonate level and significant humus content are found in many places. In the mountains cinnamon-colored soils are frequently supplanted by mountain brown forest soils at higher elevations. The Mediterranean region provides classic examples of soil erosion.

The vegetative cover has been altered by human activity. In many areas secondary formations of shrubs, dwarf shrubs, and tough grasses, such as maquis, garigue, and phrygana, have replaced sclerophylous forests. Remnants of forests consisting of holm and cork oak, stone pine, and Aleppo pine have survived in places. In the mountains there are small tracts of pine, fir, and deciduous oaks. Stone heaths occupy large areas.

Altitudinal zonation is clearly discernible in the mountains. In the submontane and coastal plains man-made landscapes predominate. Wheat, barley, and root crops are grown during the cool season, and corn, tobacco, and cotton during the warm season. Vineyards and citrus and olive groves are found everywhere. On the lower mountain slopes the landscapes consist chiefly of Mediterranean brush vegetation. Forests occur at higher elevations, followed by scrubs and sometimes giving way to subalpine and alpine meadows.

Belonging chiefly to the Mediterranean zoogeographic subregion, the diverse wildlife of the Mediterranean has been greatly reduced by human activity. Most of the larger mammals, including wolves, jackals, foxes, polecats, and otters, are typical Hol-arctic animals, but African species such as viverrids and Old World porcupines are also encountered. Many birds that inhabit the USSR and Central and Northern Europe migrate to the Mediterranean for the winter. The fauna and natural landscapes are protected in wildlife refuges and national parks. Fishing is well developed in the Mediterranean Sea; the catch includes tuna, sardines, crustaceans, and mollusks.

Despite the many common natural features of the Mediterranean region, there are substantial differences resulting from the region’s great size, the separation of its northern and southern parts, differences in exposure, and other factors. The northern shores of the Mediterranean Sea have a relatively even distribution of precipitation throughout the year and a comparatively short dry period. Plants and animals typical of the temperate zone predominate here. Greater numbers of subtropical and tropical species are found along the southern shores, where conditions are more arid. The increased aridity from west to east is associated with diminishing oceanic influences. Differences of exposure also cause significant contrasts in the natural environment.

The region’s ancient remains and its natural beauty attract millions of tourists. The Mediterranean also has numerous resorts. Nevertheless, poor management of natural resources (deforestation, overgrazing) and the contamination of Mediterranean waters with petroleum products and industrial wastes call for effective measures to protect the natural environment.


History. The first human settlements in the Mediterranean date from the Lower Paleolithic. Some of the first class societies arose in the Mediterranean, notably those of ancient Egypt, Palestine, Phoenicia, mainland Greece, Crete, and the islands in the Aegean Sea. From earliest times the Mediterranean Sea was important in the lives of the peoples who inhabited its shores, serving as the principal means of maritime communications for the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern part of the ancient world.

Economic and other kinds of ties developed rapidly from the second millennium B.C., encompassing the Aegean world, Egypt, Cyprus, Syria, and Phoenicia. Mediterranean trade was coastal, and after the “peoples of the sea” invaded the eastern Mediterranean circa 1200 B.C., it was controlled by Phoenician merchants, who began establishing colonies in the eastern and western Mediterranean in the 12th and 11th centuries B.C.; the largest colony was Carthage. The Mediterranean Sea played a vital role in the life of ancient Greece. Between the eighth and sixth centuries B.C., the Greeks colonized the northern and western Mediterranean. The extensive development of maritime trade contributed to the rise of the Greek city-states of Miletus, Ephesus, Corinth, and Athens as the leading economic and cultural centers of the Mediterranean region.

The importance of the Mediterranean Sea grew during the Hellenistic period, when economic and cultural ties between East and West grew stronger. In the third century B.C. Carthage, then the most powerful state in the western Mediterranean, and Rome clashed in the struggle for hegemony in the Mediterranean. By virtue of its victory in the Punic Wars (264–146 B.C.) Rome became a great Mediterranean power, and through later conquests brought the entire Mediterranean under its control. (The Romans came to regard the Mediterranean Sea as their own internal sea, calling it mare nostrum.) After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the late fifth century A.D., supremacy in the Mediterranean passed to the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium).

The Arab conquests of the seventh to first half of the ninth centuries resulted in Arab domination, but in the second half of the tenth century Byzantium regained its hegemony in the eastern Mediterranean. In the tenth and 11th centuries an increasing role in Mediterranean trade was played by Italian and other Western European coastal city-republics: Amalfi, Pisa, Genoa, Venice, Marseille, and the Slavic cities of the Dalmatian coast, notably Dubrovnik, Split, and Kotor. The position of these cities, especially that of Venice, which gained control of the eastern Mediterranean, was strengthened by the Crusades, especially the Fourth Crusade (1202–04). Between the 13th and 15th centuries Barcelona became a major trade center in the western Mediterranean.

The significance of the Mediterranean Sea as a focus of maritime trade routes was undermined by the establishment of Ottoman rule on the eastern and southern coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the 15th and 16th centuries. Moreover, as a result of the great geographic discoveries of the late 15th and 16th centuries, the main world trade routes shifted from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic Ocean. For many countries, however, the Mediterranean Sea continued to be important. The growth of French trade with the eastern Mediterranean and France’s trade agreement with the Ottoman Empire (1535 or 1536) enabled the French merchant marine to dominate the Mediterranean Sea. Many naval battles were fought on the sea during the 17th and 18th centuries. British influence in the Mediterranean increased when Great Britain seized Gibraltar in the early 18th century. After the Russo-Turkish War of 1768–74, Russia obtained the right of merchant shipping through the Bosporus and Dardanelles, thus gaining access to the Mediterranean Sea.

At the turn of the 19th century, the struggle between France and Great Britain for hegemony in the Mediterranean Sea became more intense. For more than 15 years, from the time of Napoleon’s first Italian (1796–97) and Egyptian (1798–1801) campaigns, the Mediterranean was one of the principal theaters of the Napoleonic Wars. After Napoleon’s army was destroyed in Russia in 1812 and the Napoleonic Empire disintegrated in 1814, the Congress of Vienna (1814–15) ceded to Great Britain Malta and the Ionian Islands, which were turned over to Greece in 1864. These islands were important strategic points in the Mediterranean Sea. To strengthen its domination in the Mediterranean, Great Britain assumed supervision of the Suez Canal in 1875 (built in 1869), seized Cyprus in 1878, and occupied Egypt in 1882 (after France had invaded Tunisia), thereby taking over the Suez Canal completely.

In order to preserve its hegemony in the Mediterranean Sea, Great Britain used every possible means to obstruct Russia’s exercise of its rights, as a Black Sea power, in the Black Sea straits, Russia’s outlet to the Mediterranean. At the same time, Great Britain vigorously opposed the spread of the national liberation movement in the Balkans and the creation of independent states there. At the Berlin Congress of 1878, Great Britain, Austria-Hungary, and Germany succeeded in revising the Treaty of San Stefano (1878) to the detriment of Russia and the Balkan peoples.

In the second half of the 19th century, especially after the Suez Canal was completed, the Mediterranean sea routes linking Europe with Asia and Africa became extremely important. In the late 19th century two other capitalist powers were drawn into the struggle for influence in the Mediterranean Sea: Italy, which seized Libya in 1912, and Germany. With the coming of the age of imperialism in the early 20th century, the growing German influence in Turkey and the Balkans (including Germany’s construction of the Baghdad Railroad) and German claims in North Africa (the Moroccan crises) aggravated Anglo-German hostility in the Mediterranean. Despite Germany’s claims, the Moroccan crises ended with the establishment of French control over most of Morocco.

The defeat of Germany and its allies in World War I strengthened the position of British imperialism in the Mediterranean. Britain expanded its colonial possessions in the eastern Mediterranean and adjoining areas. Attempting to bolster its position in the Mediterranean at the expense of the Black Sea countries, Great Britain was able to persuade the participants in the Lausanne Conference (1922–23) to adopt a convention on the status of the Black Sea straits that violated the rights of the bordering countries. Owing to the firm stand taken by the USSR, the decisions made at the Montreux Conference in 1936 represented a step forward toward recognizing the rights of the Black Sea countries on the straits issue. Imperialist conflicts in the Mediterranean region again broke out in the 1930’s, when the Italian-German alliance was formed and the fascist states began their armed aggression—Italy’s seizure of Ethiopia in 1935–36, the Italian-German intervention in Spain in 1936–39, and the Italian occupation of Albania in 1939. The Nyon Agreement, signed in 1937 by the Soviet Union and a number of other states, was aimed at opposing the fascist aggression.

During World War II the Mediterranean Sea and adjacent territories (North Africa, Greece, and Yugoslavia) were important theaters of military operations. After the war, the balance of power shifted in the Mediterranean region. The defeat of the fascist bloc greatly weakened the position of Italy and Germany. Socialist revolutions took place in Yugoslavia and Albania. As Great Britain’s position weakened, that of the USA grew stronger, and the USA became the bulwark of imperialist forces in the region. With the creation of NATO in 1949, the Mediterranean Sea became the southern flank of its armed forces in Europe, subordinate to the supreme command of the southern European theater of military operations. The US Sixth Fleet is permanently stationed in the Mediterranean.

In the Mediterranean region imperialism has been opposed by the forces of socialism and the national liberation movement. Since World War II they have won a series of major victories, notably the revolution in Egypt in July 1952; the independence of Lebanon (1943), Syria (Jan. 1,1944), Libya (1951), Morocco and Tunisia (1956), Cyprus (1960), Algeria (1962), and Malta (1964); and the nationalization of the Suez Canal (1956).

Seeking to restore their domination in the Mediterranean region in the face of a growing anti-imperialist movement, the Western powers have set up an extensive network of naval bases in the region. Although it was obliged to recognize the independence of Cyprus and Malta, Great Britain, a member of NATO, has nonetheless retained its bases in these countries. Directed against the liberation movement of the Arab peoples, the aggressive policies of Israel, which have been supported by the USA and other imperialist forces, are a dangerous source of tension in the Mediterranean region. The situation in the Mediterranean, particularly its eastern part, has been complicated by the intervention of NATO countries in the domestic affairs of the Republic of Cyprus and the invasion of Cyprus by foreign troops in 1974, by the pressure put on Greece by the USA after the fall of the fascist military dictatorship in that country in 1974 and its withdrawal from the NATO military organization, and by the efforts of the USA and NATO to compensate for their weakening influence in certain Mediterranean countries by bolstering their military-strategic positions in other countries in the region.

As a Black Sea power, and therefore also a Mediterranean state, the USSR has a vital interest in preserving peace in the Mediterranean region. As early as 1963 the Soviet government appealed to the governments of the USA, Great Britain, and France, as well as the governments of all the Mediterranean countries, to declare the entire Mediterranean a zone free of nuclear missiles. The Soviet Union has consistently called for a relaxation of tension in the Mediterranean and for a just Middle East settlement as a key condition for transforming the Mediterranean Sea into a sea of peace and friendly cooperation.


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McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
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