Around the year 800 BC, the Mediterranean woke up. After the long Dark Age following the fall of the great Palace empires, new groupings began to spring up. We have already looked at the liveliest of them, Greece, but there are three others that in many ways rivalled Greece in their achievements, and we should perhaps look briefly at them in a short intermezzo.
There were the Etruscans, who dominated north-central Italy at a time when Rome was still a struggling nonentity. The Etruscans were rich and powerful and we must ask how they became rich and why they ultimately failed.
Then there were the Phoenicians: these were originally the inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon, the great cities of what is today Lebanon. These were threatened by the empires of the Assyrians and the Babylonians, but maintained a semi-independence by becoming traders and providing the Assyrians with the metals – copper and silver that they desired. This meant that they spread out all over the Mediterranean, to Cyprus, then along the north coast of Africa where they founded Carthage, which became the centre of their new dominion, and eventually spreading yet further into Spain.
Then there was Tartessos in Spain, a little known civilisation which sprang up and flourished on the back of the Phoenicians’ need for metals: they were the masters of the copper and silver with which Spain is rich.
With all these societies we need to ask three big questions. Firstly, how did they spring up and flourish? How far did they share with Greece some of the new ideas that dominated life in the first millennium BC, which we may perhaps call the ‘Iron Age’?
Secondly, how did they work, how did they function? Did they use money and if so, how far did they form a market economy? Were they structured round palaces or were they centred round the market place?
Thirdly, why did they fail, or perhaps we should ask rather more pertinently, how was it that Rome swallowed them up? Was it simply that Rome had a more efficient, perhaps a more ruthless military machine? Or did the best man win? Did Rome provide a better, a more civilised way of life than their rivals in the rest of the Mediterranean?