Map Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean


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Lesson 2.2: Mediterranean Trade in the Bronze Age (Shipwrecks, Texts, and Buried Cities)


Lesson 2.2: Mediterranean Trade in the Bronze Age (Shipwrecks, Texts, and Buried Cities)


Topic 2: Economic and Artistic Exchanges and Technologies: Networks of Trade mapped on the Mediterranean and beyond


Students use primary sources in the form of texts and objects from excavations of Bronze Age sources from the second to the first millennium BCE—the Uluburun shipwreck, the port city of Ugarit, and a passages from the Hebrew Bible and other ancient texts—to examine trade in the Mediterranean region. They analyze and classify the goods from these sources in terms of types of goods, origin, destination and probable uses and consumers, producers and types of laborers involved in the trade circuits. In doing so, students gain a sense of the “footprint” of trade in the Mediterranean region. Extension lesson materials provide material for study of two Arabian caravan cities (Petra and Qaryat al-Faw), and the port of Berenike, along routes that connected with Mediterranean trade routes.


Susan Douglass


Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean: A World History Curriculum Project for Educators


Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies




2014, Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies, George Mason University, published under Creative Commons – Attribution-No Derivatives 3.0 License


1-3 class periods (depending on whether teacher decides to do extension investigations of the Uluburun and Ugarit sites in full, and ancillary materials on connections with the East)


• Students will identify objects and classify them according to their significance as luxury goods, strategic goods, commodities

• They will trace the geographic origins of the goods found in the sources and locate them on a map.

• They will infer the uses of these goods in the places to which they were shipped.

• They will identify goods that came from beyond the Mediterranean region (i.e. Red Sea, Indian Ocean, Central Asia, Arabian Peninsula, Europe, etc.) by type of goods and location of origin.

• They will identify the types of people who produced and transported the goods found on the ships and the city (miners, farmers, pastoral nomads, merchants, artisans, seafarers)

• They will describe the geographic “footprint” covered by Mediterranean trade during the Bronze Age, based on the shipwreck, the city, the biblical text and Amarna letters, answering the question “Where is the Mediterranean during this time?”


• Student Handout 2.2.1: Images and inventory of objects from the Uluburun Shipwreck, or gallery from

• Student Handout 2.2.2 of Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, Eziekiel, Ch. 27 on the city of Tyre

• Student Handout 2.2.3 of two Amarna Letters from Egypt

• Student Handout 2.2.4: Gallery of objects excavated from the city of Ugarit and the Ras Shamra complex in Syria.

• Student Handout 2.2.5: Map of trade in the Mediterranean from Metropolitan Museum of Art catalogue Aruz, Joan, Kim Benzel, Jean M Evans, and N.Y.) Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York. Beyond Babylon: Art, Trade, and Diplomacy in the Second Millennium B.C. New York; New Haven: Metropolitan Museum of Art ; Yale University Press, 2008, and outline map of Afroeurasia with labels.

• Student Handout 2.2.6 on Mediterranean Trade Links with the East

• Student Handout 2.2.7 on Port Cities in the Desert

Lesson Plan Text

1. Handouts 2.2.1-2.2.4 on the shipwreck, the city, and the two texts about trade and royal gifts give students a chance to see what kinds of goods were traded by sea, where they originated, and what resources were needed to produce them. Students should work in small groups and first classify the goods according to which are luxuries, strategic goods, and which commodities, or ordinary objects of use or foodstuffs (See notes on categories below instructions for examples). They should make lists of the objects, listing the document or site where they were found, and labeling them with L, S, or C for these categories. This will require some discussion and even argument among group members.

2. Many of the objects’ origins are labeled, and the map has images locating them and objects similar to them. Use the outline map of the eastern hemisphere to locate places farther afield (e.g., Baltic amber). When this activity is complete, have the students draw a dotted line in red around the areas from which Mediterranean trade drew for its products during this period. How does this change their thinking about the geographic range of the Mediterranean. How does that compare with trade today?

3. The next activity involves comparing objects from the four different sources. Which ones are similar in technology, style, or use? Be sure to look at the Uluburun shipwreck’s full inventory online (“Photo Galleries - Institute of Nautical Archaeology.”, and the map on handout 2.2.5. Note the dates of the documents and the sites. What does the similarity of goods tell us about continuity across time and place?

4. Next, have each student choose 6 objects and create an index card in which to make a small sketch (or paste the images), make notes identifying the object, and list the occupations of people who were involved in producing, transporting, and selling the object (e.g. farmers, artisans, pastoral nomads, slaves, ship crews, soldiers protecting roads, customs officials, palace and court attendants, royal households, etc.) Have students discuss this in their groups, then present their findings. How can the groups of people be further classified? (ex: by social class, rural/urban, pastoral/agricultural, language, ethnicity, region).

5. Use Student Handout 2.2.6 to explore Mediterranean trading links with the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean during this era. The documents include information on the Red Sea port of Berenike, a Roman coin hoard from the Coromandel coast of India, quotes from Pliny the Elder’s Natural History and the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. All documents from The Indian Ocean in World History at

6. The map of trade routes for objects common to the shipwreck, the city, and the texts includes ports, maritime routes and overland routes. Student Handout 2.2.7 explores two cities on the caravan routes in the Arabian Peninsula that connected central Asia, southwest Asia, and the Indian Ocean with the Mediterranean. The handout contains information on Nabataean Petra and Qaryat al-Faw, in southern and northern Arabia. Students will explore the concept of a “port city” in the desert and the camel transport that made them possible. Read the handout with a view to comparing seaports with caravan stops, and caravan with ship transport. The lesson segment adds to their understanding of artistic and cultural influence to and from the Mediterranean region. This part of the lesson also helps to expand the “footprint” of the Mediterranean as seen through trade links.

7. Extension activities: Compare the artifacts and history of other important areas connected to Mediterranean trade networks. Explore excavation reports on later ports and wrecks, such as the Ptolemaic port of Berenike on the Red Sea ( founded 275 BCE) at “The Berenike Project.”,; and A fictionalized article based on the Kyrenia, Cyprus shipwreck dated to 387 BCE in Saudi Aramco World Magazine at “Saudi Aramco World : I, The Sea Tramp.”, and the 6th century BCE Phoenician wreck at Cartagena, Spain at

8. Additional resources for student research; include an illustrated article with maps on Phoenician seafaring at “Phoenician Economics, Purple Dye, Trade and Mining - World Topics | Facts and Details.” - 60. Classifying Objects of Trade The following categorizations may be helpful to the teacher in guiding and assessing student discussions of the cargo of the ship from Uluburun, artifacts from the Ugarit excavations and the desert cities, and the texts. Beginning the discussion with definitions of basic commodities, strategic goods, and luxuries is interesting as a way to connect with consumer culture and global trade today. Students might be divided into three groups, assigning the categories; the resulting overlap will make for interesting discussion.


• Olive oil, wine, wheat, dried fruits (some of these are both basic & luxury)

• Textiles are the most important commodity (wool, linen and linen weaving looms introduced), dyestuffs

• clay for pottery-making locally sourced but internally traded? – pottery was the Saran Wrap and Tupper Ware of the Medit.

• Amphorae as shipping containers


• Metals (tin, silver in Spain) copper (for bronze)

• Who needed metal, where found=Rome, Greeks, Etruscans, Carthaginians (Phoenecians); wood/timber; also naval stores--pitch

• Bronze, chariots, horses, battleships, fire-producing weapons • Asphalt & bitumen


• Linen, silk

• Spices, incense, dyestuffs (purple), medicines, gems (latter brings in the Indian Ocean world) Incense & spice trade from India and Arabia Felix to the Mediterranean—bringing Mediterranean culture into the Arabian Peninsula, and vice versa.

• Fine ceramics

• Gold & ivory objects & jewelry

• Glass & faience



Susan Douglass, “Lesson 2.2: Mediterranean Trade in the Bronze Age (Shipwrecks, Texts, and Buried Cities),” Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean: Teaching Modules , accessed August 3, 2020,