Inland sea separating Europe from north Africa, with Asia to the east; extreme length 3,860 km/2,400 mi; area 2,966,000 sq km/1,145,000 sq mi. It is linked to the Atlantic Ocean (at the Strait of Gibraltar), Red Sea and Indian Ocean (by the Suez Canal), and the Black Sea (at the Dardanelles and Sea of Marmara). The main subdivisions are the Adriatic, Aegean, Ionian, and Tyrrhenian seas; its coastline extends 46,000 km/28,580 mi, running through 22 countries. It is highly polluted.
Role in history
Known as the cradle of civilization, the Mediterranean was opened as a highway for commerce by merchants trading from Phoenicia. Over succeeding centuries Carthage, Greece, Sicily, and Rome were rivals competing for dominance of its shores and trade. It was later dominated by the Byzantine Empire and the Arabs; between the 11th and 14th centuries, Barcelona and the Italian city trading states, such as Venice and Genoa, dominated the Mediterranean. Control of its islands, coasts, and trade routes was vital during both World Wars, leading to important campaigns. Since World War II the region has been of great strategic importance to the USA and Western European countries (NATO).
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