Mare Nostrum: Known to by all non-Romans as the Mediterranean Sea

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

If you’ve ever heard of a thing called the Imperium Rōmānum (Roman Empire), then you’re probably at least familiar with the Exercitus Romanus (Roman Army). However, we recently gave the Classis Romanus (Roman Navy) some love in the following articles: The Roman Navy: Unsung Champion of the Ancient Seas, The Roman Navy: From Rivers to Oceans, and Warfare of Classical Antiquity: Republican Fleet Tactics (Roman Navy).

As the Masters & Commanders of the Ancient World, the Romans were not shy about their dominance over the Mediterranean Sea. Today we explore the Roman way as we see why it was Mare Nostrum!

The Roman Empire at its farthest extent in AD 117. Note, however, that the Sea is called Mare Internum “Inner Sea” here.

Mare Nostrum was a Roman name for the Mediterranean Sea. In Latin, it literally translates to Our Sea.

The term Mare Nostrum originally was used by Romans to refer to the Tyrrhenian Sea, following their conquest of SicilySardinia and Corsica during the Punic Wars with Carthage. By 30 BC, Roman domination extended from the Iberian Peninsula to Egypt, and Mare Nostrum began to be used in the context of the whole Mediterranean Sea.

The Roman Navy at war

Other names were also employed, including Mare Internum (The Internal Sea). However, the Romans did not include Mediterraneum Mare (Mediterranean Sea), which was a Late Latin creation only attested to well after the Fall of Rome.

An Italian Empire view of the Mare Nostrum (by Hendrick Van Minderhout L’embarquement).

In the years following the unification of Italy in 1861 Italian nationalists, who saw Italy as the successor state to the Roman Empire, attempted to revive the term. The rise of Italian nationalism during the “Scramble for Africa” of the 1880s led to calls for the establishment of an Impero Italiano (Italian Empire).

The Italian poet Gabriele d’Annunzio was the first to revive the phrase. Italian writer Emilio Lupi said the following about the Mare Nostrum:

Even if the coast of Tripoli were a desert, even if it would not support one peasant or one Italian business firm, we still need to take it to avoid being suffocated in mare nostrum.

Starboard / Bow view of the Italian Battleship Roma in 1940.

The term was again taken up by Benito Mussolini for use in fascist propaganda, in a similar manner to Adolf Hitler‘s lebensraum. Mussolini wanted to re-establish the greatness of the Roman Empire and believed that Italy was the most powerful of the Mediterranean countries after World War I.

Axis Italy’s Invasion of Spain

Mussolini declared that “the twentieth century will be a century of

Italian power”. He then created one of the most powerful navies of the world in order to again control the Mediterranean Sea.

When World War II started Italy was already a major Mediterranean power that controlled the north and south shores of the central basin. After the fall of France removed the main threat from the west, the British Mediterranean Fleet (with UK-controlled bases in GibraltarMaltaCyprusEgypt, and Mandatory Palestine) remained the only threat to Italian naval power in the Mediterranean.

Patrol of the Axis navy

The invasions of AlbaniaGreece and Egypt, and the Siege of Malta sought to extend Axis control over the Sea. This policy was so great, it threatened neutral nations like Turkey, a threat that İsmet İnönü, the president of Turkey at the time of war, countered by only promising to enter the war if the Soviet Union joined the Allies.

Mussolini dreamed of creating an Imperial Italy in his Mare Nostrum and promoted the fascist project of an enlarged Italian Empire, stretching from the Mediterranean shores of Egypt to the Indian Ocean shores of Somalia and eastern Kenya. This was obviously to be realized in a future peace conference after the anticipated Axis victory

He referred to making the Mediterranean Sea “an Italian lake”. This aim, however, was challenged throughout the campaign by the Allied land & naval forces.

RN Vittorio Veneto in the Battle of Cape Spartivento.

For example, Greece had easily been incorporated into the Roman Empire, but the new Greek state proved to be too powerful for Italian conquest, and Greece remained independent until German forces arrived to assist the Italian invasion. Despite periods of Axis ascendancy during the Battle of the Mediterranean it was never realized, and ended altogether with the final Italian defeat of September 1943.

The term Mare Nostrum was chosen as the theme for the Inaugural Conference of the Society for Mediterranean Law and Culture, being held in June 2012 at the University of Cagliari Faculty of Law, Sardinia, Italy (La Conferenza Inaugurale della Società di Diritto e Cultura del Mediterraneo). In this contemporary usage, the term is intended to embrace the full diversity of Mediterranean cultures, with a particular focus on exchanges and cooperation among Mediterranean nations.

From November 2013 Fenice (F 557), a corvette of Minerva class, took part in the Operation Mare Nostrum rescuing the boats of illegal immigrants coming from North Africa.

Operation Mare Nostrum was a year-long naval and air operation commenced by the Italian government on 18 October 2013 to tackle the increased immigration to Europe during the latter half of 2013 and migratory ship wreckages off Lampedusa. During the operation at least 150,000 migrants, mainly from Africa and the Middle East, arrived safely to Europe. The operation ended on 31 October 2014 and was superseded by Frontex‘s Operation Triton.

In a completely different way, Mare Nostrum is an empire-building game in which 3-5 players [or 2-6 with the ‘Atlas’ expansion] lead their individual ancient empires to dominion of Mare Nostrum. Players grow their fame and glory of their empire by expanding influence into new Provinces, then extending their Trade Caravans, building Markets, and founding new Cities and Temples.

Mare Nostrum: Empires, a modern game set in ancient times.

You can recruit Heroes and create Wonders to help your cause. But beware of your “friends” because they may look upon your gains with envy and greed.

Mare Nostrum is a re-introduction by Academy Games and Asyncron of the original 2003 release with updated rules, counters, and map board. This edition includes many new components and multiple new ways to win.

In more detail, you choose an empire to lead, which begins with three Provinces. You can lead with Caesar of Rome and its powerful Legions, or with Pericles, the prominent Greek statesman and orator, with the great Babylonian lawgiver and healer King Hammurabi, or with Queen Cleopatra of Egypt, whose engineers led in the development of grain storage and irrigation, or with Hannibal, leader of the Carthaginians, whose merchants thrived on trade and commerce. Now you decide how you will grow your empire.

We hope you enjoyed our brief excursion to explore Mare Nostrum, and maybe you’ll even go out for your own voyage someday. Thanks again for stopping by and we look forward to having you back soon.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Fleming, Thomas. The New Dealers’ War. Perseus Books,2001.

Lowe, C.J. Italian Foreign Policy 1870–1940. Routledge, 2002. ISBN 0-415-27372-2.

Rhodes, Anthony. Propaganda: The Art of Persuasion: World War II. Chelsea House Publishers, 1976.

Talbert, R.; Downs, M. E.; McDaniel, M. Joann; Lund, B. Z.; Elliott, T.; Gillies, S. “Places: 1043 (Internum Mare)”. Pleiades.

Tellegen-Couperus, Olga. Short History of Roman Law. Routledge, 1993. ISBN 0-415-07251-4.

“Mare Nostrum Operation”Ministry of Defence of Italy.

“IOM Applauds Italy’s Life-Saving Mare Nostrum Operation: “Not a Migrant Pull Factor””International Organization for Migration. 31 October 2014.

“Mare Nostrum: Empires”. BoardGameGeek.com

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