skip to primary navigationskip to content

Professor David Abulafia FBA

Professor David Abulafia, FBA

Professor of Mediterranean History, Cambridge University

Papathomas Professorial Fellow, Gonville and Caius College

Gonville and Caius College
Cambridge CB2 1TA

Office Phone: 01223 3 32473

Subject groups/Research projects

Ancient and Medieval History:

Mediterranean history, and maritime history more broadly, including the three major oceans, particularly before about 1550.

Departments and Institutes

Gonville & Caius College:
Papathomas Professorial Fellow

Research Interests

David Abulafia's interests embrace the economic, social and political history of the Mediterranean lands in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, especially southern Italy, the Italian 'despotisms' and the Italian islands (viewing Italian history from an unconventionally southern perspective); and also the trade and society of the Spanish lands of the Crown of Aragon.

More generally, he is interested in the interaction of the three religions in medieval Spain and Sicily, including the problem of Jewish (and Muslim) 'servitude'. A major interest is the opening of the eastern and western Atlantic in the fifteenth and early sixteenth century, with particular emphasis on the encounter of Europeans with native peoples, the subject of his book The Discovery of Mankind (2008). He has also written about the Levant trade, links between Italy and the lands across the Adriatic, and 19th and 20th century historiography of medieval Europe.

He has now written a history of the Mediterranean from 22,000 BC to AD 2010 for Penguin Books, entitled The Great Sea, published in 2011 (paperback edn., 2012; updated, 2014). Here he concentrates on those who moved back and forth across the sea, and the goods and ideas they brought with them, as well as the port cities they created and the islands on which they perched.  This is a very different perspective to that of Fernand Braudel in his classic study of the Mediterranean, published over 60 years ago.  In 2011 he received the Mountbatten Literary Award from the Maritime Foundation for this book; and in 2013 he was awarded a British Academy Medal 'for a landmark academic achievement' represented by the book.

His current work takes him beyond the Mediterranean, deep into the oceans.

Research Supervision

Topics of Ph.D. students currently supervised involve Jewish landholding in Aragon-Catalonia, the role of the cross in the crusading movement, chivalry in fifteenth-century Spain, fifteenth-century travellers to Iberia, Jews and Muslims in the Iberian fueros, China in the late medieval imagination, the origins of the labour system in the Caribbean c1500. He also supervises students studying for the M.Phil.s in Historical Studies, in Medieval History and in Early Modern History.


    The main undergraduate papers he lectures on are: in Part I, 'European History, 1200-1520'; and, in Part II, a third-year source based Special Subject on  'Chivalry, patronage and rulership: King René of Anjou in fifteenth-century Europe' and (with Dr Anna Sapir Abulafia), a Part II Specified Paper on 'The Jewish Presence in Medieval Society' [please note that this paper will come to an end this year, following Anna Abulafia's election to the Professorship of the Study of the Abrahamic Religions at Oxford].

    Other Professional Activities

    He is a Fellow of the British Academy (elected to its Council in 2015), and he is a Member of the Academia Europaea.  He is Chairman of Historians for Britain, a cross-party group of historians within and outside the universities who aim to place Britain's relationship with Europe in a long historical perspective, and who argue for renegotiation of the relationship between the UK and the rest of the EU, and urgent reform of the EU itself.  He is Legatum Fellow at the Legatum Institute, a think-tank in London that has been offering a course in the history of capitalism.  He is a member of the Academic Board of the newly-founded University of Gibraltar.

    Key Publications

    • The Two Italies. Economic relations between the Norman Kingdom of Sicily and the northern communes 1977; Italian edn., 1991.
    • Italy, Sicily and the Mediterranean, 1100-1400, 1987.
    • Frederick II. A medieval emperor London and NY, 1988; third English edn., 2001; Italian edn., 1990; German edn., 1991.
    • Spain and 1492: unity and uniformity under Ferdinand and Isabella, 1992.
    • Commerce and Conquest in the Mediterranean, 1100-1500, 1993.
    • A Mediterranean Emporium: the Catalan Kingdom of Majorca 1994; Spanish edn., 1996.
    • The Western Mediterranean Kingdoms, 1200-1500. The Struggle for Dominion 1997; Italian edn., 1999.
    • Mediterranean Encounters, Economic, Religious and Political, 1100-1550, 2000.
    • The Discovery of Mankind: Atlantic Encounters in the Age of Columbus, 2008; Spanish edn., 2009; Italian edn., 2010.
    • Il Duomo di Monreale: lo splendore dei mosaici with M. Naro, 2009; French edn. 2013.
    • The Great Sea: a human history of the Mediterranean, UK and US edns., 2011; Dutch edn., 2011; Greek edn., 2013; Turkish edn., 2012; Korean edn., 2013; Spanish edn., 2013; German edition, 2013; Italian edition, 2013; Romanian edn., 2014; Brazilian edn. (Portuguese), 2014; other editions under contract.  Updated Penguin paperback (UK), 2014.

     Edited works

    • (ed.) Church and City, 1000-1500. Studies in honour of Christopher Brooke ed. with M. Rubin and M. Franklin, 1992.
    • (ed.) The French descent into Renaissance Italy, 1494-5. Antecedents and effects 1995. Italian edn., 2005.
    • (ed.) En las costas del Mediterráneo occidental. Las ciudades de la Peninsula Ibérica y del reino de Mallorca y el comercio mediterráneo en la Edad Media ed. with B. Garí, Barcelona, 1997.
    • (ed.) The New Cambridge Medieval History, vol. 5, c.1198-1300, 1999 [paperback 2015].
    • (ed.) Medieval Frontiers: concepts and practices, ed. with N. Berend, 2002.
    • (ed.) The Mediterranean in History [English, American, French, Spanish, German, Greek, Turkish editions], 2003.
    • (ed.) Italy in the Central Middle Ages, 2004.