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Professor David Abulafia FBA

Professor David Abulafia, FBA

Professor of Mediterranean History

Gonville and Caius College
Cambridge CB2 1TA

Office Phone: 01223 3 32473

Subject groups/Research projects

Ancient and Medieval History:

History of the Mediterranean countries in the later Middle Ages

Departments and Institutes

Gonville & Caius College:

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 the Third Crusade, political authority in the thirteenth-century Italian city-republics, the Jews in the economy of Aragon-Catalonia, chivalry in fifteenth-century Spain, 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'.

    Other Professional Activities

    He is a Fellow of the British Academy and a Member of the Academia Europaea.

    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.
    • (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.