David Abulafia

Professor Emeritus of Mediterranean History
Fellow of Gonville and Caius College

David Abulafia's special interests lie in maritime history, particularly the history of maritime trade; another strong interest is medieval and Renaissance Italy, examined from a southern perspective; his maritime interests also include early encounters between Europeans and native peoples in the Atlantic. His early publications concentrated on the medieval Mediterranean, and included The Two Italies (1977), which looked at the links between the Norman Kingdom of Sicily and the Italian maritime republics of Genoa, Venice and Pisa. His biography of Emperor Frederick II, published in 1988, challenged existing assumptions by portraying the emperor as a man of his time. He has also written about the economic and political role of the Catalans in the medieval Mediterranean (A Mediterranean Emporium, 1994; The Western Mediterranean Kingdoms, 1997).

More recently, he discussed European encounters with the inhabitants of the Canary Islands, the Caribbean and Brazil in The Discovery of Mankind (2008). Challenging the methodology of the great French historian Fernand Braudel, his history of the Mediterranean from Antiquity to the present, The Great Sea: a Human History of the Mediterranean (Penguin, 2011), won the British Academy Medal and has been translated into 12 languages, with more on the way. Its successor, The Boundless Sea: a Human History of the Oceans (Penguin, 2019) was awarded the Wolfson History Prize in 2020, and both these books have received the Mountbatten Literary Award of the Maritime Foundation. He is now at work on a smaller companion volume that will look at several seas, such as the Black Sea, that he has not examine closely in those two books.

Among his many articles, topics include the legal status of Jews and Muslims in medieval Sicily and Spain, a revisionist view of the reign of Ferdinand the Catholic, princely power in the Aragonese kingdom of Naples, and European reactions to the arrival of the Gypsies (Roma) in the 15th century.

He became a Fellow of Gonville and Caius College in 1974, was appointed to his first Faculty post in 1978, and was Professor of Mediterranean History, 2000-2017.

He is a Fellow of the British Academy and a Member of the Academia Europaea, visiting Professor at the College of Europe (Natolin campus) and visiting Beacon Professor at the newly-founded University of Gibraltar.


Tags & Themes


Gonville and Caius College
Trinity Street
Cambridge CB2 1TA
United Kingdom


Key Publications

Wolfson Prize for History 2020;  Mountbatten Literary Award 2020:
UK edition:
[US publisher: Oxford University Press New York]