Map Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean


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Lesson 1.4: Conditions for Navigating in the Mediterranean Sea (Mediterranean Currents, Winds and Trade Routes)


Lesson 1.4: Conditions for Navigating in the Mediterranean Sea (Mediterranean Currents, Winds and Trade Routes)


Topic 2: Where Is the Mediterranean?


The lesson provides a brief overview of Mediterranean water circulation, currents, and wind systems. Maps help students relate factors affecting navigation on the sea to topography, weather conditions and physical processes in the sea. Students use maps to plot routes and times of travel for different destinations. Students compare maps of trade and shipping routes from ancient to modern times.


Susan Douglass


Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean: A World History Curriculum Project for Educators


Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies, George Mason University




2014, Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies, George Mason University, published under Creative Commons – Attribution-No Derivatives 3.0 License


1-2 class periods


• Students will be able to describe the systems that maintain and circulate water and cause currents in the Mediterranean

• They will describe the role of wind patterns in the Mediterranean and correlate them to seasonal navigation and trade routes.

• They will use multiple maps and text to draw conclusions about navigation in the Mediterranean and plot strategies

• They will compare Mediterranean navigation and routes over time


1. Student handouts 1.4.1 (currents and winds), 1.4.2 (trade/shipping routes over time), and 1.4.3 (physical map, countries, cities)

2. Projection device for showing maps during classroom discussion (optional)

Lesson Plan Text

1. Provide Student Handout 1.4.1 on Mediterranean Currents and Winds, and have students read and answer the questions (in-class or as assignment). Discuss using a classroom or projected map why the currents circulate as they do. Review the science concept of water with greater salinity being denser and heavier than less saline water. (For enrichment, SEA Semester offers an interesting classroom experiment on the history and the science “Count Marsili and the Mediterranean Current at Discuss how the exchange of Atlantic and Mediterranean water affects circulation in the basin. Ask what other factors affect these patterns (islands, depth of the basin, coastlines, river inflow).

2. Assign the brief reading on winds and have students use the accompanying map to learn about prevailing winds in the Mediterranean. Read the list of named winds and the seasons when they occur and determine which were given positive associations and which negative ones in the languages. Discuss the relationship between currents and winds in navigation, and the importance of seasonal differences in navigation. Have students briefly research the distance between Mediterranean ports and how long it would take to sail between them in the age of sail. Refer to the two maps on Student Handout 1.4.3 (physical map, countries, cities) to make correlations with city locations and bays, currents, and winds.

3. Introduce this part of the lesson by having students generate ideas on how trade routes develop. What makes people travel from one place to another across the sea? (e.g., they have goods to sell to people who want them in that location, OR they desire a commodity that is scarce in their location, and hope to trade for it.)? What factors determine the routes of travel by sea? What makes a good trade route? (e.g., existing technology and access to wood and naval stores may either restrict shipping to the coasts or permit longer voyages which in turn depended upon the type of ship available; the presence or lack of favorable winds and currents; natural harbors and island stopping places; hostile or friendly people) Students may look at some close-up maps of famous Mediterranean harbors, or areas where there are steep rocks or no harbors and deserts behind the shore. Before looking at the actual route maps, have students plan routes and debate them, connecting to what they learned about the Mediterranean coastline and topography in the map activity above, including city locations. In what ways do port cities look out into a world of connections with other port cities that makes them like current “global cities” in culture and mixture of inhabitants, visitors, and commercial connections than inland cities in the same country? How might port cities be more like other port cities than they are like towns and settlements in the same country?

4. Student Handout 1.4.2 shows shipping and trade routes from the Phoenicians to the present day. Use the maps to draw inferences about the relationship of the routes to what students learned about currents and winds. Looking at the maps from a different angle, ask students to identify similarities and differences in routes across the maps, and try to infer causes for this stability or change. Discuss what other factors cause change or continuity in routes over time (political power over origins and destinations, rise and fall of cities, opening or closing of other routes, such as the Atlantic-African route and the opening of the Suez Canal, etc.) The purpose of this activity is to preview continuity and change in the region that will be reflected in later modules.

5. Conclude the lesson with a writing reflection piece using knowledge of winds, currents and sailing times/distances to consider how people who lived on or near the coasts viewed the sea. As a space of danger, adventure, or opportunity?



Susan Douglass, “Lesson 1.4: Conditions for Navigating in the Mediterranean Sea (Mediterranean Currents, Winds and Trade Routes),” Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean: Teaching Modules , accessed August 11, 2020,