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Benjamin Graham

At the beginning of the Holocene, arboreal taxa grew out of glacial refugia and quickly settled into ecological niches around the Mediterranean basin.1 The composition and location of the region’s forested ecosystem remained relatively stable for several thousand years before and during the dawn of the classical world.2 Tall trees took root in middle and high altitudes with plentiful rain, while drought-resistant maqui found homes in low, dry soils. This schema shaped the political and economic dynamics of the Greco-Roman world, as it separated the Mediterranean’s best source of timber—straight, tall trees—from low-lying agricultural settlements.3 Since the growth of woodlands suitable for high-quality timber was difficult for humans to control, issues of distance and transport made timber a precious resource across the ancient world, with varying historical outcomes.

The dynamics of timber, defined here as large, structural pieces of wood, were distinct from other kinds of arboreal relationships in the classical age.