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The Mediterranean can refer to the Sea of that name, which connects to the Atlantic Ocean at the Starits of Hercules, between Gibraltar in Spain and the African coast of Morocco. It stretches east to the Israel/Syria coast. To the north-east it connects, via the Dardanelles and Bosphorus, to the Sea of Marmara and the Caspian Sea. Otherwise, in period, its only other "exit" was upstream on the River Nile, through Egypy, into Upper Egypt and Ethiopia (the country of Prester John).

As a geographical area, the term refers to the countries surrounding the Sea -- the North African coast from Egypt to Morocco, Spain, France and Italy, the Dalmatian coast, Greece and Turkey, Syria and Palestine. In it would normally also be included the islands of Cyrpus, Rhodes, Crete and Greek island territories; similar Turkish islands; Sardinia, Corsica, Sicily and Malta, and Italian islands; Majorca, Minorca and Ibiza.

As a cultural referent it refers to the common cultural bonds shared among these countries, many of which, in period, were constant trading partners as well as intermittent foes; and also to the passing cultures which held land in the area, such as the nomadic tribes of the northern Sahara, or the Berber pirates of North Africa