7. The Mediterranean
The geological key to the Mediterranean civilisation is a mid-world ocean which once separated the two supercontinents of Laurasia and Gondwana. Along much of the southern fringe of Eurasia this ocean has disappeared.  The various fragments of Gondwana have either linked with Eurasia or drifted away. But there is one major exception to this pattern, namely the region bounded by the western third of Eurasia to the north and by Africa to the south. Here a basin of the old mid-world ocean has been preserved. The eastern and western regions of the Old World are thus in sharp contrast. In the east the central geographical feature is the massive Tibetan plateau, in the west it is the Mediterranean Sea.
This account of the Mediterranean as a survival from an earlier epoch is a simplification. Eurasia and Africa have not been static since the opening of the mid-world ocean. What we now confront is the outcome of a complex asymetric geological development. In some places continental crust has collapsed; in others fragments of it have been scattered through the sea as islands or peninsulas. Collisional effects have led to much mountain building in geologically recent times, and high Holocene sea levels have made further changes to the global map.
On the northern shores of the Mediterranean are four major peninsulas: Spain, Italy, Greece, and Anatolia. Italy and Greece are entirely contained within the Mediterranean, whereas Spain and Anatolia enjoy peninsular status by virtue of other adjoining bodies of water: in the case of Spain the Atlantic Ocean, and in the case of Anatolia the Black Sea. All four peninsulas are mountainous, but Spain and Anatolia are distinguished from the others by their possession of large interior plateaus. The southern shore, by contrast, lacks comparable peninsulas, and while it is mountainous in the west, most of it is rather flat.
Because of the east—west orientation of the Mediterranean, it is climatically rather homogeneous; the overall pattern is hot, dry summers and mild, wet—though not very wet—winters. But the winter rainfall is unevenly distributed. Because of the location of the mountains the north has more rainfall than the south, and the southwest is better served than the southeast. The only large river is the Nile.
As far as human settlement is concerned, on land there was nothing outside Egypt to compare with the great river valleys of the Near East, India, and China; Mediterranean agriculture was accordingly practiced on small, scattered plains, or failing that in the hills.  Movement was difficult by land but relatively easy by sea. The presence of humans on a few of the islands in Mesolithic times shows that even before the onset of the Neolithic some kind of seafaring had developed. Once seaworthy ships came into use, the existence of the Mediterranean made possible a small interconnected world (like "frogs around a pool," as Plato put it).  The shared environmental conditions of this world meant that what worked well in one part of it was also likely to work well in another.
To the east, by contrast, it was much harder to circumvent the Tibetan plateau or cope with the vastness of the Indian Ocean, and geographical conditions along the way were far more varied.
Despite the relative homogeneity of the Mediterranean world, it was significant for its history that the north tended to be more favored than the south. Egypt apart, the distribution of rainfall meant that the agricultural resources of the northern shore were in general better, or less bad, than those of the southern shore. The north was also better endowed from a maritime point of view: its coastline was more indented and thus more friendly to ship borne adventurers. Its rainfall provided more timber to build ships. On this latter score Egypt shared fully in the disadvantage of the south.