The Mediterranean is a sea of the Atlantic Ocean almost completely enclosed by land: on the north by Europe, on the south by Africa, and on the east by Asia. It covers an approximate area of 2.5 million km² (965,000 sq mi), but its connection to the Atlantic (the Strait of Gibraltar) is only 14 km (9 mi) wide. In oceanography, it is sometimes called the Eurafrican Mediterranean Sea or the European Mediterranean Sea to distinguish it from mediterranean seas elsewhere.
It was an important route for merchants and travelers of ancient times, allowing for trade and cultural exchange between emergent peoples of the region — the Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Semitic, Persian, Phoenician, Carthaginian, Greek, Levantine, Roman and Moorish cultures. The history of the Mediterranean region is crucial to understanding the origins and development of many modern societies.
The term Mediterranean derives from the Latin word mediterraneus meaning, "middle of the Earth" (medius, "middle" + terra, "land, earth"). To the ancient Romans, the Mediterranean was the centre of the Earth.
The Mediterranean Sea has been known by a number of alternative names throughout human history. It was, for example, commonly called Mare Nostrum (Latin, "Our Sea") and occasionally Mare Internum by the Romans (Sallust, Jug. 17). The Greeks name it Mesogeios (Μεσόγειος), meaning "inland, interior" (μεσο, "middle" + γαιος, "land, earth"). In the Old Testament, on the west coast of the Holy Land, and therefore behind a person facing the east, it is called the "Hinder Sea", sometimes translated as "Western Sea", (Deut. 11:24; Joel 2:20), and also the "Sea of the Philistines" (Exod. 22:81), because that people occupied a large portion of its shores near the Israelites. Mostly, however, it was the "Great Sea" (Num. 34:6,7; Josh. 1:4, 9:1, 15:47; Ezek. 47:10,15,20), or simply "The Sea" (1 Kings 5:9; comp. 1 Macc. 14:34, 15:11). In Modern Hebrew, it is called Hayam Hatikhon (הַיָּם הַתִּיכוֹן), "the middle sea", a literal adaptation of the German equivalent Mittelmeer. In Turkish, it is Akdeniz, "the white sea". In Arabic, it is Al-Baħr Al-Abyad Al-Mutawassit (البحر الأبيض المتوسط), "the middle white sea".
As a sea around which some of the most ancient human civilizations were arranged, it has had a major influence on the history and ways of life of these cultures. It provided a way of trade, colonization and war, and was the basis of life (via fishing and the gathering of other seafood) for numerous communities throughout the ages.
The combination of similar-shared climate, geology and access to a common sea has led to numerous historical and cultural connections between the ancient and modern societies around the Mediterranean.