Low soil organic carbon (SOC) levels in dry areas can affect soil functions and may thus indicate soil degradation. This study assesses the significance of SOC content in Mediterranean arable soils based on the analysis of a broad data set of 2613 soils sampled from Mediterranean grasslands and agricultural land. The distribution in values of SOC, pH, clay and carbonates was analysed according to different climatic areas (semi-arid, Mediterranean temperate, Mediterranean continental and Atlantic) and with respect to six different land uses (grassland, cereal crops, olives and nuts, vineyards, fruit trees and vegetable gardens). The general trend was for low SOC in arable land and decreased with aridity. In wet areas (Atlantic and Mediterranean continental), acidic soils had a higher SOC content than did calcareous soils, whereas in the Mediterranean temperate area SOC had little relationship to soil pH. In low SOC arable soils, the SOC content was related to clay content. In calcareous arable soils of the Mediterranean temperate zone, SOC content was more closely related to carbonates than to clay. In contrast to the Atlantic area, Mediterranean grassland soils had much lower amounts of SOC than forest soils. Mediterranean calcareous and temperate acidic soils under grassland had SOC-to-clay ratios similar to or only slightly greater than that under a crop regime. In contrast, Mediterranean continental acidic soils under grassland had a much higher SOC-to-clay ratio than arable soils. This suggests a low resilience of the Mediterranean temperate and calcareous arable soils in terms of SOC recovery after the secession of ploughing, which may be a result of intensive use of these soils over many centuries. Consequently, we hypothesize that the Mediterranean calcareous soils have undergone significant changes that are not readily reversed after ploughing ceases. Such changes may be related to alterations in soil aggregation and porosity which, in turn, are associated with soil carbonate dynamics. Decarbonation processes (the depletion of active carbonates) may therefore be relevant to the reclamation of highly calcareous arable soils through fostering soil re-aggregation. The article concludes by discussing the suitability of zero tillage, manuring or the introduction of woody species to increase SOC in calcareous arable soils that are highly depleted of organic matter.