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The Aegean Sea ( , Egeo Pelagos ; Turkish: Ege Denizi ) is an elongated embayment of the Mediterranean Seamarker located between the southern Balkan and Anatolianmarker peninsulas, i.e., between the mainlands of Greecemarker and Turkeymarker respectively. In the north, it is connected to the Marmara Seamarker and Black Seamarker by the Dardanellesmarker and Bosporusmarker. The Aegean Islands are within the sea and some bound it on its southern periphery, including Cretemarker and Rhodesmarker. The Aegean Region consists of nine provinces in southwestern Turkey, in part bordering on the Aegean sea.

The sea was traditionally known as Archipelago (in Greek, Αρχιπέλαγος), the general sense of which has since changed to refer to the Aegean Islands and, generally, to any island group because the Aegean Sea is remarkable for its large number of islands.


In ancient times there were various explanations for the name Aegean. It was said to have been named after the Greek town of Aegae, or after Aegea, a queen of the Amazons who died in the sea, or Aigaion, the "sea goat", another name of Briareus, one of the archaic Hecatonchires, or, especially among the Athenians, Aegeus, the father of Theseus, who drowned himself in the sea when he thought his son had died.

A possible etymology is a derivation from the Greek word – aiges = "waves" (Hesychius of Alexandriamarker; metaphorical use of (aix) "goat"), hence "wavy sea", cf. also (aigialos) "coast".


The current coastline dates back to about 4000 BC. Before that time, at the peak of the last ice age (c. 16,000 BC) sea levels everywhere were 130 metres lower, and there were large well-watered coastal plains instead of much of the northern Aegean. When they were first occupied, the present-day islands including Milosmarker with its important obsidian production were probably still connected to the mainland. The present coastal arrangement appeared c. 7000 BC, with post-ice age sea levels continuing to rise for another 3000 years after that.

The subsequent Bronze Age civilizations of Greecemarker and the Aegean Sea have given rise to the general term Aegean civilization. In ancient times the sea was the birthplace of two ancient civilizations the Minoans of Cretemarker and the Mycenean Civilization of the Peloponnesemarker.
Later arose the city-states of Athensmarker and Spartamarker among many others that constituted the Athenian Empire and Hellenic Civilization. Plato described the Greeks living round the Aegean "like frogs around a pond". The Aegean Sea was later invaded by the Persians and the Romans, and inhabited by the Byzantine Empire, the Venetiansmarker, the Seljuk Turks, and the Ottoman Empire. The Aegean was the site of the original democracies, and its seaways were the means of contact among several diverse civilizations of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Economical and Political Setting

Many of the islands in the Aegean have safe harbours and bays, but navigation through the sea was easier in ancient times than traveling across the rough terrain of the mainland of Greece (and to some extent the coastal areas of Anatolia). Many of the islands are volcanic, and marble and iron are mined on other islands. The larger islands have some fertile valleys and plains. Of the main islands in the Aegean Sea, two belong to TurkeymarkerBozcaadamarker (Tenedos) and Gökçeadamarker (Imbros); the rest belong to Greecemarker. Between the two countries, there are political disputes over several aspects of political control over the Aegean space, including the size of territorial waters, air control and the delimitation of economic rights to the continental shelf.

Physiographic Setting

The Aegean Sea covers about in area, and measures about longitudinally and latitudinally. The sea's maximum depth is , east of Cretemarker. The Aegean Islands are found within its waters, with the following islands delimiting the sea on the south (generally from west to east): Kytheramarker, Antikytheramarker, Crete, Kasosmarker, Karpathosmarker and Rhodesmarker.

The Greek Aegean Islands can be simply divided into seven groups:

  1. Northeastern Aegean Islands,
  2. Euboeamarker,
  3. Northern Sporadesmarker,
  4. Cycladesmarker,
  5. Saronic Islands (or Argo-Saronic Islands),
  6. Dodecanese (or Southern Sporades),
  7. Cretemarker.

The word archipelago was originally applied specifically to the Aegean Sea and its islands. Many of the Aegean Islands, or chains of islands, are actually extensions of the mountains on the mainland. One chain extends across the sea to Chiosmarker, another extends across Euboeamarker to Samosmarker, and a third extends across the Peloponnesemarker and Crete to Rhodesmarker, dividing the Aegean from the Mediterranean.

The bays and gulfs of the Aegean beginning and the South and moving clockwise include on Crete, the Mirabelli, Almyros, Soudamarker and Chania bays or gulfs, on the mainland the Myrtoan Seamarker to the west, the Saronic Gulfmarker northwestward, the Petalies Gulf which connects with the South Euboic Seamarker, the Pagasetic Gulfmarker which connects with the North Euboic Seamarker, the Thermian Gulf northwestward, the Chalkidikimarker Peninsula including the Cassandra and the Singitic Gulfs, northward the Strymonian Gulf and the Gulf of Kavala and the rest are in Turkeymarker; Saros Gulfmarker, Edremit Gulf, Dikili Gulf, Çandarlı Gulf, İzmirmarker Gulf, Kuşadasımarker Gulf, Gulf of Gökova, Güllük Gulf.

Hydrographic and Hydrochemical Setting

Aegean surface water circulates in a counter-clockwise gyre, with hypersaline Mediterranean water moving northward along the west coast of Turkeymarker, before being displaced by less dense Black Seamarker outflow. The dense Mediterraneanmarker water sinks below the Black Sea inflow to a depth of , then flows through the Dardanelles Straitmarker and into the Marmara at velocities of 5–15 cm/s. The Black Sea outflow moves westward along the northern Aegean Sea, then flows southwards along the east coast of Greece.

The physical oceanography of the Aegean Sea is controlled mainly by the regional climate, the fresh water discharge from major rivers draining southeastern Europe, and the seasonal variations in the Black Sea surface water outflow through the Dardanelles Straitmarker.

Analysis of the Aegean during 1991 and 1992 revealed 3 distinct water masses:

  • Aegean Sea Surface Water – thick veneer, with summer temperatures of 21–26 °C and winter temperatures ranging from in the north to in the south.
  • Aegean Sea Intermediate Water – Aegean Sea Intermediate Water extends from 40–50 m to with temperatures ranging from 11–18 °C.
  • Aegean Sea Bottom Water – occurring at depths below 500–1000 m with a very uniform temperature (13–14 °C) and salinity (39.1–39.2%).

See also


  1. Tjeerd H. van Andel and Judith C. Shackleton, Late Paleolithic and Mesolithic Coastlines of Greece and the Aegean, Journal of Field Archaeology, Vol. 9, No. 4 (Winter, 1982), pp. 445–454
  2. Tracey Cullen, Aegean Prehistory: A Review (American Journal of Archaeology. Supplement, 1); Oliver Dickinson, The Aegean Bronze Age (Cambridge World Archaeology).
  3. The familiar phrase giving rise to the title Prehistorians Round the Pond: Reflections on Aegean Prehistory as a Discipline, by John F. Cherry, Despina Margomenou, and Lauren E. Talalay.
  5. Yagar, D., 1994. Late glacial-Holocene evolution of the Aegean Sea. Ph.D. Thesis, Inst. Mar. Sci. Technol., Dokuz Eyltil Univ., 329 pp. (Unpubl.)

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