Aegean Sea: Definition, Location & Facts

Instructor: Brittney Clere

Brittney, a National Board Certified Teacher, has taught social studies at the middle school level for 15 years.

In Homer's ''The Odyssey'', the Greeks launched a thousand ships in their siege of Troy. Those ships arrived by way of the Aegean Sea. Let's look at the importance of this mighty sea, both past and present.

Aegean Sea

If you have studied the Bible, read about the Trojan War, or heard of the lost city of Atlantis, then you know at least a little something about the Aegean Sea.

For centuries, it was the body of water crisscrossed by heroes, both real and mythical. It was the sea that helped spread the ideas of democracy to cultures on three different continents during the reign of the Greeks and Romans. And, it is was the setting for many of the Apostle Paul's travels and where the Apostle John wrote the Book of Revelations.

The Aegean Sea, in blue, on a world map
Aegean Sea

Location

The Aegean Sea extends from the Mediterranean Sea and lies between Greece and Turkey. It measures around 380 miles long and 186 miles wide and has a shoreline that is quite impressive. The shores of the main lands, as well as the coasts of its many islands, are covered by numerous ports and bays -- a fact that was appreciated by the earliest sea men who couldn't trust their ships on long voyages unless they could make a few pit stops along the way.

Mariners and merchants from past and present have taken advantage of the Aegean Sea's unique location that connects several bodies of water. The straits of the Dardanelles, the Bosporus, and the Sea of Marmara all give the Aegean Sea routes to the Black Sea. The Kythira Stait, which lies between Greece's Peloponnese peninsula and Crete, connects the Aegean to the Ionian Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. Two seas also lie within the realm of the Aegean Sea. The Thracian Sea lies in the north, and the Sea of Crete is to the south on the shores of the Island of Crete, which is considered the southern boundary of the Aegean Sea.

Unfortunately, the Aegean Sea lies where the Eurasian and the African tectonic plates collide. Due to this, the region is considered the most seismically active areas in all of West Eurasia and the Mediterranean. This has left the sea and its surrounding areas -- especially the islands -- prone to volcanoes and earthquakes.

The Waters

The deepest waters of the Aegean Sea lie east of Crete with a depth over 11,600 feet. The choppy water is also poor regarding nutrient content. However, it is considerably warm, prompting many fish to migrate from cooler waters. Although, nearly half of the fish species found in the Aegean Sea have populations currently threatened by pollution and overfishing.

Economically, the connecting seaways of the Aegean Sea provide for a sizable trade industry. Harvesting sponges, sardines, and fish has proved lucrative as well. With a Mediterranean subtropical climate, monuments from prehistoric civilizations, and ports for cruise ships, the region also supports a thriving tourist industry. Oil deposits and minerals are also found in the area, which has become a source of conflict between Greece and Turkey.

Ancient ruins off coast of Aegean Sea
Thyateira Ruins

The Islands

The Aegean Sea is peppered with over 1,400 islands, large and small. A majority of the island chains belong to Greece, with Turkey only able to claim a small number of islands as part of its territory.

Because there are so many islands, they are usually discussed as part of seven groups. Starting in the north and roughly moving counter-clockwise, these groups are the Northeastern Aegean, Sporades, Euboea, Argo-Saronic, Cyclades Southern Sporades (Dodecanese), and Crete.

The islands of the Aegean Sea
aegean sea islands

Volcanoes have left many islands rocky and bare. To conserve their limited soil, terrace farming is used. This is a method of farming where crops are grown on steps cut into a sloping plane. Other islands have fertile plains where they can grow and harvest wheat, figs, vegetables, and grapes for wine. A few islands have even been able to produce iron and marble.

The History

In very early times, the Aegean Sea was known as Archipelago, or chief sea. However, because of its many islands, the term earned the present definition of groups of islands.

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