Aegean Sea



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 αἶγες – aiges = “waves” (Hesychius of Alexandria; metaphorical use of αἴξ (aix) “goat”), hence “wavy sea”, cf. also αἰγιαλός (aigialos = aiges (waves) + hals (sea)),[5] hence meaning “sea-shore”.


Aegean Sea, Greek Aigaíon Pélagos, Turkish Ege Deniz, an arm of the Mediterranean Sea, located between the Greek peninsula on the west and Asia Minor on the east. About 380 miles (612 km) long and 186 miles (299 km) wide, it has a total area of some 83,000 square miles (215,000 square km). The Aegean is connected through the straits of the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara, and the Bosporus to the Black Sea, while the island of Crete can be taken as marking its boundary on the south. The cradle of two of the great early civilizations, those of Crete and Greece, from which much of modern Western culture is derived, the Aegean Sea is also an important natural feature of the Mediterranean region, possessing several unique characteristics that make it of considerable scientific interest.

The Aegean has an intricate configuration and could well be considered as a bay within the eastern Mediterranean basin, to which it is connected by the straits to the west and east of Crete. It also has a good connection to the Ionian Sea to the west, through the strait lying between the Peloponnese peninsula of Greece and Crete. Virtually throughout the Aegean area, numerous islands large and small emerge from the clear blue waters. These are the mountain peaks of Aegeis, the name given to a now-submerged landmass. At the dawn of European history, these islands facilitated contacts between the people of the area and of three continents. Throughout the entire Aegean shoreline—that is, both the continental shores surrounding the Aegean Sea and those of the islands—bays, ports, and shelter creeks are also abundant. These also facilitated the task of seamen traveling in the Aegean Sea, making longer voyages possible at a time when shipbuilding was in its infancy. For its size, no other maritime area of the Mediterranean has comparable shoreline development.

The maximum depth of the Aegean is to be found east of Crete, where it reaches 11,627 feet (3,544 metres). The rocks making up the floor of the Aegean are mainly limestone, though often greatly altered by volcanic activity that has convulsed the region in relatively recent geologic times. The richly coloured sediments in the region of the islands of Thera (Santoríni, or Thíra) and Melos (Mílos), in the south Aegean, are particularly interesting. During the 1970s, Thera in particular became a topic of major international scientific importance, analysis of its surrounding sediments having been linked with a possible explanation of the ancient legend of the lost island of Atlantis.

North winds prevail in the Aegean Sea, although from the end of September to the end of May, during the mild winter season, these winds alternate with southwesterlies. The tides of the Aegean basin seem to follow the movements of those in the eastern Mediterranean generally. The tide of Euripus (Evrípos)—a strait lying between continental Greece and the island of Euboea (Évvoia) in the Aegean—is, however, extremely important, because it displays a tidal phenomenon of international significance, to which it has, in fact, lent its name. The euripus phenomenon—characterized by violent and uncertain currents—has been studied since the time of Aristotle, who first provided an interpretation of the term. Aegean currents generally are not smooth, whether considered from the viewpoint of either speed or direction. They are chiefly influenced by blowing winds. Water temperatures in the Aegean are influenced by the cold-water masses of low temperature that flow in from the Black Sea to the northeast. The sea surface temperature in the Aegean ranges from about 60 to 77 °F (16 to 25 °C), varying with location and time of year.

The Aegean Sea, like the Mediterranean in general, is the most impoverished large body of water known to science. The nutrient content, as indicated by the amount of phosphates and nitrates in the water, is on the whole poor. The less saline waters coming from the Black Sea have a distinct ameliorative influence, but the role of their fertility in the Mediterranean in general has been little studied. Generally, marine life in the Aegean Sea is very similar to that of the northern area of the western basin of the Mediterranean. In view of its limpidity and as a result of its hot waters, it is not surprising that the Aegean Sea accommodates large quantities of fish at the time of their procreating maturity. Such fish enter the Aegean from other areas, notably from the Black Sea.


The International Hydrographic Organization defines the limits of the Aegean Sea as follows:

On the South. A line running from Cape Aspro (28°16’E) in Asia Minor, to Cum Burnù (Capo della Sabbia) the Northeast extreme of the Island of Rhodes, through the island to Cape Prasonisi, the Southwest point thereof, on to Vrontos Point (35°33’N) in Skarpanto [Karpathos], through this island to Castello Point, the South extreme thereof, across to Cape Plaka (East extremity of Crete), through Crete to Agria Grabusa, the Northwest extreme thereof, thence to Cape Apolitares in Antikithera Island, through the island to Psira Rock (off the Northwest point) and across to Cape Trakhili in Kithera Island, through Kithera to the Northwest point (Cape Karavugia) and thence to Cape Santa Maria (36°28′N 22°57′E) in the Morea.

In the Dardanelles. A line joining Kum Kale (26°11’E) and Cape Helles.


Aegean surface water circulates in a counter-clockwise gyre, with hypersaline Mediterranean water moving northward along the west coast of Turkey, before being displaced by less dense Black Sea outflow. The dense Mediterranean water sinks below the Black Sea inflow to a depth of 23–30 metres (75–98 ft), then flows through the Dardanelles Strait and into the Sea of 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 Strait.

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

Aegean Sea Surface Water – 40–50 metres (130–160 ft) thick veneer, with summer temperatures of 21–26 °C and winter temperatures ranging from 10 °C (50 °F) in the north to 16 °C (61 °F) in the south.

Aegean Sea Intermediate Water – Aegean Sea Intermediate Water extends from 40–50 m to 200–300 metres (660–980 ft) 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%).


Content is compiled from Encylopedia Britannica & Wikipedia