The Aegean Sea is an elongated embayment of the Mediterranean Sea and an important natural feature of the Mediterranean region.
In the north, it is connected to the Marmara Sea and Black Sea by the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus.
It also has a connection to the Ionian Sea to the west, through the strait lying between the Peloponnese peninsula of Greece and Crete.
The Aegean Sea has an approximate length of 610 kilometers (380 miles), an average width of 300 kilometers (250 miles).
It has a surface area of approximately 214,000 square kilometers (82,600 square miles).
The maximum depth of the Aegean is to be found east of Crete, where it reaches 3,543 meters (11,624 feet) below the sea’s surface.
The sea surface temperature in the Aegean ranges from about 16 to 25 °C (60 to 77 °F), varying with location and time of year.
Approximately 1,400 islands and islets dot the Aegean — generally arranged into seven principal groups — the majority of which fall into the jurisdiction of Greece, while the remainder belong to Turkey.
Crete is the largest island, lying almost equidistant from both Greece and Turkey, at the southern end of the Aegean. The island has an elongated shape: it spans 260 km (160 mi) from east to west, is 60 km (37 mi) at its widest point, and narrows to as little as 12 km (7.5 mi).
Many of the Aegean Islands, or chains of islands, are actually extensions of the mountains on the mainland.
Many of the islands are volcanic, rocky, and quite barren. Marble and iron are mined on some islands. The larger islands have some fertile valleys and plains which produce figs, honey, mastic, minerals, oil, raisins, vegetables, wheat, and wine. Fishing is also important.
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 (426 feet) lower, and there were large well-watered coastal plains instead of much of the northern Aegean.
The Aegean Sea is the cradle of two of the great early civilizations, those of Crete and Greece, from which much of modern Western culture is derived.
The sea was traditionally known as Archipelago (in Greek, Αρχιπέλαγος, meaning “chief sea”), but in English this word’s meaning has changed to refer to the Aegean Islands and, generally, to any island group.
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 on his famous expedition to Crete to defeat the Minotaur.
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) “coast.”
This is the sea upon which those thousand Greek ships sailed when they set out to sack Troy and rescue the lovely Helen.
The Aegean Sea features prominently in many of the most famous Greek myths (Icarus and Daedelus, Theseus and the Minotaur, Jason and the Argonauts, The Odyssey, among others).
Plato made ample use of the islands in his dialogues. He described the Greeks living round the Aegean “like frogs around a pond”.
During the 1970s, Santoríni (Thera, or Thíra) 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.
Many of the islands in the Aegean have safe harbours and bays. In ancient times, navigation through the sea was easier than travelling across the rough terrain of the Greek mainland (and to some extent the coastal areas of Anatolia).
The Sea is one of the world’s premier cruising and yachting regions because of its many anchorages for sailing yachts, and historical sites.
Heraklion, Piraeus, Thessaloniki, Alexandroupolis and Izmir, are its chief ports, and the sea is well served by cruise ships, regional ferries and hydrofoils. For trips to the Greek Isles (of any length), the port of Piraeus serves the entire sea.
Commonly referred to as “the Aegean dispute” are a set of interrelated controversial issues between Greece and Turkey over sovereignty and related rights in the area of the Aegean Sea.