The Aegean Sea (/ɨˈdʒiːən/; Greek: Αιγαίο Πέλαγος, Aigaio Pelagos [eˈʝeo ˈpelaɣos] ( listen); Turkish: Ege Denizi or Turkish:Adalar Denizi) is an elongated embayment of the Mediterranean Sea located between the southern Balkan and Anatolianpeninsulas, i.e., between the mainlands of Greece and Turkey. In the north, it is connected to the Marmara Sea and Black Sea by the Dardanelles and Bosporus. The Aegean Islands are within the sea and some bound it on its southern periphery, including Crete and Rhodes.
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.
The Aegean Sea covers about 214,000 square kilometres (83,000 sq mi) in area, and measures about 610 kilometres (380 mi) longitudinally and 300 kilometres (190 mi) latitudinally. The sea’s maximum depth is 3,543 metres (11,624 ft), east of Crete. The Aegean Islands are found within its waters, with the following islands delimiting the sea on the south (generally from west to east): Kythera, Antikythera, Crete, Kasos, Karpathos and Rhodes.
The Aegean Islands, which almost all belong to Greece, can be divided into seven groups:
- Northeastern Aegean Islands
- Northern Sporades
- Saronic Islands (or Argo-Saronic Islands)
- Dodecanese (or Southern Sporades), with the exclusion of Kastellorizo
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 Chios, another extends across Euboea to Samos, and a third extends across the Peloponneseand Crete to Rhodes, dividing the Aegean from the Mediterranean.
The bays and gulfs of the Aegean beginning at the South and moving clockwise include on Crete, the Mirabelli, Almyros, Souda and Chania bays or gulfs, on the mainland the Myrtoan Sea to the west, the Saronic Gulf northwestward, the Petalies Gulf which connects with the South Euboic Sea, the Pagasetic Gulf which connects with the North Euboic Sea, the Thermian Gulf northwestward, the Chalkidiki Peninsula including the Cassandra and the Singitic Gulfs, northward theStrymonian Gulf and the Gulf of Kavala and the rest are in Turkey; Saros Gulf, Edremit Gulf, Dikili Gulf, Çandarlı Gulf, İzmir Gulf, Kuşadası Gulf, Gulf of Gökova,Güllük Gulf.
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 Milos 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 3,000 years after that.
The subsequent Bronze Age civilizations of Greece 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 Crete and theMycenean Civilization of the Peloponnese.