Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Five Oceans (not to be confused with Seven Seas)

Friend-of-blog Susan has contributed this item that was new information for me: The Southern Ocean is the world's 5th ocean, where previously there had only been 4 defined, and it was only officially defined by the International Hydrographic Organization in 2000.
Oceans of the World
I already knew about the 5 oceans, but I hadn't realized The Southern Ocean's designation was so recent.  I'll admit that when I was smaller I was very confused about mentions of The Seven Seas in pirate stories and my inability to match that with an equal number of oceans on the National Geographic world map that was in our family's dining room. Then I figured that The Seven Seas weren't referring to oceans, but rather to smaller bodies of water that Pirates frequented in the Golden Age of piracy... but I never bothered to learn what those Seven Seas were supposed to be.

Turns out that's not right either.  The Seven Seas did, in fact, refer to all the world's oceans... as they were known as early as Ancient Sumeria some 4300 years ago.  The number 7 of them was used to match up with astrology, there being 7 known planets (until somebody found Neptune in the 1700s).

Medieval Arabian literature identifies the Seven Seas as the Persian Gulf ("Sea of Fars"), the Gulf of Aden ("Sea of Larwi"), the Bay of Bengal ("Sea of Harkand"), the Strait of Malacca ("Sea of Kalah"), the Singapore Strait ("Sea of Salahit"), the Gulf of Thailand ("Sea of Kardanj"), and the South China Sea ("Sea of Sanji").

But Medieval Arabian literature also referenced other Seven Seas:
The Black Sea
The Caspian Sea
The Arabian Sea
The Indian Ocean
The Red Sea
The Mediterranean Sea
The Adriatic Sea

Medieval European literature referenced a somewhat different list of Seven Seas:
The Adriatic Sea
The Mediterranean Sea, including its marginal seas, notably the Aegean Sea.
The Black Sea
The Caspian Sea
The Persian Gulf
The Arabian Sea (which is part of the Indian Ocean)
The Red Sea, including the closed Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee

And sometimes the list included a few others:
The Atlantic Ocean
The Aegean Sea
The Indian Ocean
The North Sea

So the Seven Seas hasn't had much significance for several hundred years at least.

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