Seven Seas

Seven Seas
The Seven Seas in European Medieval Literature
not the seas referred to in various medieval definitions of the Seven Seas[citation needed]
Earth's oceans
(World Ocean)

The phrase "Seven Seas" (as in the idiom "sail the Seven Seas") can refer either to a particular set of seven seas or to a great expanse of water in general. Today in modern times, this also includes the four oceans, and three large seas. The International Hydrographic Organization lists over 100 bodies of water known as seas.[citation needed]



The term "Seven Seas" appears as early as 2300 BC in Hymn 8 of the Sumerian Enheduanna to the goddess Inanna.[1]

Route to China

In the 9th century AD, author Ya'qubi wrote:

"Whoever wants to go to China must cross seven seas, each one with its own color and wind and fish and breeze, completely unlike the sea that lies beside it. The first of them is the Sea of Fars, which men sail setting out from Siraf. It ends at Ra’s al-Jumha; it is a strait where pearls are fished. The second sea begins at Ra’s al-Jumha and is called Larwi. It is a big sea, and in it is the Island of Waqwaq and others that belong to the Zanj. These islands have kings. One can only sail this sea by the stars. It contains huge fish, and in it are many wonders and things that pass description. The third sea is called Harkand, and in it lies the Island of Sarandib, in which are precious stones and rubies. Here are islands with kings, but there is one king over them. In the islands of this sea grow bamboo and rattan. The fourth sea is called Kalah and is shallow and filled with huge serpents. Sometimes they ride the wind and smash ships. Here are islands where the camphor tree grows. The fifth sea is called Salahit and is very large and filled with wonders. The sixth sea is called Kardanj; it is very rainy. The seventh sea is called the sea of Sanji, also known as Kanjli. It is the sea of China; one is driven by the south wind until one reaches a freshwater bay, along which are fortified places and cities, until one reaches Khanfu."[2]

This passage demonstrates the Seven Seas as referenced in Medieval Arabian literature: the Persian Gulf ("Sea of Fars"), the Gulf of Khambhat ("Sea of Larwi"[3]), the Bay of Bengal ("Sea of Harkand"[4]), the Strait of Malacca ("Sea of Kalah"[5]), the Singapore Strait ("Sea of Salahit"[6]), the Gulf of Thailand ("Sea of Kardanj"[5]), and the South China Sea ("Sea of Sanji"[7])


Not all Roman uses of septem maria (Latin) would strike a responsive chord today. The navigable network in the mouths of the Po river discharge into saltmarshes on the Adriatic shore; these were locally called the "Seven Seas" in ancient Roman times. Pliny the Elder, a Roman author and fleet commander, wrote about these lagoons, separated from the open sea by sandbanks:

"All those rivers and trenches were first made by the Etruscans, thus discharging the flow of the river across the marshes of the Atriani called the Seven Seas, with the famous harbor of the Etruscan town of Atria which formerly gave the name of Atriatic to the sea now called the Adriatic."[8]

A history of Venice states:

"The expression "to sail the seven seas" was a classical flourish signifying nautical skill. It was applied to the Venetians long before they sailed the oceans."[9]

In Medieval Arabian Usage and Literature

The Arabians and their near neighbours considered the Seven Seas بحار العالم ، سبعة البحار to be the seas that they encountered in their voyages to The East. They were trading routes in ancient times and since the time of the Prophet Mohammed, they are the places where Islam spread and is widely practised.

Their "Arabian seven seas" بحار العالم ، سبعة البحار must also have considered other important seas nearby which were navigated by Arabian and Phoenician seafarers:

In Medieval European Literature

The Medieval concept of the Seven Seas has its origins in Greece and Rome. In Medieval European literature, the Seven Seas referred to the following seas[citation needed]:

The seven seas in medieval times also included :

Renaissance era

During the Renaissance a moderately standardized iconography of the four continents and the four rivers of the world was created.


The Persians used the term "the Seven Seas" to refer to the streams forming the Oxus River.[10]


The 17th century churchman and scholar John Lightfoot mentions a very different set of seas in his Commentary on the New Testament. A chapter titled The Seven Seas according to the Talmudists, and the four Rivers compassing the Land includes the "Great Sea" (now called the Mediterranean Sea), the "Sea of Tiberias" (Sea of Galilee), the "Sea of Sodom" (Dead Sea), the "Lake of Samocho" (probably the now dried-up Hula lake, called Semechonitis by Josephus and lake Sumchi in the Talmud), and the "Sibbichaean".[11]

East Indies

In Colonial times the Clipper Ship Tea Route from China to England was the longest trade route in the world. It took sailors through seven seas near the Dutch East Indies: the Banda Sea, the Celebes Sea, the Flores Sea, the Java Sea, the South China Sea, the Sulu Sea, and the Timor Sea. The Seven Seas referred to those seas, and if someone had sailed the Seven Seas it meant he had sailed to, and returned from, the other side of the world.[12]


After the European discovery of America, some people used the term "Seven Seas" to refer to seven of the largest bodies of water in the world: The Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean, the Arctic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico.

Some[which?] modern geographical classification schemes count seven oceans in the world: The North Pacific Ocean, the South Pacific Ocean, the North Atlantic Ocean, the South Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean, the Southern Ocean, and the Arctic Ocean.[13]

See also



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  • seven seas — noun an informal expression for all of the oceans of the world the old salt had sailed the seven seas • Hypernyms: ↑body of water, ↑water * * * noun [plural] : all the waters or oceans of the world He sailed the seven seas. * * * the ˌseven ˈseas …   Useful english dictionary

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  • seven seas — noun All of the oceans of the world. (North and South Atlantic, North and South Pacific, Indian, Arctic and Antarctic) …   Wiktionary

  • seven seas — all the oceans of the world …   English contemporary dictionary

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