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The ancient phrase "Seven seas" (as in the idiom "sail the Seven Seas") can refer either to a particular set of seven seas or be used as an expression for all the world's oceans in general. The International Hydrographic Organization lists over 100 bodies of water known as seas.
The term "Seven Seas" appears as early as 2300 BC in Hymn 8 of the Sumerian Enheduanna to the goddess Inanna. The Mesopotamians were the first in the history of astronomy to keep records of the observed 7 moving objects in the heavens - the 7 Classical Planets/Seven Heavens - and they made this connection to their 7 Seas.
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.
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"), 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").
Not all Roman uses of septem maria (Latin) would strike a responsive chord today. The navigable network in the mouths of the Po river discharges into saltmarshes on the Adriatic shore and was colloquially 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.
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.
In Medieval Arabian usage and literature
The Arabs 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 Muhammad, they are the places where Islam spread and is widely practised.
- the Persian Gulf — The Sea of Fars
- the Gulf of Aden — The Sea of Larwi (Zanj)
- the Bay of Bengal — The Sea of Harkand
- the Strait of Malacca — The Sea of Kalah (Between Sumatra and Malaya)
- the Singapore Strait — The Sea of Salahit
- the Gulf of Thailand — The Sea of Kardanj
- the South China Sea — The Sea of Sanji
Their "Arabian seven seas" بحار العالم ، سبعة البحار must also have considered other important seas nearby which were navigated by Arabian and Phoenician seafarers:
- the Black Sea
- the Caspian Sea
- the Arabian Sea
- the Indian Ocean
- the Red Sea
- the Mediterranean Sea
- the Adriatic Sea
In Medieval European literature: '7 Seas' + 4 other Large Bodies of Water
- 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
The Seven Seas in medieval times also included:
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 (mostly) dried-up Hula Lake, called Semechonitis by Josephus and lake Sumchi in the Talmud), and the "Sibbichaean".
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.
After the European discovery of America, some people[who?] 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.
One modern geographical classification scheme counts 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. Oxford University Press' online dictionary defines "the seven seas" as "all the oceans of the world (conventionally listed as the Arctic, Antarctic, North Pacific, South Pacific, North Atlantic, South Atlantic, and Indian Oceans)."
In 2014 British endurance swimmer Lewis Pugh undertook the first long distance swim in the Seven Seas. His swims took place in the:
- Mediterranean Sea off Monaco
- Adriatic Sea off Croatia
- Aegean Sea off Greece
- Black Sea off Turkey
- Red Sea off Jordan
- Arabian Sea off Oman
- North Sea off the UK
- Four Seas
- Four continents
- List of seas
- Roof of the World
- Rudyard Kipling, who titled a volume of poems The Seven Seas (1896) and dedicated it to the city of Bombay.
- The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy (3rd ed.). Houghton Mifflin Company. 2002. Archived from the original on March 14, 2009.
Popular expression for all of the world’s oceans.
- Meador, Betty De Shong, translator and editor (2001). Inanna, Lady of Largest Heart: Poems of the Sumerian High. University of Texas. ISBN 0-292-75242-3.
- citation needed
- Lunde, Paul (July–August 2005). "The Seas of Sindbad". Saudi Aramco World 56 (4). Retrieved 2007-03-27.
- "'The Pakistan Sea'". Cowasjee Articles. December 24, 1993. Archived from the original on October 25, 2009.
- McKinnon, E. Edwards (October 1988). "Beyond Serandib: A Note on Lambri at the Northern Tip of Aceh". Indonesia 46: 103–121. doi:10.2307/3351047. JSTOR 3351047.
- M. Th. Houtsma (1993). E. J. Brill's first encyclopaedia of Islam 1913-1936. BRILL. ISBN 978-90-04-08265-6.
- "Tumasik Kingdom". Melayu Online.
- Pliny the Elder. "Historia Naturalis".
- Lane, Frederic Chapin (1973). Venice, a Maritime Republic. Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 4. ISBN 0-8018-1460-X.
- "What are the "seven seas"?". The Straight Dope.
- Lightfoot, John. "The seven Seas according to the Talmudists, and the four Rivers compassing the Land". A Chorographical Century.
- "The Seven Seas Group".
- "What and Where are the Seven Seas?". World Atlas.
- "the seven seas". Oxford Dictionaries Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 26 July 2012.
- Kipling, Rudyard (1896). "'The Seven Seas'".