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Ancient map of the seven seas, to sail


The phrase to "sail the seven seas" has different meanings at different times.



The phrase "Sail The Seven Seas" has had different meanings to different people at different times in history - all depending on your point of view. It has changed meaning many times as the world was gradually explored to reveal more water. Inconvenient though that may have been, we have to move with the times.


The term "Seven Seas" is mentioned by ancient Hindus, Chinese, Persians, Romans and other cultures. The term historically referred to bodies of water along trade routes and regional waters; although in some cases the seas are mythical and not actual bodies of water.

The term "Seven Seas" has evolved to become a figurative (romanticized) term to describe a sailor who has navigated all the seas and oceans of the world, and not literally seven in number. In other words an experienced navigator.



After the discovery of the Americas during the Age of Discovery, the "seven seas" were reckoned by some as:

the Pacific Ocean
the Atlantic Ocean
the Indian Ocean
the Arctic Ocean
the Mediterranean Sea
the Caribbean Sea
the Gulf of Mexico

The last two of these are now reckoned to be part of the Atlantic Ocean, and the Mediterranean either part of the Atlantic or omitted.


But, splitting the Atlantic and Pacific into north and south and adding the Southern Ocean (conventionally) returns the list to our beloved seven:




North Atlantic

South Atlantic

Indian Ocean

North Pacific

South Pacific


The number seven has a great deal of historical, cultural and religious significance: lucky number seven, seven hills of Rome, seven days of the week, seven wonders of the world, seven dwarves, seven days of creation, seven Chakras, seven ages of man, seven deadly sins and seven virtues - to name just a few.

The origins of the phrase 'Seven Seas' can be traced to ancient times.

In various cultures at different times in history, the Seven Seas has referred to bodies of water along trade routes, regional bodies of water, or exotic and far-away bodies of water.

The "Seven Seas" (as in the idiom "sail the Seven Seas") is an ancient phrase for all of the world's oceans. Since the 19th century, the term has been taken to include seven oceanic bodies of water:

the Arctic Ocean
the North Atlantic Ocean
the South Atlantic Ocean
the Indian Ocean
the North Pacific Ocean
the South Pacific Ocean
the Southern (or Antarctic) Ocean


The World Ocean is also collectively known as just "the sea". The International Hydrographic Organization lists over 70 distinct bodies of water called 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 seven moving objects in the heavens the seven Classical Planets/Seven Heavens and they made this connection to their seven seas.


The Arabs and their near neighbours considered the Seven Seas (البحار السبعة‎) 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 Muhammad, they are the places where Islam spread and is widely practiced.

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 Ras al-Jumha; it is a strait where pearls are fished. The second sea begins at Ras 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 Arabian Sea ("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")
The South China Sea ("Sea of Sanji")


Arab seafarers may have also considered other important seas nearby which they navigated regularly, including the Black Sea, Caspian Sea, Red Sea, Mediterranean Sea, and Adriatic Sea.


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:

the Adriatic Sea
the Mediterranean Sea, including its marginal seas, notably the Aegean Sea, Ionian Sea and Tyrrhenian 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


To add to the confusion in medieval times the Seven Seas also included:

the Atlantic Ocean
the Aegean Sea
the Indian Ocean
the North Sea


After Europeans 'discovered' North America, the concept of the Seven Seas changed again. Mariners then referred to the Seven Seas as the Arctic, the Atlantic, the Indian, the Pacific, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico.


In British 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.



In Greek literature (which is where the phrase entered Western literature), the Seven Seas were the Aegean, Adriatic, Mediterranean, Black, Red, and Caspian seas, with the Persian Gulf thrown in as a "sea."



Detailed reckonings of the divisions of the world ocean into oceans and seas is not limited to lists of seven. For example, the International Hydrographic Organization recognizes many marginal seas; some saltwater lakes and the freshwater Sea of Galilee also have "sea" in their names.









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