The Aegean Sea contains more than three thousand islands and is considered the home of the earliest European civilization (formerly the Mycenean-Minoan, now called the Aegean), from about 3000 to 1100 b.c.e. Crete is the largest island, lying almost equidistant from both Greece and Turkey, at the southern end of the Aegean, with the Ionian Sea to its west. Since the Aegean is the only breach in the mountainous belt to the north of the Mediterranean, it has been extremely important as a trading area and trade route; control of this sea has been the cause of wars since early Near Eastern civilization clashed with early European.
In 1820, all the shores and islands of the Aegean belonged to the Ottoman Empire, but the western shore and practically all the islands have since gradually gone to Greece, a cause of Turkish resentment. Two islands, İmroz (Greek, Im bros) and Bozca (Greek, Tenedos), are still Turkish. Greece claims the Aegean as a territorial sea, which Turkey disputes, in hopes of sharing benthic minerals. Petroleum was discovered on the sea bottom east of Thasos in 1970, which has sharpened the dispute.
John R. Clark
Aegean Sea, Gr. Aigaion Pelagos, Turkish Ege Denizi, arm of the Mediterranean Sea, c.400 mi (640 km) long and 200 mi (320 km) wide, off SE Europe between Greece and Turkey; Crete and Rhodes mark its southern limit. Irregular in shape, it is dotted with islands, most of which belong to Greece; they include Évvoia, the Sporades, the Cyclades, Sámos, Khíos, Lesbos, Thásos, and the Dodecanese. The Aegean Sea's greatest depths (more than 11,600 ft/3,540 m) are found E of Crete. The Dardanelles strait connects the Aegean Sea with the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea.
Sardines and sponges taken from the Aegean are economically important. There has been considerable tension between Greece and Turkey since the 1970s over oil deposits and mineral rights in the Aegean. The name Aegean has been variously derived from Aegae, a city of Évvoia; from Aegeus, father of Theseus, who drowned himself in the sea believing his son had been slain by the Minotaur; and from Aegea, an Amazon queen who drowned in it. The sea's ancient name, Archipelago, now applies to its islands and, generally, to any island group.