Aegean Sea, an arm of the Mediterranean Sea. It lies between Greece on the west and the north and Turkey on the east. In the south, where Crete, Kárpathos, Rhodes, and other Greek islands lie, the Aegean merges with the Mediterranean. Numerous gulfs, bays, and inlets create a highly indented coast. The greatest distances are about 400 miles (640 km) north-south and 275 miles (440 km) east-west. The Aegean's area is roughly 69,000 square miles (180,000 km2). Its deepest point, 8,298 feet (2,529 m), is off the northeast coast of Crete.

The basin of the Aegean is an old submerged land block; higher parts remain exposed as islands. Like other geologically unstable areas, the basin undergoes periodic volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. An especially violent one about 1600 B.C. nearly destroyed the island of Thera.

The Sea of Crete, between Crete and the Cyclades, forms the southernmost part of the Aegean. In the northeast the Dardanelles leads into the Sea of Marmara, which in turn is connected to the Black Sea by the Bosporus. West of Athens the Corinth Canal provides a narrow water route northwestward to the Ionian Sea. The origin of the name Aegean is uncertain. It has been said to derive from Aegea, a city of Évvoia; Aegeus, father of Theseus; and Aegea, an Amazon queen.

The Aegean Islands

Hundreds of islands, almost all of them belonging to Greece, lie scattered throughout the Aegean. Some, such as Crete, Evvoia, Rhodes, Lésvos, Límnos, Khíos, and Thásos, are relatively large; others are rocky, uninhabited islets. Most of the islands lie within loosely defined groups: the Northern Sporades; the Cyclades; and the Sporades, or Southern Sporades, including the Dodecanese Islands.

Island landscapes range from rugged mountains, extinct volcanoes, and craggy coastal cliffs to fertile green valleys and gentle slopes. As throughout the Mediterranean region, the climate is mild, much like that of southern California. Dotting the islands are small villages and towns.

Although it provides only a bare subsistence, agriculture is the basis of the economy. Olives, grapes, vegetables, and a few grains (particularly wheat) are the principal crops; goats make up most of the livestock. Fishing, shipping, and the gathering of sponges provide additional income. Tourism is of increasing significance.