The Seven Seas

16th June 2016

White cliffs Dover

Throughout maritime history, exploration of the world has been defined by “sailing the seven seas”, which has led to much confusion when considering the International Hydrographic Organisation lists over 70 distinct bodies of water – each of which is known individually as a sea. Since the 19th century, though, the term “seven seas” refers to seven oceanic bodies of water including:

• The Arctic Ocean

• The North Atlantic Ocean

• The South Atlantic Ocean

• The Indian Ocean

• The North Pacific Ocean

• The South Pacific Ocean

• The Southern (Atlantic) Ocean

As you may have noticed, the list above causes some confusion as it does not include considerable bodies of water such as the Mediterranean Sea, Caspian Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. The truth of the matter is that the “the Seven Seas” sounds better than “the Ten Seas” or equivalent. Even today, scientists stick to the number seven but refer to word “ocean” as opposed to sea. Historically speaking, however, the number seven was considered sacred by many communities including the Sumerian religion, and Greek, Roman and Christian cultures.


The Sumerians were the first group of people to keep records of astrological observations and made reference to the seven seas as far back as 2300BC. This statement was made after the discovery of the seven classical planets/seven heavens and a connection between the seven floating objects and the number of seas on earth was made.


Pliny the Elder, a Roman author and fleet commander, wrote about the lagoons which were separated from the Adriatic Sea by sandbanks. He spoke about the discharge of the River Po across the marshes of the Atrani, which were collectively referred to as the seven seas. Additionally, 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.”

Medieval Arabia

The Arab Empire and neighbouring nations considered the Seven Seas to be those that were encountered during voyages to the east. These seas were traversed as part of trading routes, which had been set up during Ancient times and even during the time of Muhammad.

• The Persian Gulf

• The Arabian Sea

• The Bay of Bengal

• The Strait of Malacca

• The Singapore Strait

• The Gulf of Thailand

• The South China Sea

Medieval Europe

During the era of Medieval Europe, it was considered that the Seven Seas originated in Greece and Rome, with reference made to the following seas:

• The Adriatic Sea

• The Mediterranean Sea (including marginal seas including the Adriatic and Ionian)

• The Black Sea

• The Caspian Sea

• The Persian Gulf

• The Arabian Sea (Part of the Indian Ocean)

• The Red Sea (Including the Dead Sea and Sea of Galilee)

Wooden Clipper Ship


The Amu Darya, otherwise known as the Amu River or Oxus River, is a major river in central Asia and flows through Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The Persians referred to the streams that make up with the Oxus River as “the Seven Seas”.

East Indies

One of the most considerable sailing routes during Colonial times was the Clipper Ship Tea Route from China to England. This was, without question, the longest trade route in the world as it required sailing around the southern tip of South Africa from the UK. The route took sailors through seven seas near the Dutch East Indies including 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 were considered the seas encountered on this prestigious trade route and, therefore if you had sailed the seven seas, it also meant that someone had sailed to and returned from the other side of the world.

From December 2016, you will be able to enjoy the delights of Far East Asia with Star Clippers. Rather than battling through treacherous seas to complete trade routes, however, you will instead be able to visit beautiful beaches, hidden coves and some of the most gorgeous islands on earth. Additionally, Star Clippers also a series of Grand Voyages and Ocean Cruises, which can help you to fully appreciate the seven seas of the world.