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Erythraean Sea

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Rennel map 1799

Map showing the Erythraean Sea off the Horn of Africa. Drawn by James Rennell, 1799.

The Erythraean Sea([Tamil Language]: எரிதிரை கடல்; Erythirai kadal) (Greek: Ερυθρά Θάλασσα; Erythra Thalassa) is one of the names found in ancient cartography. This name may have derived from the seasonal blooms of the red-coloured Trichodesmium erythraeum near the water's surface,and it must be noted that such kind of algea was first found during 17th century on the research based so the botanical named after the sea. The word Erithraean gives a perfect meaning as Burning sea in Tamil language, where Ery(Burning) + Thraean(wave or a long sea), the word "thirai" used in similar words like "Thirai kadal" which means a long wave of sea, as the Greek "Ερυθρά" actually means "red".[1]

In the third century, Flavius Philostratus made this comment: "And they say that the sea called Erythra or "red" is of a deep blue colour, but that it was so named, as I said before, from a King Erythras, who gave his own name to the sea in question." [2]

Use of the name

Map of the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea

Names, routes and locations of the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea.


17th-century map depicting the locations of the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea.

The name 'Erythraean Sea' has been or is still used for the following places:

  • In the opening sentences of Herodotus's history, written in the 5th century BC, he refers to the Phoenicians having come originally from the Erythraean Sea.
  • In the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, written in the 1st century AD, as well as in some ancient maps, the name of the sea refers to the whole area of the northwestern Indian Ocean, including the Arabian Sea.[3]
  • In centuries past the name 'Erythraean Sea' was applied by cartographers to the NW part of the Indian Ocean, mainly the area around Socotra, between Cape Guardafui and the coast of Hadhramaut. This name has now become obsolete and the name Gulf of Aden is presently used, although for a smaller area. In maps where the NW Indian Ocean is named thus, the Red Sea appears as "Arabian Gulf".
  • The name "Erythraean Sea" was used as well to refer to some gulfs attached to the Indian Ocean, specifically, the Persian Gulf[4]
  • As a name for the Red Sea, especially after the 19th century. The modern country of Eritrea was named after this ancient Greek name.
  • Since 1895, the name has also been applied to a large dusky region on the surface of planet Mars, known as Mare Erythraeum.
  • In the Book of Enoch (Chapter XXXII), Enoch passed over the Erythraean Sea on his way to the Garden of Eden.
  • Geryon son of Chrysaor and Callirrhoe and grandson of Medusa, was a fearsome giant who dwelt on the island Erytheia of the mythic Hesperides in the far west.

See also


  1. "Red Sea". Encyclopædia Britannica Online Library Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2008-01-14. 
  2. Life of Apollonius of Tyana, Book III, chapter L, Loeb Classical Library
  3. 1794, Orbis Veteribus Notus by Jean Baptiste Bourguignon d'Anville
  4. *Formerly known as the Red Gulf.

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