"Sail the Seven Seas" is a popular idiom in many languages and cultures. This phrase can refer to a different set of seven seas depending on where you are in the world and the time period from which the phrase may have emerged. This article will show you how to know the different "seven seas" before you decide to "set sail."
In Medieval Europe, the "Seven Seas" either referred to a large expanse of water in general, or to the following bodies of water specifically (having origins in ancient Greece and Rome):
-Mediterranean Sea (including associated bodies of water such as the Aegean Sea)
-Adriatic Sea (listed separately, although it is part of the Mediterranean Basin)
-Arabian Sea (part of the Indian Ocean)
Medieval Arabian Literature
In Medieval Arabian literature, the "Seven Seas" may refer to the waters one would pass through when traveling to China:
-Persian Gulf ("Sea of Fars")
-Gulf of Khambhat ("Sea of Larwi")
-Bay of Bengal ("Sea of Harkand")
-Straits of Malacca ("Sea of Kalah")
-Singapore Strait ("Sea of Salahit")
-Gulf of Thailand ("Sea of Kardanj")
-South China Sea ("Sea of Sanji")
Despite the list above, ancient Rome may have used the term "seven seas" to refer to the navigable network through which the Po River discharges into salt marshes along the Adriatic Sea. To "Sail the Seven Seas" may have also been a statement referring to nautical skill, and was frequently attributed to residents of Venice (Venetians).
Southwest Asia and South Asia
Other areas where the term "seven seas" was or is used include the following:
-Persians used the term "the Seven Seas" to refer to the streams forming the Oxus River (also called Amu Darya - the longest river in Central Asia)
-Hindus used the term "the Seven Seas" to refer to the bodies of water in the Punjab (which means "five rivers". Punjab is an area of South Asia spanning from eastern Pakistan to north-western India. The "Five Rivers" are Beas, Ravi, Sutlej, Chenab and Jhelum, all of which are tributaries of the Indus river).
The East Indies
The East Indies (present day Indonesia area) also contain a set of "Seven Seas", which were often referred to by sailors traveling the Clipper Ship Tea Route from China to England, at the time the longest oceanic trade route in the world. The Seven Seas in this version are all in and around the Dutch East Indies, and include:
-South China Sea
Therefore, if someone had sailed these Seven Seas it meant he had sailed to and returned from the other side of the world.
European Discovery of America
After the European discovery of America, the "Seven Seas" may have referred to the seven largest known bodies of water in the world:
-Gulf of Mexico
The Modern Seven Seas
A modern list of "Seven Seas" might include the following seven largest oceans in the world:
-North Atlantic Ocean
-South Atlantic Ocean
-North Pacific Ocean
-South Pacific Ocean