Why Is The Red Sea Called So?

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The blue waters of the Red Sea along the beach in Eilat, Israel.

Where Is the Red Sea?

Sometimes known as the Erythraean Sea, the Red Sea is an inlet of saltwater located between the Asian and African continents in the Indian Ocean. The location of the sea at the latitude 2 2°N means that it is the globe’s most northern tropical sea. The Red Sea is bordered by Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, and Djibouti. Some of the surrounding features include the Sinai Peninsula, the Gulf of Suez, and the Gulf of Aqaba.

Possible Origins of the Name


The name “Red Sea” comes from several languages such as the Greek phrase Erythra Thalassa, which directly translates to the “Red Sea.” The word also derives from the Latin phrases Mare Rubrum or Sinus Arabicus, which literally translates to the "Arabian Gulf." In addition to the two languages, the name derives from the Arabic phrase Al-Baḥr Al-Aḥmar or Baḥr Al-Qulzum, which translates to "the Sea of Clysma." In the Somali language, the name derives from the phrase Badda Cas while it also derives from the Tigrinya (an Afro-Asiatic language) phrase Qeyyiḥ bāḥrī.


However, the significance of the name has been a matter of debate among scholars around the world. One popular theory among modern experts is that the word “red” refers to the south direction of the compass. This theory is supported by the fact that the name of the Black Sea alludes the north direction. The foundation of this theory comes from the way some Asiatic languages interchanged cardinal directions with colors. A good example is that of Herodotus (a Greek historian) who interchanged the phrases the Red Sea and Southern Sea multiple times on one occasion. Aside from the Red Sea and the Black Sea, there are two other seas bearing common English color words namely the White Sea and the Yellow Sea.


In past times, western geographers knew the Red Sea as Mare Mecca and Sinus Arabicus. These two names translate to “Sea of Mecca” and “Gulf of Arabia” respectively. Other ancient geographers simply called the sea the Arabian Gulf. Another common ancient reference of the Red Sea comes from the Bible when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea. Even the early Bible translations, such as the Septuagint translation in the 3rd century BCE, confirmed this account explicitly. In that translation, the Red Sea is known as Erythra Thalassa.


Another popular hypothesis for the name stems from the reddish-brown water. This color of the water is caused by the Trichodesmium erythraeum, which is a red-colored cyanobacterium that blooms seasonally.


The name may also be because of the desert (the Dashret Desert) close to the sea. The name of the desert means “Red Land.”

Conservation of the Red Sea

The World Wide Fund for Nature classifies it as a Global 200 ecoregion, which means that the sea has priority when it comes to conservation efforts. The habitat of the sea plays host to at least 1,000 species of invertebrates, 200 corals (both hard and soft), and over 1,000 fish species. In total, the sea has an area of approximately 169,100 square miles and a length of about 1,398 miles. The maximum width is approximately 220.6 miles. On average, it has an approximate depth of 1,608 feet while the maximum depth is approximately 9,970 feet.

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