In ancient times the sea was the birthplace of two ancient civilizations - the Minoans of Crete, and ancient Greece. The Aegean Sea was later inhabited by Persians, Romans, the Byzantine Empire, the Venetians, the Seljuk Turks, and the Ottoman Empire. The Aegean was the site of the original democracies, and it allowed for contact between several diverse civilizations of the Eastern Mediterranean.
The Aegean islands can be simply divided into seven groups: the Thracian Sea group, the East Aegean group, the Northern Sporades, the Cyclades, the Saronic Islands, the Dodecanese and Crete. The word archipelago was originally applied specifically to these islands. Many of the Aegean islands, or chains of islands, are actually extensions of the mountains on the mainland. One chain extends across the sea to Chios, another extends across Euboea to Samos, and a third extends across the Peloponnese and Crete to Rhodes, dividing the Aegean from the Mediterranean. Many of the islands have safe harbours and bays, but navigation through the sea is generally difficult. Many of the islands are volcanic, and marble and iron are mined on other islands. The larger islands have some fertile valleys and plains.
In ancient times there were various explanations for the name "Aegean." It was said to have been named after the town of Aegae; Aegea, a queen of the Amazons who died in the sea; and Aegeus, the father of Theseus, who drowned himself in the sea when he thought his son had died.
See also: Aegean civilization