Why is the Red Sea so named?

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The Red Sea – Photo: Ludivine Bourgeois

Worthy to know! With great thanks to Marc Chartier
Also sincerely to Marie Grillot

via; https://egyptophile.blogspot.com/

By playing on the colours of the colour chart, we could also ask ourselves the same question for the Black Sea, the White Sea, the Yellow Sea, the Vermeille Sea … Limit ourselves to the one that bathes the stations of Hurghada, Sharm El- Sheikh, Quseir, Marsa Alam.
The question does not date from today, and the consensus for a possible answer seems to be the responsibility of both historians and specialists in submarine observation.
An overview of a few attempts at explanation over the centuries makes it possible to set the scene and juxtapose various opinions.
The “Journal des sçavants” (sic) published in 1667 begins strongly in the paradox. It reads: “The waters of the White Sea appear black; those of the Black Sea appear white, and those of the Red Sea and the Vermeille Sea do not have these colours in themselves. But the Pont-Euxine has been called the Black Sea because navigation is very dangerous; on the contrary, the Archipelago has been called the White Sea because it is a very safe sea; and for the Red Sea and the Vermeille Sea, they have been so named because of the colour of their sand. “
That to say! Here at the outset, however, a great imbroglio that the “Encyclopédie or Dictionnaire reasoned science, arts and crafts “, ” in 1780, will have some difficulty in disentangling: “It is difficult to know, read- In this publication, where does this name of the Red Sea come from? Pliny, Strabo, and Quinte-Curse advance, without any proof, that this Red Sea, in Greek ‘Erythrea’, was named after a certain king Erythros, who reigned in Arabia. The moderns have in their turn sought several etymologies of this name, the most learned of which are apparently the least true. It is with this sea as with the White Sea, the Blue Sea, the Black Sea, the Vermeille Sea, the Green Sea, etc., chance, fantasy, or some particular event, has produced these bizarre names, which have then provided material for scholarly criticism. It is more important to note that the name of the Red Sea has sometimes been extended to the Persian Gulf and the Indian Sea; In the absence of this attention, the interpreters have resumed very badly about several places of the old authors whom they did not hear.

While partially adopting the previous opinions, the French zoologist and paleontologist Georges Frederic Cuvier (1773-1838), in his “Dictionary of Natural Sciences” (1825), brings some new elements of answer: “The consecrated denominations of Black Sea, sea Blanche, Vermeille Sea, Red Sea, Yellow Sea, etc., do not indicate, as one might think, that the regions of the Ocean which have received these significant names, always present particular colours.
Several of these epithets have been given by motives foreign to the colour of the waters, and others because of certain bodies which are seen in a transient manner, either on the surface of the sea or within it. The Black Sea, for example, appears to have been so-called only because its navigation is dangerous, and it is in opposition that the Orientals have designated the sea of ​​the Archipelago as the White Sea.

According to many others, the name of the Red Sea is only the translation of the Edom Sea or the Edumits, which the Hebrews gave him, ‘Edom’ meaning red in the language of the latter; although the naturalists are more inclined to believe, despite this etymology, that the Red Sea owes its name, as Don Jean de Castro said, to a species of pipe polyp (the ‘tubipora musica’ which covers its rocks and which, as we know, is of a very bright crimson red, or still, as Coock and Marchant think, to myriads of small microscopic crustaceans of a beautiful red, of which they have seen this sea covered during spaces of several leagues.

“In his essay “On the origin of the names Red Sea, White Sea, etc.”, published in 1854 by the Paris Academy of Sciences, the French engineer Charles-Hippolyte de Paravey (1787-1871) sheds new light which will be resumed later by other researchers, including Leopold de Saussure in his article “The origin of the names of Red Sea, the White Sea and the Black Sea”, published by “The Globe. Geneva Geography Magazine “in 1924. This new approach is based on the” geo-chromatic code “inspired by the traditions of distant Asia:” The Academy of alleged causes has been maintained several times, and some seas have been given the name the Red Sea, Yellow Sea, Vermeille Sea, and there are microscopic algae, either red or yellow. I do not deny the existence of these local phenomena, but I come to deny highly that it is because of these momentary phenomena and very little extended, that the various seas have been denominated by the colours yellow, or red, or others. (…) The Yue-ling calendar, composed towards the times of Alexander, and preserved in China, a combined calendar in Assyria, a central country, and not in China, assigns to the north the black colour; in the east, the color green; to the south, the color red; in the west, the color white; and, in the center, the yellow or orange color. (…) If one places oneself towards Palmyra, as centre, and in Syria, central and yellow country, essential meaning of the name of Syria, and which made name the Jaxarte Sir-Daria, or Yellow river, color of wax, at home; then we have, in the north, the Pont-Euxine, hence Black; in the south, the Arabian Gulf, from there Red says; on the east, the Gulf of Persia, named Green Sea, among Orientals; to the west, the Mediterranean, called the White Sea (ac-Thalassa), by all the Orientals. “

Banks of the Red Sea in Taba

This combination of colours with the cardinal regions, complete Leopold de Saussure, was not considered by the Chinese as arbitrary, but as the expression of the physical laws of nature. Boreal Sea or the Black Sea was (…) for them equivalent terms, as well as Southern Sea and the Red Sea, since black is the colour of the north and darkness as the red is that of the south and the fire (. ..) direct confirmation when I read, in Herodotus, that the Persians call the Red Sea the Southern Sea and that the Tigris and the Euphrates “throw themselves into the Red Sea”. The red colour, as we have seen, is in China the attribute of the south. “

In summary, two main “theses” meet face-to-face, while perhaps complementary, to solve the enigma of the colour attributed to the Red Sea: that of naturalists and that, probably more likely, the Geo-chromatic code. Only variable to bring: the nature of the algae which, according to their evolution, take a reddish or brown colour, because of the presence of a red internal pigment, phycoerythrin. “The red pigments reads in an article of” Futura Planète “(unsigned or dated article), can also have a biological origin.

The Red Sea – photo: Ludivine Bourgeois

In the case of the Red Sea, for example, two cyanobacteria [photosynthetic bacteria] are involved: ‘Trichodesmium Erythraeum’ and ‘Oscillatoria Erythraeum’. The first takes a reddish-brown colour when it dies, and the second contains a red-brown pigment. During an efflorescence (bloom), the concentration of these micro-algae becomes sufficient to dye the sea in red. Other plank-tonic algae can create red tides phenomena in a marine or lacustrine environment, according to the same principle. Some of these algae can be toxic, while others are harmless. It also happens that some bacteria, such as Ferro bacteria, use iron instead of oxygen to ‘breathe’. These microorganisms thus use iron, dissolved or solid, as the electron acceptor. This biological oxidation reaction creates mineral pigments which then colour the water red. “

Whatever the case may be, the Red Sea is renowned, among all diving enthusiasts, for the shimmering colours of its translucent waters with incomparable underwater architecture, including rich coral formations. unparalleled and a very diversified aquatic fauna. Ludivine Bourgeois regularly practices diving in Hurghada, where she graduated “Prevention and Rescue Diver”: “The divers,” she says, “call this underwater universe the world of silence. It is a soothing place, reassuring, of beauty. A world where you feel well. A world that brings me the serenity I need and where I feel free!”
Marc Chartier

7 thoughts on “Why is the Red Sea so named?

  1. Fascinating. I was fortunate to dive along the corral reefs in Eilat, while staying there for three months with a film team. I have two poems on the ‘poems’ page of my website relating to that time. And I was reminded that the water of some ponds south of Munich, where I grew up, is red, due to the iron content of the dark soil there. Loved it that when swimming my hands turned a golden-red.

    Liked by 2 people

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