North Sea

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North Sea

North Sea (Latin: Mare Germanicum) is a marginal sea of the Atlantic Ocean located between Great Britain, Scandinavia, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. An epeiric (or "shelf") sea on the European continental shelf, it connects to the ocean through the English Channel in the south and the Norwegian Sea in the north.

The North Sea has long been the site of important European shipping lanes as well as a major fishery. The sea is a popular destination for recreation and tourism in bordering countries and more recently has developed into a rich source of energy resources including fossil fuels, wind, and early efforts in wave power.

Variants of Names

Through history various names have been used for the North Sea. One of the earliest recorded names was Septentrionalis Oceanus, or "Northern Ocean," which was cited by Pliny.[1] The name "North Sea" probably came into English, however, via the Dutch "Noordzee", who named it thus either in contrast with the Zuiderzee ("South Sea"), located south of Frisia, or because the sea is generally to the north of the Netherlands. Before the adoption of "North Sea," the names used in English were "German Sea" or "German Ocean", referred to the Latin names "Mare Gemanicum" and "Oceanus Germanicus",[2] and these persisted in use until the First World War.[3]

Other common names in use for long periods were the Latin terms "Mare Frisicum",[4] as well as their English equivalents, "Frisian Sea".[5]

The modern names of the sea in local languages are: Danish: Nordsøen, Dutch: Noordzee, Dutch Low Saxon: Noordzee, French: Mer du Nord, West Frisian: Noardsee, German: Nordsee, Low German: Noordsee, Northern Frisian: Weestsiie (literally meaning "West Sea"), Norwegian: Nordsjøen, Nynorsk: Nordsjøen, Scots: German Ocean, Swedish: Nordsjön, Scottish Gaelic: An Cuan a Tuath, West Flemish: Nôordzêe and Zeeuws: Noôrdzeê.


The vast area of what is now the north sea was dry land in the past. Between c9600 BC and c5000 BC, it was possible to walk from European continent to Britain. [6]

Historically, the North Sea has featured prominently in geopolitical and military affairs, particularly in Northern Europe. It was also important globally through the power northern Europeans projected worldwide during much of the Middle Ages and into the modern era. The North Sea was the centre of the Vikings' rise. Subsequently, the Hanseatic League, the Netherlands, and the British each sought to dominate the North Sea and thus the access to the markets and resources of the world. As Germany's only outlet to the ocean, the North Sea continued to be strategically important through both World Wars.

North Sea has provided waterway access for commerce and conquest. Many areas have access to the North Sea because of its long coastline and the European rivers that empty into it.[7] The British Isles had been protected from invasion by the North Sea waters until the Roman conquest of Britain in 43 CE. The Romans established organised ports, which increased shipping, and began sustained trade.[8] When the Romans abandoned Britain in 410, the Germanic Angles, Saxons, and Jutes began the next great migration across the North Sea during the Migration Period. They made successive invasions of the island.[9]

The Viking Age began in 793 with the attack on Lindisfarne; for the next quarter-millennium the Vikings ruled the North Sea. In their superior longships, they raided, traded, and established colonies and outposts along the coasts of the sea. From the Middle Ages through the 15th century, the northern European coastal ports exported domestic goods, dyes, linen, salt, metal goods and wine. The Scandinavian and Baltic areas shipped grain, fish, naval necessities, and timber. In turn the North Sea countries imported high-grade cloths, spices, and fruits from the Mediterranean region.[10] Commerce during this era was mainly conducted by maritime trade due to underdeveloped roadways.[11]

In the 13th century the Hanseatic League, though centred on the Baltic Sea, started to control most of the trade through important members and outposts on the North Sea.[12] The League lost its dominance in the 16th century, as neighbouring states took control of former Hanseatic cities and outposts. Their internal conflict prevented effective cooperation and defence.[13] As the League lost control of its maritime cities, new trade routes emerged that provided Europe with Asian, American, and African goods.[14]


The North Sea is bounded by the Orkney Islands and east coast of Great Britain to the west[15] and the northern and central European mainland to the east and south, including Norway, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France.[16] In the southwest, beyond the Straits of Dover, the North Sea becomes the English Channel connecting to the Atlantic Ocean. In the east, it connects to the Baltic Sea via the Skagerrak and Kattegat, narrow straits that separate Denmark from Norway and Sweden respectively. In the north it is bordered by the Shetland Islands, and connects with the Norwegian Sea, which lies in the very north-eastern part of the Atlantic.


  1. Roller, Duane W. (2006). "Roman Exploration". Through the Pillars of Herakles: Greco-Roman Exploration of the Atlantic. Taylor and Francis. p. 119. ISBN 0-415-37287-9. Retrieved 8 December 2008. "Footnote 28. Strabo 7.1.3. "
  2. Hartmann Schedel 1493 map File:Schedelsche Weltchronik d 287.jpg: Baltic Sea called "Mare Germanicum", North Sea called "Oceanus Germanicus"
  3. Scully, Richard J. (2009). "'North Sea or German Ocean'? The Anglo-German Cartographic Freemasonry, 1842–1914". Imago Mundi. 62: 46–62. doi:10.1080/03085690903319291.
  4. Thernstrom, Stephan; Ann Orlov; Oscar Handlin (1980). Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups (Digitized online by Google books). Harvard University Press.
  5. Looijenga, Tineke (2003). "Chapter 2 History of Runic Research". Texts & Contexts of the Oldest Runic Inscriptions (Digitized by Google Books online). BRILL. p. 70. ISBN 90-04-12396-2.
  6. Alistair Moffat: The British: A Genetic Journey, Birlinn, 2013,ISBN:9781780270753, p.61
  7. L.M.A. (1985). "Europe". In University of Chicago. Encyclopædia Britannica Macropædia. 18 (Fifteenth ed.). U.S.A.: Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. pp. 832–835. ISBN 0-85229-423-9.
  8. Cuyvers, Luc (1986). The Strait of Dover (Digitized by Google Books online). BRILL. p. 2. ISBN 9789024732524.
  9. Green, Dennis Howard (2003). The Continental Saxons from the Migration Period to the Tenth Century: An Ethnographic Perspective (Digitized by Google Books online). Frank Siegmund. Boydell Press. pp. 48–50.
  10. Smith, H. D. (1992). "The British Isles and the Age of Exploration – A Maritime Perspective". GeoJournal. 26 (4): 483–487. doi:10.1007/BF02665747.
  11. Smith, H. D. (1992). "The British Isles and the Age of Exploration – A Maritime Perspective". GeoJournal. 26 (4): 483–487. doi:10.1007/BF02665747.
  12. Lewis, H. D.; Ross, Archibald; Runyan, Timothy J. (1985). "European Naval and Maritime History, 300–1500" (Digitized by Google Books online). Indiana University Press: 128. ISBN 9780253320827.
  13. Hansen, Mogens Herman (2000). "A Comparative Study of Thirty City-state Cultures: An Investigation" (Digitized by Google Books online). Kgl. Danske Videnskabernes Selskab: 305. ISBN 9788778761774.
  14. 1. Køppen, Adolph Ludvig; Karl Spruner von Merz (1854). The World in the Middle Ages (Digitized 29 November 2006 by Google Books online). New York: D. Appleton and Company. p. 179. OCLC 3621972. 2. Ripley, George R; Charles Anderson Dana (1869). The New American Cyclopædia: A Popular Dictionary of General Knowledge (Digitized 9 June 2008 by Google Books online). New York: D. Appleton. p. 540.
  15. L.M.A. (1985). "Europe". In University of Chicago. Encyclopædia Britannica Macropædia. 18 (Fifteenth ed.). U.S.A.: Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. pp. 832–835. ISBN 0-85229-423-9.
  16. Ripley, George; Charles Anderson Dana (1883). The American Cyclopaedia: A Popular Dictionary of General Knowledge