What Is an Archipelago?

The word “archipelago” comes from two Greek words: archos, meaning “chief,” and pelagos, meaning “sea.”

The Greeks originally used the word archipelagos for the Aegean Sea, which washes against the shores of Greece and was their “chief sea.” Since the Aegean Sea is studded with many islands, the word “archipelago” came to mean any sea that is filled with islands.

Later, though, the word came to mean a group or chain of islands, rather than the sea in which they were located. When people say “archipelago” today, they usually mean a chain of islands.

The Aleutian Islands in Alaska, the Florida Keys, and the islands that make up the nation of Japan are all archipelagos. But the world’s biggest archipelago is the island chain of Indonesia, which stretches 3,500 miles and includes more than 13,000 islands!