(τὸ Σικελικὸν πέλαγος
, Pol. Strab. &c.), was the name given in ancient times to that portion of the Mediterranean sea which bathed the eastern shores of Sicily.
But like all similar appellations, the name was used in a somewhat vague and fluctuating manner, so that it is difficult to fix its precise geographical limits. Thus Strabo describes it as extending along the eastern shore of Sicily, from the Straits to Cape Pachynus, with the southern shore of Italy as far as Locri, and again to the eastward as far as Crete and the Peloponnese; and as filling the Corinthian Gulf, and extending northwards to the Iapygian promontory and the mouth of the Ionian gulf. (Strab. ii. p.123
It is clear, therefore, that he included under the name the whole of the sea between the Peloponnese and Sicily, which is more commonly known as the Ionian sea [IONIUM MARE
], but was termed by later writers the Adriatic [ADRIATICUM MARE
]. Polybius, who in one passage employs the name of Ionian sea in this more extensive sense, elsewhere uses that of the Sicilian sea in the same general manner as Strabo, since he speaks of the island of Cephallenia as extending out towards the Sicilian sea (5.3);> and even describes the Ambracian gulf as an inlet or arm of the Sicilian sea (4.63, 5.5). Eratosthenes also, it would appear from Pliny, applied the name of Siculum Mare to the whole extent from Sicily to Crete. (Plin. Nat. 3.5. s. 10
The usage of Pliny himself is obscure; but Mela distinguishes the Sicilian sea from the Ionian, applying the former name to the western part of the broad sea, nearest to Sicily, and the latter to its more easterly portion, nearest to Greece. (Mel. 2.4.1.)
But this distinction does not seem to have been generally adopted or continued long in use. Indeed the name of the Sicilian sea seems to have fallen much into disuse. Ptolemy speaks of Sicily itself as bounded on the N. by the Tyrrhenian sea, on the S. by the African, and on the E. by the Adriatic; thus omitting the Sicilian sea altogether (Ptol. 3.4.1
); and this seems to have continued under the Roman Empire to be the received nomenclature.
Strabo tells us that the Sicilian sea was the same which had previously been called the Ausonian (Strab. ii. p.133
, v. p. 233); but it is probable that that name was never applied in the more extended sense in which he uses the Sicilian sea, but was confined to the portion more immediately adjoining the southern coasts of Italy, from Sicily to the Iapygian promontory.
It is in this sense that it is employed by Pliny, as well as by Polybius, whom he cites as his authority. (Plin. l.c.