The name was derived from the important Tuscan town of Atria, near the mouths of the Padus, and was originally (Herod. vi. 127, vii. 20, ix. 92) confined to the northern part of the gulf now called the Adriatic, the lower part of which was known as the ‘Ionian Sea.’ In later times the name ‘Adria’ was applied to the whole basin between Italy and Illyria, while the ‘Ionian Sea’ came to mean the outer basin, south of the Strait of Otranto. Strabo, in the beginning of our era, says: ‘The mouth (strait) is common to both; but this difference is to be observed, that the name “Ionian” is applied to the first part of the gulf only, and “Adriatic” to the interior sea up to the farthest end’ (vii. v. 9). Strabo, however, indicates a wider extension of the meaning by adding that ‘the name “Adrias” is now applied to the whole sea,’ so that, as he says elsewhere, ‘the Ionian Gulf forms part of what we now call “Adrias” ’ (ii. v. 20). Finally, in popular usage, which is followed by St. Luke (Ac 27:27), the term ‘Adria’ was still further extended to signify the whole expanse between Crete and Sicily.
This is confirmed by Ptolemy, who wrote about the middle of the 2nd cent. a.d. ‘With the accuracy of a geographer, he distinguishes the Gulf of Adria from the Sea of Adria; thus, in enumerating the boundaries of Italy, he tells us that it is bounded on one side by the shores of the Gulf of Adria, and on the south by the shores of the Adria (iii. 1); and that Sicily is hounded on the east by the Sea of Adria (4). He further informs us that Italy is bounded on the south by the Adriatic Sea (14), that the Peloponnesus is bounded on the west and south by the Adriatic Sea (16), and that Crete is bounded on the west by the Adriatic Sea (17)’ (Smith, Vayage and Shipwreck of St. Paul4, 163f.).
The usage current in the first and second centuries is similarly reflected by Pausanias, who speaks of Alpheus flowing under Adria from Greece to Ortygia in Syracuse (viii. 54. 2), and of the Straits of Messina as communicating with the Adriatic and the Tyrrhenian Sea (v. 25. 3). Procopius (Bel. Vand. i. 14) makes the islands of Gaulos and Melita (Gozo and Malta) the boundary between the Adriatic; and the Tyrrhenian Sea. The meaning of the term ‘Adria’ was the debatable point of the once famous controvert as to whether St. Paul suffered shipwreck on the Illyrian or the Sicilian Melita, i.e. on Meleda or Malta (see Melita).
His ship was ‘driven through Adria’ (διαφερομένων ἡμῶν ἐν τῷ Ἀδρίᾳ, Ac 27:27); perhaps not ‘driven to and fro in the sea of Adria’ (RV) (unless St. Luke made a landsman’s mistake), but slowly carried forward in one direction, for probably ‘she had storm sails set, and was on the starboard tack, which was the only course by which she could avoid falling into the Syrtis’ (Smith, op. cit. 114). An interesting parallel to St. Paul’s experience is found in the life of Josephus, who relays that his ship foundered in the midst of the same sea (κατὰ μέσον τὸν Ἀδρίαν), and that he and some companions, saving themselves by swimming, were picked up by a vessel sailing from Cyrene to Puteoli (Vit. 3).
RV Revised Version.