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The Caspian Sea is the largest enclosed body of water on Earth by area, variously classed as the world’s largest lake or a full-fledged sea. It is in an endorheic basin (a basin without outflows) located between Europe and Asia. It is bounded to the northeast by Kazakhstan, to the northwest by Russia, to the west by Azerbaijan, to the south by Iran, and to the southeast by Turkmenistan. The Caspian Sea has a surface area of 371,000 km2 (143,200 sq mi) and a volume of 78,200 km3 (19,000 cu mi). It has a salinity of approximately 1.2%, about a third that of average seawater. It is estimated to contain 51 trillion m3 (1.4×1013 cu ft) of water, making it about 78 times more voluminous than the Black Sea.
The Caspian Sea is home to a wide range of species and may be best known for its caviar and oil reserves. It is also a popular destination for many types of fishing, especially game fishing. The sea provides an important trade route between western China, the Caucasus, Central Asia and southern Russia. Water from the sea has been used for irrigation in agriculture since ancient times along the shores of the Caspian Sea. The Zagros Mountains in Iran mark the northeastern edge of the Fertile Crescent, where early farming reached as far north as 6,000 years ago.
The Caspian Basin was an important hub of trade in the Bronze Age, particularly for the kingdoms of Assyria and Achaemenid Persia. The ancient Greeks also traded extensively with these kingdoms. It was also a key route for nomadic warbands moving between Europe and Asia.
The Caspian Sea is thought to have been the site of the world’s first known oil field, at Baku, Azerbaijan. French geologist Pierre Gautier d’Agoty claimed in 1748 that he had found oil near Lake Urmia, but his claim was not widely accepted until 1864 when Russian engineer F. Nansen found oil at Bibi-Eibat, also in Azerbaijan. In 1873, the Russian Empire completed a pipeline from Baku to the Black Sea port of Batumi, making it possible to ship oil from the Caspian Sea to Western Europe.
The Caspian Sea was also an important route for the Silk Road, a network of trade routes that linked China with the Mediterranean and beyond. The city of Astrakhan, at the southern tip of the sea, was an important waypoint for merchants travelling between Europe and Asia.