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The Levant ( ) ( , , also known as المشرق (Mashriq)) describes, traditionally, the Eastern Mediterranean at large, but can be used as a geographical term that denotes a large area in Western Asia formed by the lands bordering the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, roughly bounded on the north by the Taurus Mountainsmarker, on the south by the Arabian Desert, and on the west by the Mediterranean Seamarker, while on the east it extends towards the Zagros Mountainsmarker. The Levant includes the countries of Lebanonmarker, Israelmarker, State of Palestine, Syriamarker, Jordanmarker, Iraqmarker, and occasionally Cyprusmarker and the Sinaimarker. The UCL Institute of Archeology describes the Levant as the "crossroads of western Asia, the eastern Mediterranean and northeast Africamarker".

Levant was originally applied to the "Mediterranean lands east of Italy", from the Middle French word levant meaning "the Orient". Historically, the "trade on the Levant" between Western Europe and the Ottoman Empire was of great economic importance. An imprecise term, Levant refers to an area of cultural habitation rather than to a specific geographic region, and its meaning shifts according to historical and cultural reference and preference.


Inhabitants of the Levant, late nineteenth century.

The term Levant, which first appeared in English in 1497, originally meant a wider sense of "Mediterranean lands east of Venetia", as in French soleil levant "rising Sun" — from the verb lever, "to rise", from Latin levare "to raise". It thus referred to the Eastern direction of the rising Sun from the perspective of those who first used it and has analogues in other languages, notably Morgenland – or a closely related word meaning morning land – in most Germanic languages.

This is similar to the Ancient Greek name Ανατολία (Anatolía), which means the "land of the rising Sun", or simply the East. It derives from "the rise", especially "the sunrise", resp. from = to rise, esp. said of the Sun or Moon ( = up, above + = to go, rise, come into existence). For the Greeks, Ανατολία (Anatolía) is a synonym of (Mikrá Asía = Asia Minormarker), not of Levant, which is Λεβάντες (Levándes) in Modern Greek. Likewise, the Arabic term Mashriq, derived from the Arabic consonantal root sh-r-q (ش ر ق), relating to "the east" or "the sunrise", refers to "the land where the Sun rises", and designates a broad area encompassing the Levant. However, the most equivalent historically used Arabic term for the Levant is the "Sham" (الشام), now mostly used by Arabs in reference to Greater Syria; the same name "Sham" is also one of the Arabic names for Damascusmarker.


The term became current in English in the 16th century, along with the first English merchant adventurers in the region: English ships appeared in the Mediterranean in the 1570s and the English merchant company signed its agreement ("capitulations") with the Grand Turk in 1579 (Braudel).

In 19th-century travel writing, the term incorporated eastern regions under then current or recent governance of the Ottoman empire, such as Greecemarker. In 19th-century archaeology, it referred to overlapping cultures in this region during and after prehistoric times, intending to reference the place instead of any one culture.

Since World War I

When the United Kingdommarker took over Palestine in the aftermath of the First World War, some of the new rulers adapted the term pejoratively to refer to inhabitants of mixed Arab and European descent and to Europeans (usually French, Italian or Greekmarker) who had assimilated and adopted local dress and customs.

The French Mandates of Syria and Lebanon, from 1920 to 1946, were called the Levant states. The term became common in archaeology at that time, as many important early excavations were made then, such as Marimarker and Ugaritmarker. Since these sites could not be classified as Mesopotamian, North Africa, or Arabian, they came to be referred to as "Levantine."

Today "Levant" is typically used by archaeologists and historians with reference to the prehistory and the ancient and medieval history of the region, as when discussing the Crusades. The term is also occasionally employed to refer to modern or contemporary events, peoples, states or parts of states in the same region, namely Palestine, Israelmarker, Lebanonmarker, Jordanmarker, Syriamarker, Iraqmarker and Cyprusmarker (compare with Near East, Middle East, Eastern Mediterranean and Western Asia). Several researchers include the island of Cyprus in Levantine studies, including the Council for British Research in the Levant, the UCLAmarker Near Eastern Languages and Cultures department, and the UCL Institute of Archaeology, the latter of which has dated the connection between Cyprus and mainland Levant to the early Iron Age. Currently, a dialect of Levantine Arabic, Cypriot Maronite Arabic, is the most-spoken minority language in the country.

Further uses

The name Levantine (French: Levantine, Italian: Levantino, Turkish: Levanten) is additionally applied to people of Italianmarker (especially Venetianmarker and Genoesemarker), Frenchmarker, or other Euro-Mediterranean origin who have lived in Istanbulmarker, İzmirmarker and other parts of Anatoliamarker (in present-day Turkeymarker) or the eastern Mediterraneanmarker coast (the Levant, particularly in present-day Lebanonmarker and Israelmarker) since the period of the Crusades, the Byzantine period and the Ottoman period. The majority of them are descendants of traders from the maritime republics of the Mediterraneanmarker (such as the Republic of Venicemarker, the Republic of Genoa and the Republic of Ragusa) or of the inhabitants of the Crusader states (especially the French Levantines in Lebanonmarker, Israelmarker and Turkeymarker). They continue to live in Istanbulmarker (mostly in the districts of Galatamarker, Beyoğlumarker and Nişantaşımarker) and İzmir (mostly in the districts of Karşıyakamarker, Bornova and Buca.) Famous people of the present-day Levantine community in Turkey include Caroline Giraud Koç and Giovanni Scognamillo.

See also


  1. Council for British Research in the Levant homepage
  2. Biblical and Levantine studies, UCLA
  3. The Ancient Levant, UCL Institute of Archaeology, May 2008
  4. Sabah daily newspaper: "Onlar İzmirli Hristiyan Türkler"
  5. NTV-MSNBC: "Giovanni Scognamillo ile sinema üzerine"
  • Braudel, Fernand, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Phillip II
  • Julia Chatzipanagioti: Griechenland, Zypern, Balkan und Levante. Eine kommentierte Bibliographie der Reiseliteratur des 18. Jahrhunderts. 2 Vol. Eutin 2006. ISBN 3981067428
  • Levantine Heritage Site. Includes many oral and scholarly histories, and genealogies for some Levantine Turkish families.

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