The term entered English in the late 15th century from French. It derives from the Italian Levante, meaning "rising", implying the rising of the sun in the east, and is broadly equivalent to the term Al-Mashriq (Arabic: الْمَشْرق, [almaʃriq]), meaning "the east, where the sun rises".
In the 13th and 14th centuries, the term levante was used for Italian maritime commerce in the Eastern Mediterranean, including Greece, Anatolia, Syria-Palestine, and Egypt, that is, the lands east of Venice. Eventually the term was restricted to the Muslim countries of Syria-Palestine and Egypt. In 1581, England set up the Levant Company to monopolize commerce with the Ottoman Empire. The name Levant States was used to refer to the French mandate over Syria and Lebanon after World War I. This is probably the reason why the term Levant has come to be used more specifically to refer to modern Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, Jordan, and Cyprus. Some scholars misunderstood the term thinking that it derives from the name of Lebanon. Today the term is often used in conjunction with prehistoric or ancient historical references. It has the same meaning as "Syria-Palestine" or Ash-Shaam (Arabic: الـشَّـام, /ʔaʃ-ʃaːm/), the area that is bounded by the Taurus Mountains of Turkey in the North, the Mediterranean Sea in the west, and the north Arabian Desert and Mesopotamia in the east. Typically, it does not include Anatolia (also called Asia Minor), the Caucasus Mountains, or any part of the Arabian Peninsula proper. Cilicia (in Asia Minor) and the Sinai Peninsula (Asian Egypt) are sometimes included.
The term Levant was widely used to describe the region from the 18th to the mid-19th centuries, and has had steady but lower usage since the late 19th century; several dictionaries consider it to be archaic today. Both the noun Levant and the adjective Levantine are now commonly used to describe the ancient and modern culture area formerly called Syro-Palestinian or Biblical: archaeologists now speak of the Levant and of Levantine archaeology; food scholars speak of Levantine cuisine; and the Latin Christians of the Levant continue to be called Levantine Christians.
The term Levant, which appeared in English in 1497, originally meant the East in general or "Mediterranean lands east of Italy". It is borrowed from the Frenchlevant "rising", referring to the rising of the sun in the east, or the point where the sun rises. The phrase is ultimately from the Latin word levare, meaning 'lift, raise'. Similar etymologies are found in Greek Ἀνατολή (Anatolē, cf.Anatolia), in GermanicMorgenland (literally, "morning land"), in Italian (as in "Riviera di Levante", the portion of the Liguria coast east of Genoa), in HungarianKelet, in Spanish and CatalanLevante and Llevant, ("the place of rising"), and in Hebrew (Hebrew: מִזְרָח, mizrāḥ). Most notably, "Orient" and its Latin source oriens meaning "east", is literally "rising", deriving from Latinorior "rise".
The notion of the Levant has undergone a dynamic process of historical evolution in usage, meaning, and understanding. While the term "Levantine" originally referred to the European residents of the eastern Mediterranean region, it later came to refer to regional "native" and "minority" groups.
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 Ottoman Sultan in 1579. The English Levant Company was founded in 1581 to trade with the Ottoman Empire, and in 1670 the French Compagnie du Levant was founded for the same purpose. At this time, the Far East was known as the "Upper Levant".
Postcard bearing a French stamp inscribed Levant
In early 19th-century travel writing, the term sometimes incorporated certain Mediterranean provinces of the Ottoman empire, as well as independent Greece (and especially the Greek islands). 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. The French mandate of Syria and Lebanon (1920–1946) was called the Levant states.
While the usage of the term "Levant" in academia has been restricted to the fields of archeology and literature, there is a recent attempt to reclaim the notion of the Levant as a category of analysis in political and social sciences. Two academic journals were recently launched: Journal of Levantine Studies, published by the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute and The Levantine Review, published by Boston College.
The word Levant has been used in some translations of the term ash-Shām as used by the organization known as ISIL, ISIS, and other names, though there is disagreement as to whether this translation is accurate.
Among the languages of Israel, the official language is Hebrew; Arabic was until July 19, 2018, also an official language. The Arab minority, in 2018 about 21% of the population of Israel, speaks a dialect of Levantine Arabic essentially indistinguishable from the forms spoken in the Palestinian territories.
Of the languages of Cyprus, the majority language is Greek, followed by Turkish (in the north). Two minority languages are recognized: Armenian, and Cypriot Maronite Arabic, a hybrid of mostly medieval Arabic vernaculars with strong influence from contact with Greek, spoken by approximately 1000 people.
^"Nevertheless, despite such a well-reasoned basis for the identification of Levantine archaeology, the adoption of this term by many scholars has been, for the most part, simply the result of individual attempts to consider a wider, yet relevant, cultural corpus than that which is suggested by the use of terms like Canaan, Israel, or even Syria-Palestine. Regardless of the manner in which the term has come into common use, for a couple of additional reasons it seems clear that the Levant will remain the term of choice. In the first place scholars have shown a penchant for the term Levant, despite the fact that the term ‘Syria-Palestine’ has been advocated since the late 1970s. This is evident from the fact that no journal or series today has adopted a title that includes ‘Syria-Palestine’. However, the journal Levant has been published since 1969 and since 1990, Ägypten und Levante has also attracted a plethora of papers relating to the archaeology of this region. Furthermore, a search through any electronic database of titles reveals an overwhelming adoption of the term ‘Levant’ when compared to ‘Syria-Palestine’ for archaeological studies. Undoubtedly, this is mostly due to the fact that ‘Syria-Palestine’ was a Roman administrative division of the Levant created by Hadrian (Millar 1993). The term ‘Syria-Palestine’ also carries political overtones that inadvertently evoke current efforts to establish a full-fledged Palestinian state. Scholars have recognized, therefore, that—for at least the time being—they can spare themselves further headaches by adopting the term Levant to identify this region" (Burke 2010)[page needed]
^"At the beginning of this Introduction I have indicated how difficult it is to choose a general accepted name for the region this book deals with. In Europe we are used to the late Roman name 'Palestine,' and the designation 'Palestinian Archaeology' has a long history. According to Byzantine usage it included CisJordan and TransJordan and even Lebanon and Sinai. In modern times, however, the name 'Palestine' has exclusively become the political designation for a restricted area. Furthermore, in the period this book deals with a region called 'Palestine' did not yet exist. Also the ancient name 'Canaan' cannot be used as it refers to an older period in history. Designations as: 'The Land(s) of the Bible' or 'the Holy Land' evoke the suspicion of a theological bias. 'The Land of Israel' does not apply to the situation because it never included Lebanon or the greater part of modern Jordan. Therefore I have joined those who today advocate the designation 'Southern Levant.' Although I confess that it is an awkward name, it is at least strictly geographical." (Geus 2003, p. 6)
Amy Chua (2004), World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability p. 212;
Mandyam Srinivasan, Theodore Stank, Philippe-Pierre Dornier, Kenneth Petersen (2014), Global Supply Chains: Evaluating Regions on an EPIC Framework – Economy, Politics, Infrastructure, and Competence: “EPIC” Structure – Economy, Politics, Infrastructure, and Competence, p. 3;
Ayubi, Nazih N. (1996), Over-stating the Arab State: Politics and Society in the Middle East p. 108;
David Thomas, Alexander Mallett (2012), Christian-Muslim Relations. A Bibliographical History. Volume 4 (1200-1350), p. 145;
Jeff Lesser (1999), Negotiating National Identity: Immigrants, Minorities, and the Struggle for Ethnicity in Brazil p. 45
^Margreet L. Steiner; Ann E. Killebrew (2014). The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of the Levant: C. 8000-332 BCE. OUP Oxford. p. 35. ISBN978-0-19-921297-2. The western coastline and the eastern deserts set the boundaries for the Levant... The Euphrates and the area around Jebel el-Bishrī mark the eastern boundary of the northern Levant, as does the Syrian Desert beyond the Anti-Lebanon range's eastern hinterland and Mount Hermon. This boundary continues south in the form of the highlands and eastern desert regions of Transjordan
^LEVANT archaic The eastern part of the Mediterranean with the islands and neighbouring countries. New Oxford Dictionary of English, 2nd ed., revised, 2005.
^LEVANT, THE. A general term formerly given to the E shores of the Mediterranean Sea from W Greece to Egypt. The Penguin Encyclopedia, revised 2nd ed., 2004.
^LEVANT, (vieilli) Le Levant: les pays, les régions qui sont au levant (par rapport à la France) et spécialt. les régions de la Méditerrranée orientale. Le Nouveau Petit Robert de la langue française, (1993 revised ed.).
^Thomas Evan Levy, Historical Biblical Archaeology and the Future: The New Pragmatism, Routledge, 2016 ISBN1134937466. Thomas E. Levy, "The New Pragmatism", p. 8: "after 1994, it is possible to see an increase in the use of the less geographically specific and more political [sic] neutral words 'Levant' or 'Levantine' in scholarly citations.... It is important to highlight the pedigree of the term 'Syro-Palestinian' and its gradual replacement by the term 'Levant' or 'Levantine' because the latter is a more culturally and politically neutral term that more accurately reflects the tapestry of countries and peoples of the region, without assuming directionality of cultural influence.". Aaron A. Burke, "The Archaeology of the Levant in North America: The Transformation of Biblical and Syro-Palestinian Archaeology" p. 82ff: "A number of factors account for the gradual emergence during the past two decades of what is now widely identified as Levantine archaeology in North America... a growing consensus regarding the appropriate terminology... archaeological field research in the Levant"
^William G. Dever, The Lives of Ordinary People in Ancient Israel: When Archaeology and the Bible Intersect, 2012, ISBN0802867014, p. 249: "Today, however, the discipline is often called Palestinian, Syro-Palestinian, or Levantine archaeology."
^Mark Gasiorowski, The Government and Politics of the Middle East and North Africa, 2016 ISBN081334994X, p. 5: "...today the term Levantine can describe shared cultural products, such as Levantine cuisine or Levantine archaeology"
^Michel Elias Andraos, "Levantine Catholic Communities in the Diaspora at the Intersection of Many Identities and Worlds", in Michael L. Budde, Scattered and Gathered: Catholics in Diaspora, 2017 ISBN1532607091 p. 24: "The word 'Levantine' in the title is used on purpose instead of the 'Middle East' or the 'Near East'.... I use 'Levantine' more than the two other designations, because this is the term being used more often nowadays by Christian communities in the Middle East to describe their shared identity as al-maseeheyoun al-mashriqeyoun, Levantine Christians"
Burke, Aaron (2010), "The Transformation of Biblical and Syro-Palestinian Archaeology", in Levy, Thomas Evan (ed.), Historical Biblical Archaeology and the Future: The New Pragmatism, London: Equinox
"Levant", Encarta, Microsoft, 2009
Geus, C. H. J. de (2003), Towns in Ancient Israel and in the Southern Levant, Peeters Publishers, p. 6, ISBN978-90-429-1269-4
Gagarin, Michael (31 December 2009), Ancient Greece and Rome, 1, Oxford University Press, Incorporated, p. 247, ISBN978-0-19-517072-6
Naim, Samia (2011), "Dialects of the Levant", in Weninger, Stefan; et al. (eds.), The Semitic Languages: An International Handbook, Berlin/Boston: Walter de Gruyter, p. 921
"Levant", Oxford Dictionaries Online, Oxford University Press
Julia Chatzipanagioti: Griechenland, Zypern, Balkan und Levante. Eine kommentierte Bibliographie der Reiseliteratur des 18. Jahrhunderts. 2 Vol. Eutin 2006. ISBN3-9810674-2-8
Levantine Heritage site. Includes many oral and scholarly histories, and genealogies for some Levantine Turkish families.
Philip Mansel, Levant: Splendour and Catastrophe on the Mediterranean, London, John Murray, 11 November 2010, hardback, 480 pages, ISBN978-0-7195-6707-0, New Haven, Yale University Press, 24 May 2011, hardback, 470 pages, ISBN978-0-300-17264-5