Countries and regions of the Levant in the broad, historic meaning (equivalent to the Eastern Mediterranean)[1][2]
  Countries of the Levant in the 20th century usage[3]
  Countries and regions sometimes included in the 21st century
Countries and regionsNarrow definition:

Broad definition:

PopulationNarrow definition: 44,550,926[a]
LanguagesArabic, Aramaic, Armenian, Circassian, Domari, Greek, Hebrew, Kurdish, Turkish
Time ZonesUTC+02:00 (EET) and UTC+03:00 (TRT/AST)
Largest cities

The Levant (/ləˈvænt/) is an approximate historical geographical term referring to a large area in the Eastern Mediterranean region of Western Asia. In its narrowest sense, which is in use today in archaeology and other cultural contexts, it is equivalent to a stretch of land bordering the Mediterranean in southwestern Asia,[4][5] i.e. the historical region of Syria ("Greater Syria"), which includes present-day Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and most of Turkey southwest of the middle Euphrates. Its overwhelming characteristic is that it represents the land bridge between Africa and Eurasia.[5] In its widest historical sense, the Levant included all of the Eastern Mediterranean with its islands;[6] that is, it included all of the countries along the Eastern Mediterranean shores, extending from Greece to Cyrenaica in eastern Libya.[3][2]

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.[3] Eventually the term was restricted to the Muslim countries of Syria-Palestine and Egypt.[3] The term entered English in the late 15th century from French.[6] It derives from the Italian levante, meaning "rising", implying the rising of the Sun in the east,[3][2] and is broadly equivalent to the term al-Mashriq (Arabic: ٱلْمَشْرِق, [ʔal.maʃ.riq]),[7] meaning "the eastern place, where the Sun rises".[8]

In 1581, England set up the Levant Company to monopolize commerce with the Ottoman Empire.[3] The name Levant States was used to refer to the French mandate over Syria and Lebanon after World War I.[3][2] 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.[3] Some scholars mistakenly believed that it derives from the name of Lebanon.[3] Today the term is often used in conjunction with prehistoric or ancient historical references.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: ٱلشَّام, /ʔaʃ.ʃaːm/), the area that is bounded by the Taurus Mountains of Turkey in the north, the Mediterranean Sea in the west, the north Arabian Desert and Mesopotamia in the east, and Sinai in the south (which can be fully included or not).[9][5] 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.

As a name for the contemporary region, several dictionaries consider Levant to be archaic today.[10][11][12] 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;[13][14][15] food scholars speak of Levantine cuisine;[4] and the Latin Christians of the Levant continue to be called Levantine Christians.[16]

The Levant has been described as the "crossroads of Western Asia, the Eastern Mediterranean, and Northeast Africa",[17] and in geological (tectonic) terms as the "northwest of the Arabian Plate".[18] The populations of the Levant[19][20] share not only the geographic position, but cuisine, some customs, and history. They are often referred to as Levantines.[21]


See also: Names of the Levant

French medal commemorating the Franco-Turkish War in Cilicia, circa 1920
French medal commemorating the Franco-Turkish War in Cilicia, circa 1920

The term Levant appears in English in 1497, and originally meant 'the East' or 'Mediterranean lands east of Italy'.[22] It is borrowed from the French levant 'rising', referring to the rising of the sun in the east,[22] or the point where the sun rises.[23] The phrase is ultimately from the Latin word levare, meaning 'lift, raise'. Similar etymologies are found in Greek Ἀνατολή Anatolē (cf. Anatolia 'the direction of sunrise'), in Germanic Morgenland (lit.'morning land'), in Italian (as in Riviera di Levante, the portion of the Liguria coast east of Genoa), in Hungarian Kelet ('east'), in Spanish and Catalan Levante and Llevant, ('the place of rising'), and in Hebrew מִזְרָח mizraḥ ('east'). Most notably, "Orient" and its Latin source oriens meaning 'east', is literally "rising", deriving from Latin orior 'rise'.[24]

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.[25]

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.[26] 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".[3]

1909 postcard depicting Ottoman Constantinople and bearing a French stamp inscribed "Levant"
1909 postcard depicting Ottoman Constantinople and 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.[3][2]

Geography and modern-day use of the term

Satellite view of the Levant including Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Jordan and the Northern Sinai
Satellite view of the Levant including Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Jordan and the Northern Sinai

Today, "Levant" is the term typically used by archaeologists and historians with reference to the history of the region. Scholars have adopted the term Levant to identify the region due to its being a "wider, yet relevant, cultural corpus" that does not have the "political overtones" of Syria-Palestine.[b][c] The term is also used for modern events, peoples, states or parts of states in the same region,[27] namely Cyprus, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Turkey are sometimes considered Levant countries (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,[28] the UCLA Near Eastern Languages and Cultures department,[29] Journal of Levantine Studies[30] and the UCL Institute of Archaeology,[17] the last of which has dated the connection between Cyprus and mainland Levant to the early Iron Age. Archaeologists seeking a neutral orientation that is neither biblical nor national have used terms such as Levantine archaeology and archaeology of the Southern Levant.[31][32]

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 launched in the early 2010s using the word: the Journal of Levantine Studies, published by the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute[33] and The Levantine Review, published by Boston College.[34]

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.[35]

In archaeology: a definition

In The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of the Levant: c. 8000–332 BCE (OHAL; 2013), the definition of the Levant for the specific purposes of the book is synonymous to that of the Arabic "bilad al-sham, 'the land of sham [Syria]'", translating in Western parlance to greater Syria.[9] OHAL defines the boundaries of the Levant as follows.[9][5]


A distinction is made between the main subregions of the Levant, the northern and the southern:[5]

The island of Cyprus is also included as a third subregion in the archaeological region of the Levant:[5]


Further information: Prehistory of the Levant and History of the ancient Levant

See also: History of the Middle East, History of Palestine, History of Israel, and History of Lebanon

Demographics and religion

See also: Demographics of the Middle East

Prince from Lebanon and Muslim from Damascus, late 19th century
Prince from Lebanon and Muslim from Damascus, late 19th century

The largest religious group in the Levant are Muslims and the largest ethnic group are Arabs. Islam became the majority in the region due to the Muslim conquest of the Levant in the 7th century.[36][37] The majority of Muslim Levantines are Sunni with Alawi and Shia minorities. Other large ethnic and religious groups in the Levant include Jews, Maronites, Turks, Turkmens, Antiochian Greeks, Assyrians, Yazidi, Kurds, Druze and Armenians.[38][39]

There are many Levantine Christian groups such as Greek, Oriental Orthodox (mainly Syriac Orthodox, Coptic, Georgian, and Maronite), Roman Catholic, Nestorian, and Protestant. Armenians mostly belong to the Armenian Apostolic Church. There are Levantines or Franco-Levantines who are mostly Roman Catholic. There are also Circassians, Turks, Samaritans, and Nawars. There are Assyrian peoples belonging to the Assyrian Church of the East (autonomous) and the Chaldean Catholic Church (Catholic).[40]

In addition, this region has a number of sites that are of religious significance, such as Masjid Al-Aqsa,[41] Antioch in Hatay, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre,[42] and the Western Wall[43][clarification needed] in Jerusalem.


Map representing the distribution of the Arabic dialects in the area of the Levant
Map representing the distribution of the Arabic dialects in the area of the Levant

Most populations in the Levant speak Levantine Arabic (شامي, Šāmī), usually classified as the varieties North Levantine Arabic in Lebanon, Syria, and parts of Turkey, and South Levantine Arabic in Palestine and Jordan. Each of these encompasses a spectrum of regional or urban/rural variations. In addition to the varieties normally grouped together as "Levantine", a number of other varieties and dialects of Arabic are spoken in the Levant area, such as Levantine Bedawi Arabic and Mesopotamian Arabic.[44]

Among the languages of Israel, the official language is Hebrew; Arabic was until July 19, 2018, also an official language.[45] The Arab minority, in 2018 about 21% of the population of Israel,[45] speaks a dialect of Levantine Arabic essentially indistinguishable from the forms spoken in the Palestinian territories.

Of the languages of Cyprus, the two official languages are Turkish and Greek. The most used languages by population are Greek in the south 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 Turkish and Greek, spoken by approximately 1,000 people.[46]

Some communities and populations speak Aramaic, Greek, Armenian, Circassian, French, Russian, or English.[citation needed]

See also

Overlapping regional designations

Subregional designations


Other places in the east of a larger region

Explanatory notes

  1. ^ Total population by adding the populations of Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Turkey's Hatay Province.
  2. ^ "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]
  3. ^ "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)


  1. ^ Gagarin 2009, p. 247; Oxford Dictionaries 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d e Encarta 2009, "Levant"
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Gagarin 2009, p. 247
  4. ^ a b Gasiorowski, Mark (2016). The Government and Politics of the Middle East and North Africa. p. 5: "... today the term Levantine can describe shared cultural products, such as Levantine cuisine or Levantine archaeology". ISBN 081334994X.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Steiner & Killebrew, p. 9 Archived 1 November 2022 at the Wayback Machine: "The general limits ..., as defined here, begin at the Plain of 'Amuq in the north and extend south until the Wâdī al-Arish, along the northern coast of Sinai. ... 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."
  6. ^ a b Oxford Dictionaries 2015.
  7. ^ Gagarin 2009, p. 247; Naim 2011, p. 921;
    • 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
  8. ^ Naim 2011, p. 921.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Steiner & Killebrew, p. 2 Archived 1 November 2022 at the Wayback Machine.
  10. ^ LEVANT archaic The eastern part of the Mediterranean with the islands and neighbouring countries. New Oxford Dictionary of English, 2nd ed., revised, 2005.
  11. ^ "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.
  12. ^ 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.).
  13. ^ Thomas Evan Levy, Historical Biblical Archaeology and the Future: The New Pragmatism, Routledge, 2016 ISBN 1134937466. 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"
  14. ^ William G. Dever, The Lives of Ordinary People in Ancient Israel: When Archaeology and the Bible Intersect, 2012, ISBN 0802867014, p. 249: "Today, however, the discipline is often called Palestinian, Syro-Palestinian, or Levantine archaeology."
  15. ^ Steiner & Killebrew (2013). p. 1-2.
  16. ^ 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 ISBN 1532607091 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"
  17. ^ a b The Ancient Levant, UCL Institute of Archaeology, May 2008
  18. ^ Egyptian Journal of Geology, Volume 42, Issue 1, p. 263, 1998
  19. ^ "Ancient Ashkelon - National Geographic Magazine". Ngm.nationalgeographic.com. 17 October 2002. Retrieved 17 October 2011.
  20. ^ "The state of Israel: Internal influence driving change". BBC News. 6 November 2011.
  21. ^ Orfalea, Gregory (2006). The Arab Americans: A History. Olive Branch Press. Northampton, MA. Page 249.
  22. ^ a b Douglas Harper, Online Etymology Dictionary. "Levant". Dictionary.com. Retrieved 27 July 2012.
  23. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition
  24. ^ Balme, Maurice; Morwood, James. "Chapter 36". Oxford Latin Course Part III (2nd ed.). p. 19.
  25. ^ "Journal of Levantine Studies". The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute. Retrieved 30 January 2014.
  26. ^ Braudel, p. [page needed].
  27. ^ e.g., "The Levant Crisis: Syria, Iraq, and the Region", Australian National University [1] Archived 1 December 2017 at the Wayback Machine; Center for Strategic and International Studies, "Egypt and the Levant", 2017 [2] Archived 1 December 2017 at the Wayback Machine; Michael Kerr, Craig Larkin, eds., The Alawis of Syria, 2015 ISBN 9780190458119
  28. ^ Sandra Rosendahl (28 November 2006). "Council for British Research in the Levant homepage". Cbrl.org.uk. Retrieved 5 July 2010.
  29. ^ Biblical and Levantine studies Archived 6 December 2013 at the Wayback Machine, UCLA
  30. ^ "About JLS". Journal of Levantine Studies.
  31. ^ Dever, William G. "Syro-Palestinian and Biblical Archaeology", pp. 1244-1253.
  32. ^ Sharon, Ilan "Biblical archaeology" in Encyclopedia of Archaeology Elsevier.
  33. ^ Anat Lapidot-Firilla, "Editor's Note", Journal of Levantine Studies 1:1:5-12 (Summer 2011) full text Archived 19 September 2020 at the Wayback Machine
  34. ^ Franck Salameh, "From the Editors", The Levantine Review 1:1:1-6 (Spring 2012), doi:10.6017/lev.v1i1.2154, full text Archived 28 August 2020 at the Wayback Machine
  35. ^ Irshaid, Faisal (2 December 2015). "Isis, Isil, IS or Daesh? One group, many names". BBC. Retrieved 21 July 2018.
  36. ^ Kennedy, Hugh N. (2007). The Great Arab Conquests: How the Spread of Islam Changed the World We Live In. Da Capo Press. p. 376. ISBN 978-0306817281.
  37. ^ Lapidus, Ira M. (13 October 2014) [1988]. A History of Islamic Societies (3rd ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 70. ISBN 978-0521514309.
  38. ^ Shoup, John A (31 October 2011). Ethnic Groups of Africa and the Middle East: An Encyclopedia. ISBN 9781598843620. Retrieved 26 May 2014.
  39. ^ "Levant (al-Shaam) - Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and Jordan: Religious Composition". The Gulf/2000 Project, School of International and Public Affairs of Columbia University. 2017. Retrieved 31 August 2018.
  40. ^ "Christian Population of Middle East in 2014". The Gulf/2000 Project, School of International and Public Affairs of Columbia University. 2017. Retrieved 31 August 2018.
  41. ^ Mustafa Abu Sway. "The Holy Land, Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Qur'an, Sunnah and other Islamic Literary Source" (PDF). Central Conference of American Rabbis. Archived from the original (PDF) on 28 July 2011.
  42. ^ "Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem". Jerusalem: Sacred-destinations.com. 21 February 2010. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
  43. ^ Frishman, Avraham (2004). Kum Hisalech Be’aretz, Jerusalem.
  44. ^ "Jordan and Syria". Ethnologue. Retrieved 21 July 2018.
  45. ^ a b Halbfinger, David M.; Kershner, Isabel (19 July 2018). "Israeli Law Declares the Country the 'Nation-State of the Jewish People'". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 July 2018.
  46. ^ Versteegh, Kees (2011). Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics. Brill. p. 541. ISBN 978-90-04-14976-2.

General and cited references

  • Braudel, Fernand, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Phillip II[full citation needed]
  • 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
  • Gagarin, Michael (31 December 2009), Ancient Greece and Rome, vol. 1, Oxford University Press, Incorporated, p. 247, ISBN 978-0-19-517072-6
  • Geus, C. H. J. de (2003), Towns in Ancient Israel and in the Southern Levant, Peeters Publishers, p. 6, ISBN 978-90-429-1269-4
  • 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
  • Steiner, Margreet L.; Killebrew, Ann E. (2013). The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of the Levant: c. 8000-332 BCE. OUP Oxford. pp. 2, 9. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199212972.001.0001. ISBN 9780199212972.

Further reading