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- For other uses of the terms Levant, Levante or Levantine, see Levant (disambiguation).
The Levant is an approximate historical geographical term referring to a large area in Southwest Asia south of the Taurus Mountains, bounded by the Mediterranean Sea in the west, and the north Arabian Desert and Mesopotamia to the east. The Levant does not include Anatolia (although at times Cilicia may be included), the Caucasus Mountains, or any part of the Arabian Peninsula proper. The Sinai Peninsula is sometimes included, though more considered an intermediate, peripheral, or marginal area forming a land bridge between the Levant and northern Egypt. For what the area is called by natives and others, see Names of the Levant.
The term Levant, originally used in the wider sense of "Mediterranean lands east of Italy", is first attested in English in 1497, from Middle French levant "The Orient", the participle of lever "to raise", as in soleil levant "rising sun", from Latin levare. It thus refers to the direction of the rising sun, from a Mediterranean perspective. As such, it is broadly equivalent to the Arabic term Mashriq, 'the land where the sun rises'. Any similarity to "Lebanon" is merely casual (though Lebanon does form an important part of the region).
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).
The term enjoyed a renaissance during the French Mandates of Syria and Lebanon from 1920 to 1946, that were called the Levant states. Today, it is typically used in conjunction with prehistoric or ancient and medieval historical references, by archaeologists and historians, as when discussing the Crusades. The term in archaeology became popular during the mandates of Syria and Lebanon when many important archaeological discoveries were made, such as Ebla, Mari and Ugarit. Since these sites could neither be classified as Mesopotamian, North African, or Arabian, they were referred to as "Levantine". But occasionally, the term is still employed to refer to modern events, states, or parts of states in the same region, i.e. to Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, and either the entirety or the western parts of Syria (southwest of the Euphrates) and Jordan.
The name Levantines was applied to people of Italian (Venetians and Genoese), French, or of other Mediterranean origin who lived in Asia Minor during the time that area had been conquered by the Ottoman Empire. These people were for the majority descendants of the Crusader States or traders. After the British took over Palestine in the aftermath of the First World War, they often used the term pejoratively to refer to inhabitants of mixed Arab and European blood or those of pure European (usually French, Italian, or Greek) descent who had "gone native" and adopted local dress and customs.
- Braudel, Fernand, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Phillip II