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The Levant

Over recorded history, there have been many names of the Levant, a large area in the Middle East. These names have applied to a part or the whole of the Levant. On occasion, two or more of these names have been used at the same time by different cultures or sects. As a natural result, some of the names of the Levant are highly politically charged. Perhaps the least politicized name is Levant itself, which simply means "where the sun rises" or "where the land rises out of the sea", a meaning attributed to the region's easterly location on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea.




The ancient Egyptians called the Levant Reṯenu. Ancient Egyptian texts (c. 14th century BCE) called the entire coastal area along the Mediterranean Sea between modern Egypt and Turkey rṯnw (conventionally Reṯenu). Reṯenu was subdivided into four regions: Kharu (-rw), North Syria, Amurru, South Syria, Rmnn, Lebanon, and Ḏahy (hy;Ṯahi, Ḏahi), ancient Palestine.[1] In the Amarna letters, the southern Levant was referred to as knʿnw (Kananu) and Gaza as p-knʿn (pe-Kanan).


A long time before and during the early Hebrew settlements in the region, the land was called Canaan (first recorded in Assyrian Akkadian as Kinaḫnu), and its indigenous people were the Canaanites. The Phœnicians, who spoke a Canaanite language at their Mediterranean ports, also called themselves and their land Canaan.


In ancient times, the Greeks called the whole of Canaan "Phoiníkē", literally "[land] of the purple[-producing shell]". Today, general consensus associates the Phoenician homeland proper with the northwest coastal region of the Levant, centered at Phoenician cities such as Ugarit, Tyre, Sidon, and Byblos. Today, this place is usually equated with modern Lebanon and the coast of modern Syria. Also there is a modern town in Turkey called Finike which is thought to have derived by the Lycians who traded with Phoenicians in ancient times.

Israel and JudeaEdit



For over a hundred years, the Kingdom of Israel under David and Solomon ruled the majority of the Land of Israel, though not most of the Phœnician and Philistine coastal lands. After Solomon's death it was split into northern Kingdom of Israel and southern Kingdom of Judah. Today the modern State of Israel controls some of this area. The concept of "Greater Israel" refers to a larger area that is supported by some nationalists.

The term Judaea is the term used by historians to refer to the Roman province that extended over parts of the former regions of the Hasmonean and Herodian kingdoms of Israel. It was named after Herod Archelaus's ethnarchy of Judea of which it was an expansion, the latter name deriving from the Kingdom of Judah of the 6th century BCE.

Assyria and SyriaEdit

During Persian rule of the Middle East, the Greeks and Romans came to call the region Syria, believed to have been named after Assyria and the Aramaic language they spread over the entire region. Other sources indicate that the name Syria might be derived from "Sirion"[2] (Hebrew: שִׂרְיֹ֑ןŠiryôn, meaning "breastplate")[3][4] the name that the Phoenicians (especially Sidonians) gave to Mount Hermon.[5] However, Herodotus used the combined name "Syria Palaistinē". "Greater Syria" refers to a larger area that is supported by some nationalists.

During the Syrian Wars between the Seleucid dynasty and the Ptolemaic dynasty (274-168 BCE), the region was known as Coele-Syria traditionally given the meaning 'hollow' Syria.

The later Hellenistic term Koile Syria that appears first in Arrian's Anabasis Alexandri (2.13.7) in 145 CE and has been much discussed, is usually interpreted as a transcription of Aramaic kul, "all, the entire", identifying all of Syria.[6]

Philistia and PalestineEdit


  • Latin: Palæstina - from Greek


Palestine derives from Philistia and its Philistine people, first recorded by the ancient Egyptians as a member of the invading Sea Peoples or Peleset. Though applied in the Bible only to the southwest coast where the Philistines lived, later Herodotus called the whole area "Syria Palaistinē" in his Histories (c. 450 BCE). The Romans used the similar term Syria Palaestina to refer to the southern part of the region from 135 CE following the Bar Kokhba revolt to complete the disassociation with Judaea. The name was carried on as a province name by the Byzantines and Arabs. However, after Greek times it is usually reserved for only the southern portion of the Levant.

†As a side note, Standard Hebrew has two names for Palestine, both of which are different from the Hebrew name for ancient Philistia. The first name Palestina was used by Hebrew speakers in the British Mandate of Palestine; it is spelled like the name for Philistia but with three more letters added to the end and a Latin pronunciation given. The second name Falastin is a direct loan from the Arabic form, and is used today specifically to refer to the modern Palestinians and to political aspirations for a Palestinian state.[citation needed]

Eber-Nari and TranseuphratiaEdit

Eber-Nari was the name of a satrapy of the Achaemenid Empire which roughly corresponded with the Levant. It means "Beyond the River" or "Across the River" in both Akkadian and Aramaic (that is, the Western bank of the Euphrates from a Mesopotamian and Persian viewpoint).

It is also referred to as Transeuphratia (French Transeuphratène) by modern scholars.

Medieval and modern historyEdit


The name ash-Sham comes from an Arabic root meaning "left" or "north" — became the name of the Levant (Byzantine Syria) after the Islamic conquest.

In ancient times, Baalshamin or Ba'al Šamem (Aramaic: ܒܥܠ ܫܡܝܢ‎, translit. Lord of Heaven(s)),[7][8] was a Semitic sky-god in Canaan/Phoenicia and ancient Palmyra.[9][10] Hence, Sham refers to (heaven or sky).


Medieval Italians called the region Levante, akin to the words levity and levitate, after its easterly location where the sun "rises"; this term was adopted from Italian and French into many other languages.


Frankish Crusaders called the Levant Outremer in French, which means "overseas." In France, this general term was colloquially applied more specifically to the Levant because of heavy Frankish involvement in the Crusades and the foundation of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem and other Latin settlements scattered throughout the area.

Eastern MediterraneanEdit

Eastern Mediterranean is a term that denotes the lands or states geographically in the eastern, to the east of, or around the east of the Mediterranean Sea, or with cultural affinities to this region. The Eastern Mediterranean includes Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, and Jordan.[11][12][13][14][15] The term Mediterranean derives from the Latin word mediterraneus, meaning "in the middle of earth" or "between lands" (medius, "middle, between" + terra, "land, earth"). This is on account of the sea's intermediary position between the continents of Africa and Europe.[16]

Holy LandEdit

  • Arabic: الأرض المقدسة‎, Al-Arḍ al-Muqaddasa
  • Greek: Άγιοι Τόποι, Hagioi Topoi (modern Greek pronunciation: [aji topi]), literally: "Holy Places"
  • Hebrew

The Holy Land is a term used in Judeo-Christian tradition to refer to the holy sites of the Levant — especially Shiloh, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth — but is also often used to refer to the Levant (and historical Canaan) as a whole. Note that this term in Islam refers not only to the Levant, but to the Arabian region of Hijaz where the holy city of Medina is located and the Arabian region of Tihamah where the holy city of Mecca is located. A related term is Promised Land

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Sir Alan Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs, Clarendon Press, Oxford (1961) 1964 pp.131, 199, 285, n.1.
  2. ^ Nissim Raphael Ganor (2009). Who Were the Phoenicians?. Kotarim International Publishing. p. 252. ISBN 9659141521. 
  3. ^ "Sirion". Retrieved 18 October 2017. 
  4. ^ "Hebrew: שִׁרְיוֹן, širyôn (H8303)". Retrieved 19 October 2017. 
  5. ^ Pipes, Daniel (1992). Greater Syria: The History of an Ambition. Middle East Forum. p. 13. ISBN 0-19-506022-9. Retrieved 1 February 2010. 
  6. ^ M. Sartre, "La Syrie creuse n'existe pas", in G. L. Gatier, et al. Géographie historique au proche-orient (1988:15-40), reviving the explanation offered by A. Schalit (1954), is reported by Robin Lane Fox, Travelling Heroes in the Epic Age of Homer (2008, notes p378f): "the crux is solved".
  7. ^ Teixidor, Javier (2015). The Pagan God: Popular Religion in the Greco-Roman Near East. Princeton University Press. p. 27. ISBN 9781400871391. Retrieved 14 August 2017. 
  8. ^ Beattie, Andrew; Pepper, Timothy (2001). The Rough Guide to Syria. Rough Guides. p. 290. ISBN 9781858287188. Retrieved 14 August 2017. 
  9. ^ Dirven, Lucinda (1999). The Palmyrenes of Dura-Europos: A Study of Religious Interaction in Roman Syria. BRILL. p. 76. ISBN 978-90-04-11589-7. Retrieved 17 July 2012. 
  10. ^ J.F. Healey (2001). The Religion of the Nabataeans: A Conspectus. BRILL. p. 126. ISBN 9789004301481. Retrieved 14 August 2017. 
  11. ^ Lands Of The Eastern Mediterranean Map By National Geographic Archived 2011-07-14 at the Wayback Machine.
  12. ^ The Eastern Mediterranean in the Late Bronze Age Archived 2010-06-20 at the Wayback Machine.
  13. ^ The Eastern Mediterranean 1600-1200 BC Archived 2011-06-28 at the Wayback Machine.
  14. ^ Eastern Mediterranean By National Geographic Archived 2011-07-14 at the Wayback Machine.
  15. ^ Countries Surrounding the Eastern Mediterranean Sea
  16. ^ entry μεσόγαιος Archived 2009-12-02 at the Wayback Machine. at Liddell & Scott

External linksEdit