Historical name for the countries along the shores of the eastern Mediterranean Sea. It was applied to the coastlands of Anatolia and Syria, sometimes extending from Greece to Egypt. The term was often associated with Venetian trading ventures. It was also used as a synonym for the Middle or Near East. In the 16th–17th centuries the term High Levant referred to the Far East (East Asia). The name Levant States was given to the French mandate of Syria and Lebanon after World War I (1914–18).
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The Levant is a geographical term that denotes a large area in Western Asia, roughly bounded on the north by the Taurus Mountains, on the south by the Arabian Desert, and on the west by the Mediterranean Sea, while on the east it extends into Upper Mesopotamia; however, some definitions include nearly all of Mesopotamia. The term Levant is somewhat synonymous with the term Mashriq derived from the Arabic consonantal root sh-r-q (ش ر ق), relating to "the east" or "the sunrise". An imprecise term, Levant refers to an area of cultural habitation rather than to a specific geographic region.
The term Levant, which first appeared in English in 1497, originally meant a wider sense of "Mediterranean lands east of Venetia". It derives from the Middle French levant, the participle of lever "to raise" — as in soleil levant "rising Sun" — from the Latin levare. 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 European languages, notably morgenland -or a closely related word meaning morning land- in most Germanic languages. As such, it is broadly equivalent to the Arabic term Mashriq, "the land where the Sun rises".
It is similar to the Ancient Greek name Ανατολία (Anatolía) which means the "land of the rising Sun", or simply the East. It derives from ανατολή = “the rise, especially the sunrise”, resp. from ἀνατέλλω = to rise, esp. said of the Sun or Moon (ἀνά = up, above + τέλλω = to go, rise, come into existence). For the Greeks, Ανατολία (Anatolía) is a synonym of Μικρά Ασία (Mikrá Asía = Asia Minor), not of Levant.
In 19th-century travel writing, the term incorporated eastern regions under then current or recent governance of the Ottoman empire, such as Greece. 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 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 Mari and Ugarit. Since these sites could not be classified as Mesopotamian, North African, 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 Israel and the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Jordan,and Syria.