For other uses see Levant (disambiguation).
See also: Names of the Levant. The Levant describes, traditionally, the Eastern Mediterranean at large, but can be used as a geographical term that denotes a large area in Western Asia formed by the lands bordering the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean, 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. In some uses it includes Anatolia, and possibly more.
Levant was originally applied to the "Mediterranean lands east of Italy", from the Middle French word levant meaning "the Orient". Historically, the "trade on the Levant" between Western Europe and the Ottoman Empire was of great economic importance. An imprecise term, Levant refers to an area of cultural habitation rather than to a specific geographic region, and its meaning shifts according to historical and cultural reference.
The term Levant, which first appeared in English in 1497, originally meant a wider sense of "Mediterranean lands east of Venetia", as in French soleil levant "rising Sun" — from the verb lever, "to rise", from Latin levare "to raise". 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 languages, notably morgenland – or a closely related word meaning morning land – in most Germanic languages.
This is similar to the Ancient Greek name Ανατολία (Anatolía), which means the "land of the rising Sun", or simply the East. It derives from "the rise", especially "the sunrise", resp. from = to rise, esp. said of the Sun or Moon (= up, above + = to go, rise, come into existence). For the Greeks, Ανατολία (Anatolía) is a synonym of (Mikrá Asía = Asia Minor), not of Levant, which is Λεβάντες (Levándes) in Modern Greek. Likewise, the Arabic term Mashriq, derived from the Arabic consonantal root sh-r-q (ش ر ق), relating to "the east" or "the sunrise", refers to "the land where the Sun rises", and designates a broad area encompassing the Levant. However, the most equivalent historically used Arabic term for the Levant is the "Sham" (الشام), now mostly used by Arabs in reference to Greater Syria; the same name "Sham" is also one of the Arabic names for Damascus.
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).
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.
When the United Kingdom took over Palestine in the aftermath of the First World War, some of the new rulers adapted the term pejoratively to refer to inhabitants of mixed Arab and European descent and to Europeans (usually French, Italian or Greek) who had "gone native" and adopted local dress and customs.
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 Africa, 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.
The name Levantine or Levanter (French: Levantine, Italian: Levantino, Turkish: Levanten, English: Levanter) is additionally applied to people of Italian (especially Venetian and Genoese), French, or other Euro-Mediterranean origin who have lived in Istanbul, Izmir and other parts of Anatolia (in present-day Turkey) or the East Mediterranean coast (the Levant, particularly in present-day Lebanon and Israel) since the period of the Crusades, the Byzantine period and the Ottoman period. The majority of them are descendants of traders from the maritime republics of the Mediterranean (such as the Republic of Venice, the Republic of Genoa and the Republic of Ragusa) or of the inhabitants of the Crusader states (especially the French Levantines in Lebanon, Israel and Turkey.) They continue to live in Istanbul (mostly in the districts of Galata, Beyoğlu and Nişantaşı) and İzmir (mostly in the districts of Karşıyaka, Bornova and Buca.) Famous people of the present-day Levantine community in Turkey include Caroline Giraud Koç and Giovanni Scognamillo.