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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 (variously interpreted as deriving from the Latin levare (to rise), or the French levant (rising) as in 'soleil levant' (rising sun)), refers to the direction of the rising sun, from the perspective of Greek and Roman peoples. 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 first appeared 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). It is typically used in conjunction with prehistoric or ancient and medieval historical references, by archaeologists and historians, as when discussing the Crusades. Occasionally, the term is employed to refer to modern events or states in the region immediately bordering the eastern Mediterranean Sea:
The term apparently enjoyed a brief renaissance in the French Mandate of Syria during the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s.
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.
Levant is also the name of a scholarly journal published annually by the Council for British Research in the Levant.
- Braudel, Fernand, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Phillip II
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