The Levant
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BibArch Home Archaeological Sites Archaeological Periods Climate & Geology Palestine & The Land Major Trade Routes Historical Periods Significant Events

The Levant, the light shaded area, encompasses an area of about 75,000 miles.

The word Levant  (Le·VANT) is the name applied to the geographical region, defined by natural frontiers, encompassing the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea from roughly the Isthmus of Suez to the Taurus Mountains, including present-day Israel, Lebanon, western Jordan, the Sinai in Egypt, and that part of Syria defined by the Orontes Valley and the region of Aleppo. It is a more or less heterogeneous region, encompassing an area of about 75,000 square miles, divided into specific areas of diverse ecological and environmental character surprisingly similar to that of southern California.

To the north the Taurus Mountains lie between the Levant and the Anatolian plateau. To the east and southeast the Syrian desert separates it from Mesopotamia and Arabia. To the southwest the Isthmus and Gulf of Suez set the boundary between the Levant and biblical Egypt (Mazar 1990:2-3; Moore 1978).

The term Levant comes from the French term lever (“to rise”) and its Arabic equivalent is Mashriq (“the country where the sun rises”). The introduction of the word came with the French Mandate of Syria and Lebanon (which lasted from 1920 until the mid-1940s).

The Levant may not be very large, but fixed anciently between Anatolia, Egypt, and Mesopotamia, it became the center of many critical events. It had the fortune, or misfortune, of being a bridge or at the least a highway between these competing regions. In context this fact largely determined its role in history. As a general rule, understanding the archaeology, history, and geopolitics of the region require mastery of their Levantine geographical context.

Until the time of the Israelite conquest under Joshua, the southern part of the Levant, often called Palestine, was known as the land of Canaan. The Hebrew Scriptures refer to the people occupying the land as the Canaanites. With the conquest it became, along with other conquered territories, the land of Israel (eretz Israel). From “Dan to Beersheba,” the usual the way of describing Palestine and for most periods the limits of settlement, is about 150 miles. After CE 132 the Romans renamed the region Palestina. Aware of Jewish history, the Romans chose to name the land after Israel’s most bitter enemy, the Philistines, to humiliate their vanquished Jewish subjects. The Romans made the point, after Jewish zealots rebelled twice against Roman authority, that this region was no longer eretz Israel but rather Roman turf. The word Palestine comes from the Latin Palestina meaning “land of the Philistines.”

Page last edited: 04/06/06 09:18 PM


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