World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Names of the Levant

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.


  • Locally derived names 1
    • Egyptian 1.1
    • Canaan 1.2
    • Phoenicia 1.3
    • Israel and Judea 1.4
    • Assyria and Syria 1.5
    • Philistia and Palestine 1.6
    • Eber-Nari and Transeuphratia 1.7
    • Ash-Sham 1.8
  • European derived names 2
    • Levant 2.1
    • Outremer 2.2
    • Eastern Mediterranean 2.3
  • Religion and anthropology related names 3
    • Holy Land 3.1
    • Cradle of civilization 3.2
    • Fertile Crescent 3.3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Locally derived names


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 Judea



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 Syria



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. 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.[2]

Philistia and Palestine


  • Canaanite: פלשת p.l.ʃ.t
  • Greek: Παλαιστίνη, Palaistinē - from Hebrew: פְּלִשְׁתִּים
  • Hebrew
  • Latin: Palæstina - from Greek


  • Arabic فلسطين
  • Greek: Παλαιστίνη, Palaistinē - same word as Philistia
  • Hebrew

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.

Eber-Nari and Transeuphratia

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.


The name ash-Sham comes from an Arabic root meaning "left" or "north" — became the name of the Levant, and its capital of the time Damascus, under the Caliphate. It remains today as the classical Arabic name for Syria.

European derived names


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 Mediterranean

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.[3][4][5][6][7] 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.[8]

Religion and anthropology related names

Holy Land

  • Arabic: الأرض المقدسة‎, Al-Arḍ al-Muqaddasa
  • Greek: Άγιοι Τόποι, Hagioi Topoi (modern Greek pronunciation: ), 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

Cradle of civilization

The cradle of civilization is a term referring to any of the possible locations for the emergence of civilization. It is usually applied to the Ancient Near Eastern Chalcolithic (Ubaid period, Naqada culture), especially in the Fertile Crescent (Levant and Mesopotamia) [9]

Fertile Crescent

The term Fertile Crescent includes Mesopotamia in addition to the Levant and was coined by University of Chicago archaeologist James Henry Breasted in his Ancient Records of Egypt, first published in 1906.[10]

See also


  1. ^ Sir Alan Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs, Clarendon Press, Oxford (1961) 1964 pp.131, 199, 285, n.1.
  2. ^ 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".
  3. ^ Lands Of The Eastern Mediterranean Map By National Geographic
  4. ^ The Eastern Mediterranean in the Late Bronze Age
  5. ^ The Eastern Mediterranean 1600-1200 BC
  6. ^ Eastern Mediterranean By National Geographic
  7. ^ Countries Surrounding the Eastern Mediterranean Sea
  8. ^ entry μεσόγαιος at Liddell & Scott
  9. ^ [1] The Near East: Archaeology in the "Cradle of Civilization", Charles Keith Maisels, Routledge 1993, ISBN 0-415-04742-0
  10. ^

External links

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.