The Eastern Mediterranean : A Crossroads of Great Civilizations.

Before we embark on our journey, it’s important to establish our location. We are on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, in Tel Aviv, Israel. This part of the world is known in European languages as the Near or Middle East, or Levant. These terms are primarily associated with the sunrise, which is also echoed in the Arabic language. They denote the coastlines that today include Israel, Lebanon, Syria, certain parts of Turkey, and Egypt.

I am speaking about the historical names of the region spanning approximately the last 4,000 years, without exact geographical borders. More than 3,000 years ago, this territory was called Canaan. It was the dwelling place of Semitic tribes, or tribes united by the Semitic language group. Modern Arabic and Hebrew are descendants of these languages.

This land has been a crossroads of crucial paths connecting continents and civilizations. Here, the interests of the great Egyptian civilizations from the banks of the Nile intersected with the civilizations of the East – Mesopotamia, or the land between the Tigris and Euphrates. Throughout different times, the empires of Egypt and the Eastern empires – Babylon, Assyria, Persia – competed for influence over this land. More than two thousand years ago, European empires, starting with Alexander the Great who introduced the Greek language and Hellenistic culture, and leading up to the great Roman Empire, also joined this competition.

The kingdoms of Judea and Israel were born here. On the coast lived the Philistine tribes, leaving behind biblical stories about Goliath and the name of the region – Peleshet, or Palestine in Greek. After the Roman suppression of Jewish revolts, the Roman province of Judea was renamed Syria-Palestina.

Rome became Christian, and for four centuries, the Eastern Roman Empire – Byzantium – ruled here. Then, in the 7th century, Arab conquerors pushed Byzantium north, and for hundreds of years, Arab empires – caliphates – ruled here. One of the areas here was called Jund Filastin.

In the 11th and 12th centuries, the Crusades from Europe arrived, leading to the formation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Then, in the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire took over, leaving behind the name Southern Syria.

In 1917, after World War I, it was the turn of the British Empire. The territory under British administration was called British Palestine, while the northern part of the coast (now Lebanon and Syria) was controlled by France and was called the Levant States.

Since 1948, this area has been the State of Israel. Along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, for millennia, there has been a cultural and civilizational bridge connecting continents and cultures. The fertile lands from Mesopotamia to the Nile in Egypt are also known as the “lands of the Fertile Crescent.”

These lands have witnessed historical events: here passed the routes used by migrating birds and animals, armies, and trade caravans. The construction of the Suez Canal in the 19th century added even greater geopolitical importance to this region.

Image courtesy of the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center

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