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Definition: Levant from The Columbia Encyclopedia

(ləvănt') [Ital.,=east], collective name for the countries of the eastern shore of the Mediterranean from Egypt to, and including, Turkey. The divisions of the French mandate over Syria and Lebanon were called the Levant States, and the term is still sometimes applied to those two nations.

Summary Article: The Early Bronze Age—The Rise and Fall of Urbanism in the Levant from World History Encyclopedia

The Early Bronze Age (EB), which runs from approximately 3300 BCE to 2300 BCE and is divided into three discreet periods (I, II, and III), marks the beginning of urban life in the Levant. After millennia of hunting and gathering followed by the first experiments with agriculture, groups of people began to establish the first semisedentary centers in the Neolithic and Chal-colithic periods. By the end of the Chalcolithic period, large groups of pastoral nomads living on the margins of the Negev Desert had begun to establish permanent centers where their elites lived, where regular religious events were held, and where their dead were buried. With the end of this period, there appears to have been a change in climate that resulted in these marginal areas becoming more inhospitable. The survivors of these cultures eventually settled along the more fertile coastal plains and lowlands and established the first urban centers. Over the thousand years of the EB I—III, these large villages develop into numerous small cities and then into a handful of well-fortified cities before finally collapsing at the end of the EB III and returning to pastoral nomadism.


At the beginning of the Early Bronze Age, a dramatic growth is seen in the number of settlements in the region and in the density of population. Areas that had been heavily populated in the preceding Chalcolithic period are either partially or totally depopulated. Even when sites are found in these regions, they appear on virgin soil. New sites, however, pop up all over the rest of the Levant.

It is likely that the economic focus at this time had switched from pastoral herding to full-scale agriculture. The sites consist primarily of unfortified villages in the regions of the country with the most fertile but easily maintained soil. Sites were generally located so as to best control communication routes and access to water. Given that the technology to build plaster-lined cisterns was not yet available, sites were limited in general to locations with an ample natural supply of water.

By the end of the EB I, the population of the region had grown quite dramatically. This would have created new pressures and new incentives to build larger, more complex centers. Furthermore, the EB I corresponds with the rise of dynastic Egypt. This resulted in an even greater need to control access to resources and communication routes. Many of the sites founded in the EB I became major population centers during the EB II. Some of these centers grew at the expense of smaller sites, which were depopulated as their people moved to the larger urban centers. By the time urbanization in the region had peaked during the EB II, more than 1,500 acres of urban area existed in the Levant, representing a population of at least 150,000 or more. For the first time many of these centers began to be substantially fortified, with sites having city walls 9–13 feet (3–4 meters) thick and towers.

The EB III sees a dramatic change in the state of urbanization. Many of the EB II centers are either depopulated or destroyed, and the population becomes centered primarily in about 20 major centers. It is unclear why this occurs, but it likely stems from a combination of environmental factors such as decreased rainfall and from political factors such as competition for land and resources between the burgeoning city-states. Fortifications around sites are dramatically strengthened at this time and sometimes even doubled in size. Massive Cyclopean stone walls and glacis are seen for the first time, as are massive monumental gateways. These all require massive amounts of well-regulated manpower and resources, suggesting a strong centralized authority in these cities. Not surprisingly, as a result, for the first time large palaces are seen in these centers.

Despite this major series of developments, with the onset of the EB IV/Middle Bronze Age I there is a complete collapse of the urban system and a return to pastoral nomadism. It is not known what the cause or causes of this collapse were. Suggestions have included the collapse of the Old Kingdom in Egypt and the subsequent period of chaos that ensued immediately to the west, a dramatic change in climate including a drastic change in rainfall, or the appearance of foreign groups from the north and east. It is unlikely that any one of these was the single cause and more likely that all of these played a role, as did other factors that may also have driven the collapse of the Old Kingdom in Egypt and the need for groups to migrate south and west from Mesopotamia and Anatolia.

  • Ben-Tor, Amnon. "The Early Bronze Age." In The Archaeology of Ancient Israel, edited by Ben-Tor, Amnon. Translated by Greenberg, R.. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992.
  • Gonen, Rivka. "The Chalcolithic Period." In The Archaeology of Ancient Israel, edited by Ben-Tor, Amnon. Translated by Greenberg, R.. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992.
  • Gophna, Ram. "The Intermediate Bronze Age." In The Archaeology of Ancient Israel, edited by Ben-Tor, Amnon. Translated by Greenberg, R.. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992.
  • Mazar, Amihai. Archaeology of the land of the Bible: 10,000–586 B.C.E. New York: Doubleday, 1990.
David R. Lipovitch
Copyright 2011 by ABC-CLIO,LLC

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