Semites, people who speak languages of the Semitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family. Jews and Arabs are the major representatives of the Semites. There are many distinct physical types within this grouping. The term Semite comes from the name of Noah's son Shem, who, according to Hebrew legend, was the ancestor of the Semites.
The ancestral homeland of all Semites was the Arabian Peninsula. In about 3000 B.C. they began to migrate to more fertile areas and frequently intermarried with indigenous peoples. Among those who settled in Mesopotamia, Syria, and Palestine—the Fertile Crescent—were the Akkadians, Amorites (Babylonians, Canaanites, and Phoenicians), Hebrews, Assyrians, Aramaeans, and Chaldeans. Other groups crossed the Red Sea to Ethiopia. The Arab conquests of the early Middle Ages spread Arabic culture from Persia, across North Africa, to Spain. The Jews, persecuted since ancient times, dispersed all over the world. (The term anti-Semitism pertains to hostility specifically toward Jews.)
The Semites have contributed to civilization three major monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The Semites also invented the alphabet.