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The Aramaeans (also Arameans) are a West Semitic semi-nomadic and pastoralist people who lived in upper Mesopotamia (Biblical Aram). Aramaeans never had a unified empire; they were divided into independent kingdoms all across the Near East. Yet to these Aramaeans befell the privilege of imposing their language and culture upon the entire Near East and beyond, fostered in part by the mass relocations enacted by successive empires, including the Assyrians and Babylonians. Scholars even have used the term "Aramaization" for the process by which Assyro-Babylonian peoples became Aramaic-speaking.


Aramaeans are mostly defined by their use of the West Semitic Old Aramaic language (1100 BC–AD 200), first written using the Phoenician alphabet, over time modified to a specifically Aramaic alphabet.

As early as the 8th century BC, Aramaic language and writing competed with the East Semitic Akkadian language and script (cuneiform) in Assyria, and thereafter it spread throughout the Orient. By around 500 BC, Aramaic had become the lingua franca of the Achaemenid Empire.Although marginalized by Greek in the Hellenistic period, it remained unchallenged as the common dialect of all peoples of the region until the Islamic conquest of Mesopotamia in the 7th century AD.

The late Old Aramaic language of the Persian Empire developed into the Middle Aramaic Syriac language of Roman Syria which would become the liturgical language of Syriac Christianity.



Basalt funeral stele bearing an Aramaic inscription, ca. 7th century BC.
Found in Neirab or Tell Afis (Syria).
The origin of the Aramaeans is still uncertain, arising from the limited amount of evidence regarding the mention of Aramaeans in Mesopotamian inscriptions.

The toponym A-ra-mu appears in a 3rd millennium BC inscription at Eblamarker listing geographical names, and A-ra-me, seemingly its genitive form, appears in an inscription of Naram-Suen of Akkad (c. 2250 BC). There is little agreement concerning what relationship (if any), there was between these places and the first mention of Aramaeans as a people the inscriptions of Tiglath Pileser I that appear more than a millennium later. Other early references to a place or people of "Aram" have appeared at the archives of Marimarker (c. 1900 BC) and at Ugaritmarker (c. 1300 BC).

The city of Aram is also mentioned in the Old Testament, Qur'an, as Aram of the Pillars and home to the A'ad people in Alahqaf region الأحقاف (The Rub' al Khalimarker).

Nomadic pastoralists have always been a feature of the Middle East, but their numbers seem to vary according to climatic conditions and the force of neighbouring states inducing permanent settlement. The period of the Late Bronze Age seems to have been one of increasing aridity, weakening neighbouring states, and inducing transhumance pastoralists to spend longer and longer periods with their flocks. Urban settlements diminished in size, until eventually fully nomadic pastoralist lifestyles came to dominate the region. These highly mobile, competitive tribesmen with their sudden raids were a continued threat to long distance trade and interfered with the collection of taxes and tribute. In the early 14th century BC, much of Israelmarker was under Aramaean rule for eight years according to the Biblical Book of Judges until Othniel defeated the forces led by Chushan-Rishathaim, the King of Aram-Naharaim. Other entities mentioned in the Hebrew Bible include Aram Damascus and Aram Rehob.

The Ahlamû (= wanderers) are first mentioned in the el-Amarna letters alluding to the king of Babylonmarker; the presence of the Ahlamû are also attested in Assyria, Nippurmarker and even at Dilmun (Bahrainmarker); Shalmaneser I (1274-1245 BC) defeated the Shattuara, King of Mitanni and his Hittite and Ahlamû mercenaries are mentioned in the Jazirah. The term appears equivalent to the Egyptian term Shasu (Shsw = wanderer), who replaced the outlaw 'Apiru (cuneiform SA.GAZ) as the major source of instability in the Egyptian Levantine empire from the reign of Tutankhamun onwards. In the following century, the Ahlamû cut the road from Babylonmarker to Hattusasmarker, and Tukulti-Ninurta I (1244-1208 BC) claims that he conquered Marimarker, Hana and Rapiqum on the Euphrates and "the mountain of the Ahlamû", apparently the region of Jebel Bishri.

Bronze Age collapse

Funeral stele of Si` Gabbor, priest of the Moon God.
Basalt, early 7th century BC, found in Neirab (Syria), bears an Aramaic inscription.
the first time, an inscription of Tiglath-Pileser I (1115-1077 BC) refers to the "Ahlamû-Aramaeans" (Ahlame Armaia) and shortly after, the Ahlamû rapidly disappear from Assyrian annals, to be replaced by the Aramaeans (Aramu, Arimi). "Ahlamû-Aramaeans" would consider the Aramaeans as an important and in time dominant faction of the Ahlamû tribes, however it is possible that the two peoples had nothing in common, but operated in the same area. It is conceivable that the name "Arameans" was a more accurate form of the earlier ethnonym Martu (Amorites, westerners) in the Assyrian tablets.

The Aramaeans were, in the 11th century BC, established in Syriamarker. The Bible tells us that Saul, David and Solomon (late 11th to 10th centuries) fought against the Aramaeans kingdoms across the northern frontier of Israelmarker: Aram-Sôvah in the Beq’a, Aram-Bêt-Rehobmarker and Aram-Ma’akah around Mount Hermonmarker, Geshur in the Hauran, and Damascusmarker. Farther north, the Aramaeans were in possession of Hamathmarker on the Orontesmarker and were soon to become strong enough to dissociate with the Neo-Hittite block. The great massacre that took place in later days from the Hittites left the Arameans broken and worthless but they rose again.

Neo-Assyrian Empire

The Aramaeans conquered, during the 10th and the 9th centuries, Sam’al (Zenjirli), also known as Yaudi, the region from Arpad to Aleppomarker which they renamed Bît-Agushi, and Til Barsip, which became the chief town of Bît-Adini, also known as Beth Eden. At the same time, Aramaeans moved to the east of the Euphrates, where they settled in such numbers that the whole region became known as Aram-Naharaim or "Aram of the two rivers". One of their earliest kingdoms in Mesopotamia was Bît-bahiâni (Tell Halafmarker). North of Sam'al was the Aramaean state of Bit-Gabari, sandwiched between the Neo-Hittite states of Carchemishmarker, Gurgum, Tabal, Khattina and Unqi. Whilst these later states maintained a Neo-Hittite hieroglyphic for official communication, it would seem that the population of these small states was progressively Aramaeanised.

Aramaean kingdoms were subjugated by Adad-nirari II, Ashurnasirpal II, and his son Shalmaneser III, who destroyed many of the small tribes, and gave control of Syria and local trade and natural resources to the Assyrians. Some Assyrian Kings even took Aramaean wives. Though without a state, Arameans continued their presence in the Near East.

Religion and art

See also Canaanite gods.
It appears from their inscriptions as well as from their names that Aramaeans worshipped Sumero-Akkadian and Canaanite gods, such as Haddad (Adad), the storm-god, El, the supreme deity of Canaan, Sin, Ishtar (whom they called ‘Attar), the Phoenician goddess Anat (‘Atta) and others.

The Aramaeans apparently followed the traditions of the country where they settled. The King of Damascusmarker, for instance, employed Phoenicianmarker sculptors and ivory-carvers. In tell Halaf-Guzana, the palace of Kapara, an Aramaean ruler (9th century B.C.), was decorated with orthostats and with statues that display a mixture of Mesopotamian, Hittite and Hurrian influences.

Today, some Syriac Christians claim to be the descendants of the Arameans.


  1. See page 9.
  2. Lipinski, 2000, p. 25-27.
  3. Akhlame, Encyclopædia Britannica


  • S. Moscati, 'The Aramaean Ahlamû', FSS, IV (1959), pp. 303-7;
  • M. Freiherr Von Oppenheim, Der Tell Halaf, Leipzig, 1931 pp. 71-198;
  • M. Freiherr Von Oppenheim, Tell Halaf, III, Die Bauwerke, Berlin, 1950;
  • A. Moortgat, Tell Halaf IV, Die Bildwerke, Berlin, 1955;
  • B. Hrouda, Tell Halaf IV, Die Kleinfunde aus historischer Zeit, Berlin, 1962;
  • G. Roux, Ancient Iraq, London, 1980.
  • Beyer, Klaus (1986). "The Aramaic language: its distribution and subdivisions". (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht). ISBN 3-525-53573-2.

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