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Semitic language that originally was spoken by the Aramaeans, but which served as the common language used between different peoples of the Middle East from around 600 BCE and until around 650 CE. It was then replaced by Arabic, which spread with the conquests of the MuslimArabs.
Aramaic is closely related to Hebrew, Syriac, and Phoenician, and its alphabet is believed to have been based upon the Phoenician alphabet.
Aramaic exercised an important influence on Hebrew, and Jewish culture, and parts of the Old Testament (e.g. the books of Daniel and Ezra) are written in Aramaic. It is believed that Jesus spoke Aramaic, as well as the apostles.
Aramaic is divided into two main groups: West and East Aramaic.
This group includes Nabatean, which was spoken in some parts of Arabia, Palmyrene, which was spoken in the important town of Palmyra, Palestinian-Christian, and Judeo-Aramaic.
West Aramaic still exists, and is spoken in some villages and smaller towns in Syria and Lebanon.
This group includes Syriac, Mandean, and Eastern Neo-Assyrian. Also ascribed to this group is the language we know in written form only from the Babylonian Talmud.
Syriac was a very important language for Christian groups of today’s Iraq, and is still spoken by an important minority of a couple of hundred thousand people in Iraq, Iran and Turkey. Syriac was based upon the Aramaic dialect of Edessa (today Urfa), and the Syriac-speaking Christians divided in the 5th century into Nestorians in Persia and Jacobites in the Byzantine empire.
11th century BCE: The first traces of the language, being used among the Aramaeans.
8th century BCE: Aramaic has become the second language among the Assyrians, who became important in spreading the language into vast areas in the following centuries.
7th and 6th centuries BCE: The arrival of Aramaic as lingua franca in the Middle East. Aramaic gradually displaced Akkadian, which had served the same purpose until then.
559 BCE: Aramaic becomes the official language of the Persian dynasty.
330 BCE: With the Persian defeat to the Macedonian king Alexander the Great, Aramaic is displaced as the official language of the territories which had been under the rule of the Persian dynasty.
7th century CE: With the arrival of Arabic, Aramaic is fairly quickly displaced as the common language of the Middle Eastern peoples.