Imperial Aramaic - the language of the Persian Empire.

At its height the Persian Empire was huge stretching from Macedonia and Thrace to the Indian Subcontinent. 

Occupation of Upper Mesopotamia.
In the 6th century B.C.E. the Persian Empire devastated the lands of Mesopotamia incorporating them into the Empire. These lands formerly belonged to the Median and Neo-Babylonian Empires which themselves in turn took them after destroying the Neo-Assyrian Empire. 

Adoption of Aramaic.
The Achaemenids after capturing Upper Mesopotamia- the land of the Arameans- adopted the Aramaic language as a means of communication,trade and official purposes for the entire Empire. This language was called retrospectively Imperial Aramaic or Official Aramaic and served as a very important means of running and keeping the vast Empire together.

Imperial Aramaic was written in the Imperial Aramaic alphabet which dates from the 5th century B.C when Aramaic was adopted as the lingua franca -the language of trade, official documents and communication between the various peoples of the western Persian Empire.It is still used for literary purposes and to write some Neo-Aramaic languages.

The Persian Empire at its height
 stretched from India to Thrace.

Characteristics of Imperial Aramaic.
Imperial Aramaic was a highly standardized language. It is hard to tell where a document in Imperial Aramaic comes from due to this standardization.This standardization is mostly due to Imperial Aramaic not based on one dialect but rather historical roots of words were used. 

This means that a form of Aramaic diglossia existed like in Arabic and Greek-the official Aramaic used throughout the Empire and the local Aramaic dialect.

As a natural result ,being the language of the Persian Empire, many elements of Old Persian were introduced to this formal language.

The Imperial Aramaic alphabet.

Ālaph /ʔ/; /aː/, /eː/
Bēth /b/, /v/
Gāmal /ɡ/, /ɣ/
Dālath /d/, /ð/
Waw /w/; /oː/, /uː/
Zain /z/
Ṭēth emphatic /tˤ/
Yudh /j/; /iː/, /eː/
Kāph /k/, /x/
Lāmadh /l/
Mim /m/
Nun /n/
Semkath /s/
‘Ē /ʕ/
/p/, /f/
Ṣādhē , emphatic /sˤ/
Qoph /q/
Rēsh /r/
Shin /ʃ/
Tau /t/, /θ/

Sample text in Imperial Aramaic.

A Jewish letter to Bagoas-the governor of Judaea  requesting the help for rebuilding  the temple of Yahweh in Elephantine (408BC) written in the Imperial Aramaic alphabet.The temple was looted snd destroyed after a conspiracy of a temple of the Egyptian god Khnub.More about this letter read here.

Imperial Aramaic was used up to 3rd century BCE and it gradually evolved into Biblical Aramaic.

The following video shows the handwritten forms of the Imperial Aramaic alphabet.

Some Persian history.


Hebrew letters for Imperial Aramaic.
Nowadays the Hebrew alphabet (square Aramaic alphabet) is preferred to write Imperial Aramaic as well as Biblical Aramaic instead of the Aramaic alphabet of the Achaemenids (Persian dynasty) for ease of use. So,learning the Hebrew would be a great help and make things easier.

Also note that the Hebrew letters have different handwritten forms than the typed ones. I will deal with this is other posts.For now take a look at the Hebrew handwritten Alef to get an idea.

Read also
Learn to write the Imperial Aramaic alphabet.
The Elephantine Papyri
Elephantine Papyri fonts
Letter to Bagoas

External links

What is Aramaic?

Aramaic is a Semitic language related to Arabic,Hebrew,Amharic,Tigrinia and Akkadian the oldest Semitic language we know,more closely related to Hebrew.

During its' existence it has gone through many phases.It was never a uniform language but had many dialects influenced by various languages.Aramaic is still spoken today in small Aramaic speaking enclaves in the Middle East.These people speak the so-called Neo-Aramaic languages.

There is a lot of confusion all over the internet as to what Aramaic is with people posting links with e.g. the Lord's Prayer in Aramaic in the language of Jesus Christ as they claim. That is very wrong which I explain in my 'Aramaic monolith' article.

It was originally the native tongue of the Arameans-a Semitic people native to northern Syria.The Arameans lived divided in small kingdoms which disappeared rather early in history in what is now modern-day Syria and Mesopotamia.

In contrast,their language had a different fate. Aramaic became the language of trade and culture all over the Middle East  reaching Greece and even India.It was adopted by many other non-Aramean Semitic peoples,like the Akkadians (Assyrians and Banylonians),the Jews and the Chaldeans.

Two great empires used it as their second major  language-first the Akkadian Empire adopted it as an official language along with Akkadian which was subsequently completely supplanted by Aramaic.Then the Persian Achaemenid Empire followed suit with Imperial Aramaic. Thus Aramaic became the lingua franca of the so-called Fertile Crescent.

Jesus Christ's native tongue 

Jesus Christ himself spoke Aramaic as a first language. His native dialect was Galilean Aramaic, an obscure dialect of the Western Aramaic branch which is currently being reconstructed.

This dialect was heavily influenced by Greek and it seems that it might have been the dialect of Hellenized Jews.

Today the sole survivor of the Western branch is the dialect of Maalula, a village in South-Western Syria.

A later version of Aramaic, Syriac,  became a vehicle of Syriac Christianity.

Aramaic's popularity in the region was disrupted by the conquests of Alexander the Great replaced by Greek as a common language.

Aramaic's legacy ended with the rise of another Semitic language,Arabic, and the expansion of Islam in the region. Arabic eventually supplanted Aramaic almost completely.

Aramaic in the Fertile Crescent
Aramaic-1 A.D (orange)
Syriac-1000 A.D.(yellow)
Syriac Neo-Aramaic dialects today (green)

 It can be rougly divided into these  periods:


    Learn to write the Imperial Aramaic alphabet (letter alap)

     /ʔ/; /aː/, /eː/

    Handwritten form

    This is the first letter of the Imperial Aramaic alphabet the modern version.


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