The Aramaic alphabet

Aramaic was written mostly in consonants from right to left just like Phoenician from which it derived .It was originally used for the Aramaic language which was actually a whole group of  West Semitic languages. Later two great empires the Assyrian and Achaemenid adopted the language and its script as official (6-4 BC).

It was the anscestor of many alphabets of the Middle East and most of Semitic alphabets such as Jas Samaritanewish, Palmyrene, Nabataean, Syrian, Palestinian, Mandaic and Manichaean.

9th century stele of king Kilamuwa,kingdom of Yadiya found in Turkish Zincirli (Sam'al)

Parent alphabet of many others
The Aramaic writing system was parent even to some Central Asian scripts such as Parthian, middle Persian, Sogdian, and Khorezmian.

It also gave birth to Uighur, Mongolian, and the Orkhon-Yenisei alphabets through Sogdian. It has also being hypothesized that the Brahmi writing system and Kharosthi of the Indian subcontinent originated from the Aramaic script as well.

Appearence and spreading
Aramaic culture appeared at the city of Damascus and later spread to Palmyra and Edessa in nowadays Urfa in Turkey. Aramaeans  wherever they lived,were not isolated but mingled with the locals and in many cases they relativy  it releasily assimilated them. Aramaic, after Akkadian, became a kind of international and diplomatic language of the Near East in antiquity.

 In Palestine the same time the Gospel was spoken Aramaic, so it is likely that the early Christians (including Jesus himself) spoke in it. In addition, the Aramaeans - the only ancient people of Middle East, which, along with the Persians lived up to the present day.

Early Aramaic script-Phoenician
Initially, the Aramaic alphabet did not differ from the Phoenician, but then the Aramaeans simplified some of the letters, thickened and rounded their lines. A specific feature of Aramaic letters is the distinction between d and r.Aramaic writing, spread quickly from Africa to India and China.
Aramaic literature is quite wide: religious, philosophical and philological works were written in it.

In the Middle Ages the Jewish Aramaic alphabet was used to write a mystical book called 'Zohar', which evolved the numerological ideas of ​​"Kabbalah."

The Bar-Hadad inscription from North Syria (9. BC) and Zakir from Hamata (c. 800 BC). In both the word boundary is implemented by vertical lines, while in the inscription of Bar-Rakib Zendzhirli (late 8th century. BC. E.) points are used for this purpose.On the stela of the Sephira (late 8th century. BC . e.) there is no word boundary at all.

Lingua Franca
Aramaic language and the Aramaic script began to be used in the New-Assyrian and Persian period as international means of communication for the entire Near East up to Egypt, Asia Minor and India. Such an example are the Aramaic-Persian  and Aramaic-Lydian bilingual texts from Sardis (5. BC).

Aramaic inscription from Elefantine,the Jewish military colony in Egypt (5 B.C.)

Aramaic writing and Aramaic supplanted Babylonian cuneiform and Akkadian language, even in their homeland in Mesopotamia. The wide spread of Aramaic letters led to the fact that it was used not only in monumental inscriptions, but also on papyrus and potsherds. An example of Aramaic writing on potsherds can serve as a crock of Ashur. Aramaic papyri found in large numbers in Egypt. Especially a lot of papyri found at Elephantine the so-called Elephantine papyri , among them are official and private documents of the Jewish military settlement in 5 BC.In the Aramaic papyri and potsherds words are separated usually by a small gap, as we do.

At the turn of the century 2 and 3. BC the up-to-then uniform Aramaic letters develeped new forms as a result of dialectal and political fragmentation in several subgroups. The most important of these is the so-called square Hebrew block script, followed by Palmyrene, Nabataean, and the much later Syriac script.

The adoption of the square Aramaic letters by the Jews occurred during Ezra (mid-5th century BC) and is an external manifestation of Israel's accession to the common Semitic culture of the time. The square letters become the main writting system for Hebrew for the most part  and was widely used for religious and secular literature of the Jews. 

The name of the script is connected with the desire to give signs of a square shape.Unfortunately,we do not have any surviving written monuments of the early period of this script.  In the Dead Sea scrolls (2 BC - 1 AD),it  already had a fully developed form.

Later,the more rounded Sephardi (Eastern Spanish) and more angular Ashkenazi (German-Polish) types developed from the square Aramaic letters. In the 9th century the Italian cursive handwriting appears called Rashi, named after Rabbi Rashi (contraction of the words of Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzhak). More changes and abbreviations underwent signs of various cursive handwritings of the time.


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  1. Hello,
    while I am enjoying your post on Aramaic sctipts, your first image (taken from wikipedia) is actually a Brahmi inscription, not aramaic. If you go to your link file in the source picture, it is titled "aramaic inscriptures in Sarnath", but the file name itself says in Italian: "Inscripcciones en Brahmi en el pilar de Sarnath"

  2. Thank you for you comment and support.I have uploaded a new image.

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