Aramaic alphabet

The ancient Aramaic alphabet was adapted by Arameans from the Phoenician alphabet and became a distinct script by the 8th century BC. It was used to write the Aramaic language and had displaced the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet, itself a derivative of the Phoenician alphabet, for the writing of Hebrew. The letters all represent consonants, some of which are also used as matres lectionis to indicate long vowels.

Aramaic alphabet
LanguagesAramaic, Hebrew, Syriac, Mandaic, Edomite
Time period
800 BC to AD 600
Parent systems
Child systems

  →Arabic alphabet
    →Old Uyghur

Brahmi script[a]
ISO 15924Armi, 124 Imperial Aramaic
Unicode alias
Imperial Aramaic
[a] The Semitic origin of the Brahmic scripts is not universally agreed upon.

The Aramaic alphabet is historically significant since virtually all modern Middle Eastern writing systems can be traced back to it as well as numerous non-Chinese writing systems of Central and East Asia.[citation needed] That is primarily from the widespread usage of the Aramaic language as both a lingua franca and the official language of the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian Empires, and their successor, the Achaemenid Empire. Among the scripts in modern use, the Hebrew alphabet bears the closest relation to the Imperial Aramaic script of the 5th century BC, with an identical letter inventory and, for the most part, nearly identical letter shapes. The Aramaic alphabet was an ancestor to the Nabataean alphabet and the later Arabic alphabet.

Writing systems (like the Aramaic one) that indicate consonants but do not indicate most vowels other than by means of matres lectionis or added diacritical signs, have been called abjads by Peter T. Daniels to distinguish them from alphabets, such as the Greek alphabet, which represent vowels more systematically. The term was coined to avoid the notion that a writing system that represents sounds must be either a syllabary or an alphabet, which would imply that a system like Aramaic must be either a syllabary (as argued by Ignace Gelb) or an incomplete or deficient alphabet (as most other writers have said). Rather, it is a different type.


Bilingual Greek and Aramaic inscription by the Mauryan emperor Ashoka at Kandahar, Afghanistan, 3rd century BC.

The earliest inscriptions in the Aramaic language use the Phoenician alphabet.[2] Over time, the alphabet developed into the form shown below. Aramaic gradually became the lingua franca throughout the Middle East, with the script at first complementing and then displacing Assyrian cuneiform, as the predominant writing system.

Achaemenid Empire (The First Persian Empire)Edit

Around 500 BC, following the Achaemenid conquest of Mesopotamia under Darius I, Old Aramaic was adopted by the Persians as the "vehicle for written communication between the different regions of the vast Persian empire with its different peoples and languages. The use of a single official language, which modern scholarship has dubbed as Official Aramaic, Imperial Aramaic or Achaemenid Aramaic, can be assumed to have greatly contributed to the astonishing success of the Achaemenid Persians in holding their far-flung empire together for as long as they did."[3]

Imperial Aramaic was highly standardised; its orthography was based more on historical roots than any spoken dialect and was inevitably influenced by Old Persian. The Aramaic glyph forms of the period are often divided into two main styles, the "lapidary" form, usually inscribed on hard surfaces like stone monuments, and a cursive form whose lapidary form tended to be more conservative by remaining more visually similar to Phoenician and early Aramaic. Both were in use through the Achaemenid Persian period, but the cursive form steadily gained ground over the lapidary, which had largely disappeared by the 3rd century BC.[4]

Stele with dedicatory lapidary Aramaic inscription to the god Salm. Sandstone, 5th century BC. Found in Tayma, Saudi Arabia by Charles Huber in 1884 and now in the Louvre.

For centuries after the fall of the Achaemenid Empire in 331 BC, Imperial Aramaic, or something near enough to it to be recognisable, would remain an influence on the various native Iranian languages. The Aramaic script would survive as the essential characteristics of the Iranian Pahlavi writing system.[5]

30 Aramaic documents from Bactria have been recently discovered, an analysis of which was published in November 2006. The texts, which were rendered on leather, reflect the use of Aramaic in the 4th century BC in the Persian Achaemenid administration of Bactria and Sogdiana.[6]

The widespread usage of Achaemenid Aramaic in the Middle East led to the gradual adoption of the Aramaic alphabet for writing Hebrew. Formerly, Hebrew had been written using an alphabet closer in form to that of Phoenician, the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet.

Aramaic-derived scriptsEdit

Since the evolution of the Aramaic alphabet out of the Phoenician one was a gradual process, the division of the world's alphabets into the ones derived from the Phoenician one directly and the ones derived from Phoenician via Aramaic is somewhat artificial. In general, the alphabets of the Mediterranean region (Anatolia, Greece, Italy) are classified as Phoenician-derived, adapted from around the 8th century BC, and those of the East (the Levant, Persia, Central Asia and India) are considered Aramaic-derived, adapted from around the 6th century BC from the Imperial Aramaic script of the Achaemenid Empire.[citation needed]

After the fall of the Achaemenid Empire, the unity of the Imperial Aramaic script was lost, diversifying into a number of descendant cursives.

The Hebrew and Nabataean alphabets, as they stood by the Roman era, were little changed in style from the Imperial Aramaic alphabet. Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406) alleges that not only the old Nabataean writing was influenced by the "Syrian script" (i.e. Aramaic), but also the old Chaldean script.[7]

A cursive Hebrew variant developed from the early centuries AD, but it remained restricted to the status of a variant used alongside the noncursive. By contrast, the cursive developed out of the Nabataean alphabet in the same period soon became the standard for writing Arabic, evolving into the Arabic alphabet as it stood by the time of the early spread of Islam.

The development of cursive versions of Aramaic also led to the creation of the Syriac, Palmyrene and Mandaic alphabets, which formed the basis of the historical scripts of Central Asia, such as the Sogdian and Mongolian alphabets.[8]

The Old Turkic script is generally considered to have its ultimate origins in Aramaic,[9][10][8] in particular via the Pahlavi or Sogdian alphabets,[11][12] as suggested by V. Thomsen, or possibly via Kharosthi (cf., Issyk inscription).

Aramaic is also considered to be the most likely source of the Brahmi script, ancestor of the Brahmic family of scripts, which includes Devanagari.[according to whom?][13]

Languages using the alphabetEdit

Today, Biblical Aramaic, Jewish Neo-Aramaic dialects and the Aramaic language of the Talmud are written in the modern-Hebrew alphabet (distinguished from the Old Hebrew script). In classical Jewish literature, the name given to the modern-Hebrew script was "Ashurit" (the ancient Assyrian script),[14] a script now known widely as the Aramaic script.[15][16] It is believed that during the period of Assyrian dominion that Aramaic script and language received official status.[15] Syriac and Christian Neo-Aramaic dialects are today written in the Syriac alphabet, which script has superseded the more ancient Assyrian script and now bears its name. Mandaic is written in the Mandaic alphabet. The near-identity of the Aramaic and the classical Hebrew alphabets caused Aramaic text to be typeset mostly in the standard Hebrew script in scholarly literature.


In Maaloula, one of few surviving communities in which a Western Aramaic dialect is still spoken, an Aramaic institute was established in 2007 by Damascus University that teaches courses to keep the language alive. The institute's activities were suspended in 2010 amidst fears that the square Aramaic alphabet used in the program too closely resembled the square script of the Hebrew alphabet and all the signs with the square Aramaic script were taken down. The program stated that they would instead use the more distinct Syriac alphabet, although use of the Aramaic alphabet has continued to some degree.[17] Al Jazeera Arabic also broadcast a program about Western Neo-Aramaic and the villages in which it is spoken with the square script still in use.[18]


Aramaic written using IPA Equivalent letter in
Syriac script Imperial Aramaic Hebrew Turkic Phoenician Arabic Brahmi Nabataean Kharosthi Maalouli Aramaic
Image Text Image Text
Ālap   ܐ   𐡀 /ʔ/; /aː/, /eː/ א 𐰁 𐤀 ا  𑀅    𐨀  
Bēth   ܒ   𐡁 /b/, /β/ ב 𐰉 𐤁 ب  𑀩    𐨦  
Gāmal   ܓ   𐡂 /ɡ/, /ɣ/ ג 𐰏 𐤂 ج  𑀕    𐨒  
Dālath   ܕ   𐡃 /d/, /ð/ ד 𐰒 𐤃 د ذ  𑀥    𐨢  
  ܗ   𐡄 /ɦ/ ה 𐰜 𐤄 ه  𑀳    𐨱  
Waw   ܘ   𐡅 /w/; /oː/, /uː/ ו 𐰈 𐤅 و  𑀯    𐨬  
Zain   ܙ   𐡆 /z/ ז 𐰕 𐤆 ز  𑀚    𐨗  
Ḥēth   ܚ   𐡇 /ʜ/ /χ/ ח 𐰴 𐤇 ح خ  𑀖    𐨓  
Ṭēth   ܛ   𐡈 /tˤ/ ט 𐰓 𐤈 ط ظ  𑀣    𐨠  
Yodh   ܝ   𐡉 /j/; /iː/, /eː/ י 𐰘 𐤉 ي  𑀬    𐨩  
Kāp   ܟ   𐡊 /k/, /x/ כ ך 𐰚 𐤊 ك  𑀓    𐨐    
Lāmadh   ܠ   𐡋 /l/ ל 𐰞 𐤋 ل  𑀮    𐨫  
Mem   ܡ   𐡌 /m/ מ ם 𐰢 𐤌 م  𑀫    𐨨    
Nun   ܢ   𐡍 /n/ נ ן 𐰤 𐤍 ن  𑀦    𐨣    
Semkath   ܣ   𐡎 /s/ ס 𐰾 𐤎 س  𑀰    𐨭  
ʿĒ   ܥ   𐡏 /ʢ/ /ʁ/ ע 𐰠⸲𐰭 𐤏 ع غ  𑀏    𐨀𐨅  
  ܦ   𐡐 /p/, /ɸ/ פ ף 𐰯 𐤐 ف  𑀧    𐨤    
Ṣādhē   ܨ  ,   𐡑 /sˤ/ צ ץ 𐰽 𐤑 ص ض  𑀲    𐨯    
Qop   ܩ   𐡒 /qˤ/ ק 𐰵 𐤒 ق  𑀔    𐨑  
Rēsh   ܪ   𐡓 /r/ ר 𐰺 𐤓 ر  𑀭    𐨪  
Shin   ܫ   𐡔 /ʃ/ ש 𐱂 𐤔 ش  𑀱    𐨮  
Taw   ܬ   𐡕 /t/, /θ/ ת 𐱅 𐤕 ت ث  𑀢    𐨟  

Matres lectionisEdit

In Aramaic writing, Waw and Yodh serve a double function. Originally, they represented only the consonants w and y, but they were later adopted to indicate the long vowels ū and ī respectively as well (often also ō and ē respectively). In the latter role, they are known as matres lectionis or "mothers of reading".

Ālap, likewise, has some of the characteristics of a mater lectionis because in initial positions, it indicates a glottal stop (followed by a vowel), but otherwise, it often also stands for the long vowels ā or ē. Among Jews, the influence of Hebrew often led to the use of Hē instead, at the end of a word.

The practice of using certain letters to hold vowel values spread to Aramaic-derived writing systems, such as in Arabic and Hebrew, which still follow the practice.


The Syriac Aramaic alphabet was added to the Unicode Standard in September 1999, with the release of version 3.0.

The Syriac Abbreviation (a type of overline) can be represented with a special control character called the Syriac Abbreviation Mark (U+070F). The Unicode block for Syriac Aramaic is U+0700–U+074F:

Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+070x ܀ ܁ ܂ ܃ ܄ ܅ ܆ ܇ ܈ ܉ ܊ ܋ ܌ ܍ ܏
U+071x ܐ ܑ ܒ ܓ ܔ ܕ ܖ ܗ ܘ ܙ ܚ ܛ ܜ ܝ ܞ ܟ
U+072x ܠ ܡ ܢ ܣ ܤ ܥ ܦ ܧ ܨ ܩ ܪ ܫ ܬ ܭ ܮ ܯ
U+073x ܰ ܱ ܲ ܳ ܴ ܵ ܶ ܷ ܸ ܹ ܺ ܻ ܼ ܽ ܾ ܿ
U+074x ݀ ݁ ݂ ݃ ݄ ݅ ݆ ݇ ݈ ݉ ݊ ݍ ݎ ݏ
1.^ As of Unicode version 13.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

The Imperial Aramaic alphabet was added to the Unicode Standard in October 2009, with the release of version 5.2.

The Unicode block for Imperial Aramaic is U+10840–U+1085F:

Imperial Aramaic[1][2]
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+1084x 𐡀 𐡁 𐡂 𐡃 𐡄 𐡅 𐡆 𐡇 𐡈 𐡉 𐡊 𐡋 𐡌 𐡍 𐡎 𐡏
U+1085x 𐡐 𐡑 𐡒 𐡓 𐡔 𐡕 𐡗 𐡘 𐡙 𐡚 𐡛 𐡜 𐡝 𐡞 𐡟
1.^ As of Unicode version 13.0
2.^ Grey area indicates non-assigned code point

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Daniels, Peter T.; Bright, William, eds. (1996). The World's Writing Systems. Oxford University Press, Inc. pp. 89. ISBN 978-0195079937.
  2. ^ Inland Syria and the East-of-Jordan Region in the First Millennium BCE before the Assyrian Intrusions, Mark W. Chavalas, The Age of Solomon: Scholarship at the Turn of the Millennium, ed. Lowell K. Handy, (Brill, 1997), 169.
  3. ^ Shaked, Saul (1987). "Aramaic". Encyclopædia Iranica. 2. New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul. pp. 250–261. p. 251
  4. ^ Greenfield, J.C. (1985). "Aramaic in the Achaemenid Empire". In Gershevitch, I. (ed.). The Cambridge History of Iran: Volume 2. Cambridge University Press. pp. 709–710.
  5. ^ Geiger, Wilhelm; Kuhn, Ernst (2002). "Grundriss der iranischen Philologie: Band I. Abteilung 1". Boston: Adamant: 249ff. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  6. ^ Naveh, Joseph; Shaked, Shaul (2006). Ancient Aramaic Documents from Bactria. Studies in the Khalili Collection. Oxford: Khalili Collections. ISBN 978-1-874780-74-8.
  7. ^ Ibn Khaldun (1958). F. Rosenthal (ed.). The Muqaddimah (K. Ta'rikh – "History"). 3. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd. p. 283. OCLC 643885643.
  8. ^ a b Kara, György (1996). "Aramaic Scripts for Altaic Languages". In Daniels, Peter T.; Bright, William (eds.). The World's Writing Systems. Oxford University Press. pp. 535–558. ISBN 978-0-19-507993-7.
  9. ^ Babylonian beginnings: The origin of the cuneiform writing system in comparative perspective, Jerold S. Cooper, The First Writing: Script Invention as History and Process, ed. Stephen D. Houston, (Cambridge University Press, 2004), 58–59.
  10. ^ Tristan James Mabry, Nationalism, Language, and Muslim Exceptionalism, (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015), 109.
  11. ^ Turks, A. Samoylovitch, First Encyclopaedia of Islam: 1913–1936, Vol. VI, (Brill, 1993), 911.
  12. ^ George L. Campbell and Christopher Moseley, The Routledge Handbook of Scripts and Alphabets, (Routledge, 2012), 40.
  13. ^ "Brāhmī | writing system". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  14. ^ Danby, H., ed. (1964), "Tractate Megillah 1:8", Mishnah, London: Oxford University Press, p. 202 (note 20), OCLC 977686730 (The Mishnah, p. 202 (note 20))
  15. ^ a b Steiner, R.C. (1993). "Why the Aramaic Script Was Called "Assyrian" in Hebrew, Greek, and Demotic". Orientalia. 62 (2): 80. JSTOR 43076090.
  16. ^ Cook, Stanley A. (1915). "The Significance of the Elephantine Papyri for the History of Hebrew Religion". The American Journal of Theology. The University of Chicago Press. 19 (3): 348. JSTOR 3155577.
  17. ^ Beach, Alastair (2 April 2010). "Easter Sunday: A Syrian bid to resurrect Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2 April 2010.
  18. ^ Al Jazeera Documentary الجزيرة الوثائقية (11 February 2016). "أرض تحكي لغة المسيح". Retrieved 27 March 2018 – via YouTube.


  • Byrne, Ryan. "Middle Aramaic Scripts". Encyclopaedia of Language and Linguistics. Elsevier. (2006)
  • Daniels, Peter T., et al. eds. The World's Writing Systems. Oxford. (1996)
  • Coulmas, Florian. The Writing Systems of the World. Blackwell Publishers Ltd, Oxford. (1989)
  • Rudder, Joshua. Learn to Write Aramaic: A Step-by-Step Approach to the Historical & Modern Scripts. n.p.: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2011. 220 pp. ISBN 978-1461021421. Includes a wide variety of Aramaic scripts.
  • Ancient Hebrew and Aramaic on Coins, reading and transliterating Proto-Hebrew, online edition (Judaea Coin Archive).

External linksEdit