Aram (biblical region)

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The Levant c. 830 BC

Aram is a region mentioned in the Bible located in present-day central Syria, including where the city of Aleppo (a.k.a. Halab) now stands. Aram stretched from the Lebanon mountains eastward across the Euphrates, including the Khabur River valley in northwestern Mesopotamia on the border of Assyria.


The etymology is uncertain. One standard explanation is an original meaning of "highlands". This has been interpreted to be in contrast with Canaan, or "lowlands".[1]

Early references

Judeo-Christian tradition claims the name is derived from the biblical Aram, son of Shem, a grandson of Noah in the Bible.[2] No ancient records of the time have been found mentioning such a person, however there are records of various Semitic peoples to the west of Mesopotamia such as Ahlamu and Amurru.[3]

The toponym A-ra-mu appears in an inscription at Ebla listing geographical names, and the term Armi, which is the Eblaite term for nearby Aleppo, occurs frequently in the Ebla tablets (c. 2300 BC). One of the annals of Naram-Sin of Akkad (c. 2250 BC) mentions that he captured "Dubul, the ensi of A-ra-me" (Arame is seemingly a genitive form), in the course of a campaign against Simurrum in the northern mountains.[4] Other early references to a place or people of "Aram" have appeared at the archives of Mari (c. 1900 BC) and at Ugarit (c. 1300 BC). There is little agreement concerning what, if any, relationship there was between these places, or if the Aramu were actually Aramaeans; the earliest undisputed mention of Aramaeans as a people is in the inscriptions of the Assyrian king, Tiglath Pileser I (1114–1076 BC).[5]

Several of the Aramaean territories located within Aram are also referenced in the Hebrew Bible. These include Aram-Naharaim, Paddan-Aram, Aram-Damascus, Aram-Rehob, and Aram-Zobah.


The Arameans appear to have displaced the earlier Semitic Amorite populations of ancient Syria during the period from 1200 BC to 900 BC, which was a dark age for the entire Near East, North Africa, Caucasus, Mediterranean regions, with great upheavals and mass movements of people. The Arameans were attacked and conquered by Tiglath-Pileser I (1115- 1077 BC) of Assyria, and were incorporated into the Middle Assyrian Empire which encompassed much of the Near East.[6] Two medium-sized Aramaean kingdoms, Aram-Damascus and Hamath, along with several smaller kingdoms and independent city-states, developed in the region during the early first millennium BC. There was some synthesis with neo Hittite populations in northern Syria and south central Anatolia, and a number of small Syro-Hittite states arose in the region, such as Tabal.

During the period 1200 - 900 BC Arameans came to dominate most of what is now Syria. With the advent of the Neo Assyrian Empire (911 - 605 BC), the region fell fully under the control of Assyria in 732 BC.[7] Large numbers of people living there were deported into Assyria and Babylonia. A few steles that name kings of this period have been found, such as the 8th-century Zakkur stele.

In 332 BC the region was conquered by the Greek ruler, Alexander the Great. Upon his death in 323 BC this area became part of the Greek Seleucid Empire, at which point Greek replaced Aramaic as the official language of Empire. This area and other parts of the former Assyrian Empire to the east were renamed Syria, a Hurrian, Luwian and Greek corruption of Assyria.[8] It is from this period that the later Syria vs Assyria naming controversy arises, the Seleucids confusingly applied the name not only to the Mesopotamian land of Assyria itself, but also to the lands west of Euphrates which had never been part of Assyria itself, but merely Aramean inhabited colonies. When they lost control of Assyria itself to the Parthians, the name Syria survived and was applied only to the land west of Euphrates, that had once been part of the Assyrian empire, while Assyria went back to being called Assyria (and also Athura/Assuristan). However, this situation led to both Assyrians and Arameans being dubbed Syrians in Greco-Roman culture.

This area, by now called Syria, was fought over by Seleucids and Parthians during the 2nd century BC, and later still by the Romans and Sassanid Persians. Palmyra, a powerful Aramean kingdom arose during this period, and for a time it dominated the area and successfully resisted Roman and Persian attempts at conquest.[6] The region eventually came under the control of the Byzantine Empire. Christianity began to take hold from the 1st to 3rd centuries AD, and the Aramaic language gradually supplanted Canaanite in Phoenecia and Hebrew in Israel/Palestine.

The Nabateans dominated the region between 100 BC and 100 AD, its most famous city being Petra. The Nabatean kingdom was eventually conquered by Rome.

In the mid-7th century AD the region fell to the Arab Islamic conquest. The Aramaic language and Christianity survived among a sizable portion of the population of Syria, who resisted Arabization and Islamification. However, the native Western Aramaic of the Aramean Christian population of Syria is spoken today by only a few thousand people, the majority having now adopted the Arabic language. Mesopotamian Eastern Aramaic, which still contains a number of loan words from the Akkadian language, as well as structural similarities, still survives among the majority of ethnically distinct Assyrians, who are mainly based in northern Iraq, north east Syria, south east Turkey and north west Iran.

See also


  1. Bible Places: The Topography of the Holy Land By Henry Baker Tristram
  2. See Genesis 10:22
  3. F. Leo Oppenheim - Ancient Mesopotamia
  4. Year-Names for Naram-Sin
  5. Lipinski, 2000, p. 25-27.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Georges Roux - Ancient Iraq
  7. Palacios, Isaac Asimov ; maps by Rafael (1981). Asimov's guide to the Bible : the Old and New Testaments (Reprint [der Ausg.] in 2 vol. 1968 - 1969. ed.). New York: Wings Books. p. 54. ISBN 0-517-34582-X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "The Terms "Assyria" and "Syria" Again" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 13 June 2011. Retrieved 19 June 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>