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Aramaic for Unicode

I was unable to find a comprehensive Aramaic proposal but did find UTC #3 (1992-1993), ISO 10646 Phoenician (1997),  N1932 (1998), N2042 (1999), N2311 (2001), N2409 (2001), N2461 (2002), N2544 Manichaean (2002-12-03), N2545 Old Persian Cuneiform (2002-12-03),  N2556 Avestan and Pahlavi (2002), N2559 (2002), Roadmap to the BMP ver 4.2 (2003-06-18), and Not The Roadmap ver. 4.0 (2003-04-16).

Also see Unicode 3.0 chapt. 8, Middle Eastern Scripts (watch for ver. 4.0 to be published)

See the draft definition of Parthian.

General submission reference documents:

Proposal Summary Form (N2352)

Principles and Procedures for Allocation of New Characters and Scripts and handling of Defect Reports on Character Names (Replaces N2352, N 2002 and N1876)

How to propose Unicode character names

Not The Roadmap states: "Known scripts which have been investigated, but which are unified with existing encoded scripts:" (partial list)

From Roadmapping early Semitic scripts (N2311) by Michael Everson:
14. Aramaic forms a rather complex family of scripts, with a number of descendants. Certainly there is a basic Aramaic, but it has many descendents (including Mongolian and possibly Brahmi) which are unique enough to merit their own encoding (see table 5.5). More research is required. However, Aramaic is expected to encompass at least:

Edessan is likely to be either Aramaic or Syriac. More research is required.

The following image is extracted from N2311, Figure 4 which is taken from M. O'Connor's "Epigraphic Semitic Scripts" (ch. 5, p. 89, in Daniels & Bright, The World's Writing Systems). Michael Everson modified it to show the scripts planned for encoding (in the Roadmap) by enclosing them in boxes.


From Roadmap to the BMP ver 4.2 (2003-06-18), code space U+0880 to U+089F (32 codepoints in the basic plane) has been tentatively reserved for Aramaic.

In UTN #3, I found Carl-Martin BUNZ, "Encoding Scripts from the Past: Conceptual and Practical Problems and Solutions" (read at 17th IUC, San Jose, California, September 2000). Bunz classes Parthian as "Category B1, in need of encoding".

I also recently came across an article in the Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies that is of interest, "The Aramaic Language and its Classification", by Efrem Yildiz.

Aramaic letters from

Aramaic Names List, draft 1992-10-30 Aramaic Names List, draft 1999-07-20
Unicode Technical Report #3, 1992-1993
also at TR3
Unicode Technical Report #3 (N2042), 1999

"Early Aramaic" from Unicode Technical Report #3 (N2042), 1999:

Early Aramaic 


The Aramaic alphabet was developed sometime during the late 10th or early 9th century B.C. and replaced Assyrian cuneiform as the main writing system of the Assyrian empire. The Aramaic alphabet is thought to be the ancestor or a number of Semitic alphabets as well as the Kharosthi alphabet. At the end of the 3rd century B.C., the Aramaic alphabet spawned a number of new alphabets including Syriac, Nabataean, Palmyran and Hebrew square script.

Aramaic, a language which developed from Phoenician which became the Lingua Franca throughout the Near East and Asia Minor during the late Assyrian period (1000 to 600 B.C.).

Notable Features
- This is a consonant alphabet with no vowel indication.
- Written from right to left in horizontal lines.

 Aramaic alphabet

Parthian script (from

The Parthian script developed from the Aramaic alphabet around the 2nd century B.C. and was used during the Parthian and Sassanid periods of the Persian Empire. The latest known inscription dates from 292 AD.

Notable Features
- Written from right to left in horizontal lines.
- Only some vowels are indicated and the letters used to represent them have multiple pronunciations.
- The letters marked in red were used to write loan words from Aramaic.

Parthian Script

Pahlavi script (from

Pahlavi script developed from the Aramaic alphabet and became the official script of the Sassanid Empire (224-651 A.D.). It changed little during the time it was in use, but around the 5th century A.D., it spawned a number of new scripts, including the Psalter and Avestan scripts.

Notable Features
- Written from right to left in horizontal lines.
- Only some vowels are indicated and the letters used to represent them have multiple pronunciations.
- The letters marked in red were used to write loan words from Aramaic.

Pahlavi script

Avestan Script (from

The Avestan alphabet was created in the 3rd century A.D. for writing the hymns of Zarathustra (a.k.a Zoroaster). Avestan is an extinct Indo-Iranian language related to Old Persian and Sanskrit. Many of the letters are derived from the old Pahlavi alphabet of Persia, which itself was derived from the Aramaic alphabet. Greek influence, in the form of the full representation of vowel sounds, is also present.

The Avestan alphabet was replaced by the Arabic alphabet after Persia converted to Islam during the 7th century A.D.

Notable Features
- The alphabet is written from right to left, in the same way as Syriac, Arabic and Hebrew.


Avestan Script Vowels


Avestan Script Consonants

Parthian numismatic inscriptions from

The earliest coins have untranslated Aramaic inscriptions, quickly supplanted by Greek:

Parthian numismatic inscriptionArsaces I (c. 247 - 211 B.C.), Sellwood type 3

Parthian numismatic inscription Arsaces I (c. 247 - 211 B.C.), Sellwood type 4

In late stages of the dynasty, Greek inscriptions became formulaic and blundered, almost indecipherable. Supplemental Aramaic inscriptions returned:

Parthian numismatic inscription (= wl) and Parthian numismatic inscription (= wl) Vologases I (c. A.D. 51 - 78), Sellwood type 71

Parthian numismatic inscription (= wl) and Sellwood 72.9 (= wlm) Vologases II (c. A.D. 77 - 80), Sellwood type 72

Parthian numismatic inscription (= pk) Pacorus II (c. A.D. 78 - 105), Sellwood type 73

Parthian numismatic inscription Mithradates IV (c. A.D. 129 - 140), Sellwood type 82

Parthian numismatic inscription Vologases IV (c. A.D. 147 - 191), Sellwood type 84iii

Parthian numismatic inscriptionVologases IV (c. A.D. 147 - 191), Sellwood type 84iv

Parthian numismatic inscription Vologases IV (c. A.D. 147 - 191), Sellwood type 84v

Vologases IV (c. A.D. 147 - 191), Sellwood type 84.134:

Parthian numismatic inscription

Parthian numismatic inscription Osroes II (c. A.D. 190), Sellwood type 85

Parthian numismatic inscription Vologases V (c. A.D. 191 - 208), Sellwood type 86

Parthian numismatic inscription  Vologases VI (c. A.D. 208 - 228), Sellwood type 88

Sellwood 88.18 and Parthian numismatic inscription and Parthian numismatic inscription  Vologases VI (c. A.D. 208 - 228), Sellwood type 88

ParthianLS® font from Linguist Software:

ParthianLS font

ImperialAramaic® font from Linguist Software:

ImperialAramaic font

PsalterPahlavi® font from Linguist Software:

PsalterPahlavi font

SasanianPersian® font from Linguist Software:

SasanianPersian font

AvestanLS® font from Linguist Software:

AvestanLS font

GreekArchaic® font from Linguist Software:

GreekArchaic font

See: Unicode, Ancient Languages and the WWW by C.M. Bunz / J. Gippert, Table 5: The development of the Avestan script

"Language as a phenomenon does not occur in discrete, sharply defined categories, but involves a large number of possible parameters of variation; hence, any attempt to enumerate "languages" must be the result of a process of analytical abstraction that merely approximates reality (but is still useful, and is done because in practical terms organisations must conduct their business in terms of a finite list of entities rather than an all-but-endlessly variable continuum)."
          - Peter Constable email to the Unicode List <>, 30 May 2003

Non-Semitic scripts derived from Semitic scripts


Originally Aramaic was spoken (and written) only in the region whose modern name is Syria. However, during the late Assyrian empire, and subsequently during the Babylonian and Persian empires, Aramaic became an international language, written and spoken in Anatolia, the Levantine coast, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Persia. It was quickly adopted by many local groups. In Israel, it became the "Jewish" alphabet, the direct descendant of which is the modern Hebrew alphabet. It also became much more cursive as time goes on, such as the Nabatean alphabet, which eventually became Arabic.

Quick Facts

Type Alphabetic
Family Proto-Sinaitic
Location West Asia
Time 10th century BCE to 0

The Aramaic language was the international trade language of the ancient Middle East between 1000 and 600 BCE, spoken from the Mediterranean coast to the borders of India. Its script, derived from Phoenician and first attested during the 9th century BCE, also became extremely popular and was adopted by many people with or without any previous writing system.

An interesting example is the square Hebrew script. Writing, derived fro Phoenician, began to appear in Palestine around the 10th century BCE, and the Old Hebrew script was one of them. However, by the 3rd century BCE, an Aramaic-derived script, appropriately called the Jewish script, began to replace the Old Hebrew script. It is the Jewish script that eventually evolved into the modern square Hebrew script. You can check out the Alphabet for a family tree.

Another important example of an Aramaic offshoot is the Nabataean script, which eventually led to the Arabic script.




Quick Facts

Type Alphabetic
Family Proto-Sinaitic
Location Iran, West Asia
Time 3rd century BCE to 9th century CE

The Pahlavi script was used to record the Pahlavi or Middle Persian language that was spoken in pre-Islamic Iran between 3rd century BCE and 9th century CE. Pahlavi evolved from the Aramaic script, and so it retained the right-to-left writing direction. However, the Aramaic script was suited to write a Semitic language, and therefore introduced difficulties in representing the Persian language. One problem was that Middle Persian had more consonants then Aramaic, and the solution to which was to use some of the letters to represent multiple sounds. Another difficulty was to need to represent vowels. In this case, the old Aramaic letters of 'aleph was used to write the vowel /a/. A more complicated scenario involved the letters yod, which was used to write the semi-vowel /y/ as well as the vowels /i/ and /e/. Similarly, the Aramaic letter waw was used for /w/, /u/, /o/, and sometimes the consonant /v/.

There were several forms of Pahlavi as it evolved through time. The most notable variants are those from the Arsacid (256 BCE to 226 CE) and the Sassanian (226 to 652 CE) dynasties, which might had actually represented slightly different dialects. Also, a more cursive variant was also used for writing on papers and manuscripts. Unfortunately, many letters in the cursive script grew to be visually similar (if not identical), making the script even more complicated.

The manuscript variant of Pahlavi is illustrated in the following chart.


The Pahlavi script was used extensively to write new Zoroastrian religious texts as well as translate existing Avestan scriptures as well. It also became the base model for a script to write the previously unwritten Avestan language.

One interesting fact about Pahlavi is that it had many Aramaic loanwords that were spelled as if they were in Aramaic but pronounced in Pahlavi. These loans are called xenographs, and represent a long traditional of "visual" borrowing that date back to Akkadian and Babylonian periods.

The Sasanian dynasty ended in 652 CE in the wake of the Islamic conquest of Persia. The Pahlavi script continued to be written for the next 300 years, but it was slowly phased out by an Arabic-derived alphabet modified for Persian.

Related links:
Pahlavi Literature
Pahlavi, its Literature and Grammar
A Concise Pahlavi Dictionary
Sasanian Empire


Language Name
alternate names)
Subgroup Name SubgroupID
XME Western Iranian IEIBC
OPE Western Iranian IEIBC
XPR Western Iranian IEIBC

From: WorldType® Font


Info on Script | Glyph Repertoire | Font Samples

The Aramaic language was the lingua franca in much of the Near East for more than one millennium until its displacement by Arabic in the 7th century AD. Besides the Square Aramaic script, several cursive scripts developed for writing Aramaic and its offshoots. Although its origin is not certain, Syriac became the most important of these scripts.

Following the Semitic model, the Syriac alphabet consists of 22 consonants which are equivalent to those of the Hebrew alphabet. While the Syriac alphabet is basically consonantal, three of the consonants are also used to convey long vowels in a manner similar to other Semitic scripts. Written from right to left, Syriac is a cursive, connected script whose letter forms vary slightly by context. Of the 22 letters, eight do not connect to their (left) successor. Some of the letterforms bear a strong resemblance to those of Hebrew or Arabic. A vast collection of early Christian literature, both original and translated from Greek, was written in Syriac whose oldest form is called 'Estrangelo'. After a split in the Syrian church in the 5th century AD, two new varieties of Syriac script developed. In the East, the style came to be called 'Nestorian', while in the West the style was 'Serto'.

Based on the Hebrew model of dots above and below consonants, a system for marking vowels in Syriac had developed. This system was adopted in the East where it was perfected in the 9th century. On the other hand, the Western branch of Syriac developed a different system based on diacritics modeled after miniature versions of Greek vowels. Syriac survives today as a minority language and as a liturgical language in some Christian communities.

Text from TR3, 1992:

Early Aramaic
The Aramaic alphabet branched from the 22 letter alphabet used for Phoenician and evolved along separate lines culminating in Syriac, Arabic and other scripts. The Early Aramaic block should be used for Late Aramaic (especially papyri), Palmyrene, and Nabataean, Mandaic and their immediate precursors and successors.

The order shown in the accompanying chart matches the order of the Early Phoenician block and the shapes shown there are in the Palmyrene style.

See the Phoenician block introduction and the Early Alphabets block introduction for further information and issues.

Some Sources
Healey, John F. The Early Alphabet.
Cross, Frank Moore. The Invention and Development of the Alphabet.
Diringer, David. Writing.

Rev 92/10/30

Text from TR3, 1992:

Early Aramaic
The Aramaic alphabet branched from the 22 letter alphabet used for Phoenician and evolved along separate lines culminating in Syriac, Arabic and other scripts. The Early Aramaic block should be used for Late Aramaic (especially papyri), Palmyrene, and Nabataean, Mandaic and their immediate precursors and successors.

The order shown in the accompanying chart matches the order of the Early Phoenician block and the shapes shown there are in the Palmyrene style.

See the Phoenician block introduction and the Early Alphabets block introduction in UTR#3 for further information and issues.

Healey, John F. The Early Alphabet.
Cross, Frank Moore. The Invention and Development of the Alphabet.
Diringer, David. Writing.

Left justified test of HTML BDO tag with direction = right-to-left using "hello world!":

hello world!

The same can be achieved also in plain-text Unicode, using RLO, LRO and PDF:

‮hello world!‬

(U+202E hello world! U+202C)

Text excerpted from "Half of Asia, for a Thousand Years", Main Guide, by Joe Bernstein, a comprehensive survey of Eastern Aramaic


This is an Iranian language native to somewhere in the central part of the region?whether eastern Iran, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan is debated?whose remains consist entirely of the (surviving parts of the) main sacred book of Zoroastrianism, the Avesta. Usually the oldest Avestan texts are believed to be those composed by Zarathustra himself?partly on the grounds that they are more similar to the oldest Sanskrit texts than other Avestan writing is (Boyce 1975: 3). The one real certainty about the date of Zarathustra is that the traditional one (early 6th century BC) is wrong; early Greek references to him (not later than the 4th century BC) make it appear unlikely that he falls within this chapter's period. The Avesta is usually believed to have been closed no later than under the Sasanians, and so perhaps within this chapter's period. (Wieseh?er 1996: 94-95 suggests the closure came in the 4th century AD, but there seem to be many different traditional dates for this closure, and scholars who support each, generally without mentioning any of the others or why they reject them, so who knows? Personally, anyway, I find the 4th century relatively plausible if not too late for the existing Avesta, whose relationship with the ultimate Sasanid Avesta, an immensely larger compilation, is not particularly obvious to me. See on this also note 90 above.) On Zarathustra's date especially see the discussion in Boyce and Grenet 1991: 368-370 and my discussion of these claims in a Usenet post, Bernstein 1998. For a general discussion of the Avesta see inter alia Gershevitch 1968: 10-28; Kl?a 1968: 7-17; Bishop 1988. The CHI, volume 2, offers only an essay on "The Old Eastern Iranian World View According to the Avesta", by M. Schwartz, chapter 13 and pages 640-663.

Eastern or earlier eastern Aramaic (other than Mandaic and Syriac, noted below)

Aramaic is a Semitic language which first appears in Syria (see below under "Western Aramaic"). It appears that written Aramaic is not known from the region covered in chapter 2 until the 7th century BC (Beyer 1986: 12-13). Beyer 1986 is the main bibliographic resource for Aramaic as a whole although it is being supplanted by An Aramaic Bibliography, of which so far published is Fitzmyer & Kaufman 1992. Dialects Beyer discusses which this heading covers are Late Ancient Aramaic (attested in many media but little literature); Ach?enid Imperial Aramaic (an official language of the Ach?enid Empire); its offshoots Babylonian Targumic (the language of the Babylonian Targums, to wit Onqelos and Jonathan), Babylonian Documentary Aramaic (a language used in Jewish documents, which Beyer treats unusually unclearly), and Arsacid (an official language of the Arsacid/"Parthian" Empire); and, as dialects of the Eastern Aramaic branch of the language proper, East Mesopotamian (known from inscriptions only), Jewish Old Babylonian Aramaic (also not well attested), and perhaps Jewish Middle Babylonian Aramaic (the language of the Babylonian Talmud and other rabbinic works). My research on Aramaic for this draft of this chapter has been spotty, except with regard to Jewish works, the vast majority of which (for example all of the Targums) were attributed by relevant scholars either to later dates or to Palestinian, rather than Babylonian, writers.


This Iranian language was the native language of the Arsacid dynasty (and hence perhaps a native language of Mani, whose mother was descended from that dynasty), but they did not use it as an official language, and the surviving literature in it is much later. The oldest surviving writing at all is ostraca from about 100 BC on; the last dates to perhaps the 10th century AD. The latter is, as most surviving Parthian is, Manich?n. Parthian writing in general is discussed in Boyce 1983a and in Sundermann 1989a: 116-117. The Parthian Manich?n texts are covered in the general Manich?n bibliographies mentioned below.

Middle Persian

This Iranian language has apparently been written mainly in Iran, although many of the surviving manuscripts derive most recently from India, there are considerable Manich?n remains from Xinjiang-Uigur and scanty manuscript remains from Egypt, and there are inscriptions from many other locations, because this was the official language of the Sasanid Empire. It is commonly known as "Pahlevi" ("Pahlavi", "Pehlevi"). (There appear to be linguistic grounds for reserving this name for Parthian instead, but nobody does.) As I mentioned under Old Persian, stages of Persian are defined largely by their sources for script and loan words; Pahlevi got these from Aramaic. There are numerous more or less detailed accounts of Pahlevi literature, which is probably the most prominent of the Middle Iranian literatures generally, and includes considerable Zoroastrian and Manich?n corpora. As usual, the Manich?n material tends to be treated separately. For the non-Manich?n material, the fundamental account to which most others refer back is West 1904. Other accounts of bibliographic value include Tavadia 1956, Boyce 1968a, de Menasce 1975, de Menasce 1983, Gignoux 1983, Sundermann 1989b: 140-141 (uncharacteristically unhelpful for the volume it is part of) and Tafazzuli 1998 (which may well replace West but which I could not read, except for Roman-script footnotes and bibliography). Kl?a 1968: 25-63 is quicker reading than most of these but as usual no help with bibliography. I examined Middle Persian literature more thoroughly than any other for this draft of this chapter; I emphasise that because nearly all of it turns out to have been, either written slightly later than this chapter's period (in the century following AD 531), or written, or compiled into a final form, much later (following AD 750), and so is here omitted.

New Persian

This Iranian language has been for the past thousand years one of the main literary languages in the world. It is now written throughout the West as well as in Iran and nearby areas; it was written in, say, the seventeenth century from Bosnia to Bangladesh. But in the period covered by this chapter, it wasn't written at all yet; as Old Persian draws its script and vocabulary from Akkadian, and Middle from Aramaic, New Persian draws these from Arabic, and by AD 525, Arabic was not yet offering any such influence. Among the numerous treatments of this literature, I'll confine myself to mentioning Rypka 1968a: 69-351, 419-482, 607-609; Yarshater 1988: 73-518; and chapters in volumes 4 and after of the CHI, beginning with Frye 1975: 595-632.

Western Aramaic (other than Syriac, noted below)

Aramaic is a Semitic language whose oldest remains were written in Syria in the tenth century BC, according to Beyer 1986: 11. In principle other dialects than Syriac could have imitated the original language's spread from west to east, but in practice, as I read Beyer, only one seems to have done so at all: Nabat?n, attested in inscriptions and a few documents, none of which I've sought for this draft.


Samuel N. C. Lieu is directing the fitful compilation of a corpus of surviving Manich?n texts, Corpus Fontium Manichaeorum, which grew out of an electronic database, Database of Manichaean Texts. See Lieu 1999 for more information. Whatever the status of the project, Lieu 1998 is its catalogue, and so the primary bibliography of published Manich?n writings. It also includes some works by the religion's opponents, mainly those which quote otherwise lost Manich?n works. However, Lieu sometimes omits information included in Boyce 1960, even concerning published texts, and always omits those still-unpublished materials catalogued by Boyce, so her book isn't yet fully superseded. Boyce covers texts in Parthian, Middle or New Persian, Sogdian, and occasionally Turkish; Lieu adds texts in Syriac, Greek, Latin, Coptic, Chinese, Turkish (Uighur), and Arabic. There are also discursive accounts of the Middle Iranian survivals?Boyce 1968b and 1983b, and Asmussen 1988?although there is no literary history of Manich?sm in general yet.

Iraq History

Iraq is of course documented from the beginning of documents, but its history during this period is actually relatively hard to study. The only connected account I know of is Widengren 1966, which is neither adequately referenced nor particularly detailed. Morony 1984 is not narrative, but his topic (despite his title) is in fact Iraq from about AD 475 to 750. Since Babylonia was crucial to each of the successive empires of Iran, the major books on those empires deal with that part of Iraq; note particularly Briant 1996 and Dandamaev 1989 (both passim), Sherwin-White and Kuhrt 1993 (especially pp. 149-161), and Frye 1984: 275-282 (on the Parthian era), as well as, from the CHI, Oppenheim 1985 and (less useful) Eilers 1983. Oates 1968: 58-121 (largely devoted to reporting archælogical results at specific sites) portrays the north (Assyria) as something like a nuclear wasteland for most of this period; Goossens 1952: 91-100 is a much more generally informative and less pessimistic, though still older, treatment. I have found no more recent works on Assyria. Bosworth 1983 covers the southwestern Arabs for most of this chapter's period (as does, doubtless, the Encyclopaedia of Islam). In addition, Christensen 1993: 49-81 is a valuable study of the underlying economy in Babylonia and points south and east of it. Oelsner 1986: 70-136 summarises archælogical results at the older cities of Babylonia from 331 BC to around AD 220. Millar 1993: 437-488 occasionally refers to the far northwest under Rome, until AD 337, while pp. 495-503 summarise a broader area and were much help.

Iran History

Iran has a history scantily documented by cuneiform records (Sumerian, Akkadian and Elamite) from very early times, and then somewhat better documented by records in many languages beginning around 700 BC. Richard Frye has written two books on it: Frye 1984 is a very scholarly survey, mainly concerned with political history, of the period down to the Muslim conquest, AD 651, while Frye 1963 is a rather wider and more readable account and has become the standard introduction. Wieseh?er 1996 lies in between these two; in particular, like Frye 1984, it provides very detailed bibliographic essays (and the two overlap surprisingly little); unlike that book, it offers very little narrative political history. Christensen 1993: 105-186, 193-197, 200-243 again studies the underlying economy. Beyond these books, others tend to be organised by dynasty.

From about 550 BC to 330 BC, the Ach?enid dynasty of Persis ruled the area now called Iran. Dandamayev 1994 (HCCA) is a good introduction, from a perspective useful for this chapter; for a book-length discussion of the Ach?enids and Central Asia, see Vogelsang 1992. The major surveys in English are Cook 1983, which is topically broad and relatively introductory, and which focuses heavily on Persian-Greek relations (as does the surviving literary evidence); and Dandamaev 1989, strictly political history, somewhat more scholarly, and rather less one-sided. But the current standard handbook, the most scholarly and the broadest of these, is Briant 1996. Gershevitch 1985 (the relevant volume of the CHI) has long essays on a number of topics but does not attempt full coverage.

Following the reign of Alexander the Great (331 to 323 BC) and a period of warfare, the Seleucid dynasty of Antioch ruled (today's) Iran from about 305 BC to no later than 128 BC. The Seleucids tend to get short shrift in books on Iran (except Frye 1984), as does Iran in books on Hellenistic history, but a recent monograph, Sherwin-White and Kuhrt 1993, has become the standard handbook. Yarshater 1983a and 1983b (CHI) are also sometimes useful.

The Arsacid dynasty of Parthia governed parts of today's Iran beginning from 238 BC, and the whole (in some sense of "governed"), from about 140 BC, to perhaps AD 228. This period is exceptionally poorly documented. Koshelenko and Pilipko 1994 (HCCA) is a brief introduction from the Central Asian point of view; the modern handbooks are Schippmann 1980 (broad in topics) and Wolski 1993 (narrowly political, but Wolski is universally recognised as the foremost expert on the Arsacids). Yarshater 1983a and 1983b are, again, sometimes useful.

Finally, the Sasanid dynasty of Persis ruled Iran from perhaps AD 224 to shortly after AD 641. They are not only the longest-lasting but the best documented of these dynasties, and the strongest rulers too; they are the real stars of Yarshater 1983a and 1983b. The standard monograph is Christensen 1944; this can be updated (and, I think, broadened) by reference to Schippmann 1990.

From "Half of Asia, for a Thousand Years", Linking Text by Joe Bernstein

The Seleucids began losing the far east of their empire around 250 BC, partly to the Arsacid dynasty which took power in Parthia, and around 140 BC the Arsacids finally pushed them out of Iraq (40). The Arsacids' new capital, Ctesiphon, lay near Seleucia, so their takeover should have been relatively harmless to Iraq's literature; it should even have helped, with a king ruling locally again. Yet the Arsacid centuries are just about the worst documented in Iraq's entire history (41). What happened? There's no being sure?these are, after all, badly documented times?but a number of explanations do offer themselves.

First, we know that the major faiths of the Arsacid empire?Zoroastrianism (42), Judaism (43), Buddhism (44)?all distrusted the written word for handing on their sacred works, preferring memorisation. Although all were in the process of succumbing to the necessity of writing, none seems to have been very eager (42), (43), (44). Since religious leaders are often the main scribes or sponsors for scribes, this can't have helped literature over all. (It was in Arsacid times that the last priests in Babylon and Uruk gave up on cuneiform, too (45), a major reason why the Arsacids are worse documented than the Seleucids.) Similarly, although we know that there were minstrels at the Arsacid courts, they don't seem to have written their songs down (46). The easiest way to lose a literature is never to write it down in the first place (47).

From: LINGUIST List 7.400
Sat Mar 16 1996


Peter T. Daniels and William Bright (Eds.) The World's Writing Systems. New York, New York. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. 1996. Pp. XLV + 920. ISBN 0-19-507993-0

Reviewed by Richard Sproat (Bell Laboratories)

[excerpt] "The eighth part discusses Middle Eastern Writing systems --- Aramaic, Jewish, Arabic and Ethiopic; there is also a short discussion of the curious Dhivehi (Maldives) writing system, whose most interesting feature is that its symbols are derived from Arabic and local numeral symbols. (A curious point in the discussion of Arabic is the following: while the form of Arabic numerals is given, no mention of the fact that the order of writing numerals is left-to-right, rather than right-to-left, contrary to the rest of the script.) The most extensive discussion in this part involves the adaptations of Aramaic writing to languages of various groups, including Altaic, and Iranian Indo-European languages. The latter display one of the more interesting phenomena among writing systems, namely "heterograms", words or morphemes which are spelled as in Aramaic, but are pronounced as in the Iranian language being written. Furthermore, these heterograms may combine with "phonetic complements", which spell grammatical endings. For example, the Parthian word "bawaand" `they shall become' would be written "YHYEnt", where the "-nt" is a phonological spelling of the third person plural ending, and the "YHYE" is the phonological spelling of the Aramaic verb "become", to be pronounced as "bawaa". The situation is, of course, highly reminiscent of Japanese adaptation of Chinese script, or Assyrian adaptation of Sumerian script, except that here we are dealing not logographic or morphosyllabic symbols, but with segmental ones. This, to my mind, is one of the phenomena that is most telling about the nature of writing. Much of the literature on writing, both popular and professional, has been devoted to the question of whether writing systems like Chinese represent language in a fundamentally different way from obviously phonologically-based systems. Lost in this debate is the fact that the primary purpose of writing is not phonetic transcription, but the representation of words and morphemes; purely phonologically-based systems are arguably merely the most efficient way of achieving this goal. Iranian scribes of the late pre-Christian era knew how to write in Aramaic, since it was the chancery language of the empire. The use of heterograms was not due to any lack of understanding of the phonological basis of Aramaic script; the phonetic complements discussed above, as well as the many Iranian words which were spelled phonologically show that the principle was well understood. Rather, in adapting Aramaic script to writing their own languages, the scribes apparently simply saw no reason to change the spelling of some common and familiar morphemes."

From Section 5, "Epigraphic Semitic Scripts" by M. O'Connor (in Daniels and Bright, The World's Writing Systems)

"Aramaic", pp. 96-98

"In the northern Levant and in neighboring, Aramean-influenced areas (southern Anatolia and northern Mesopotamia), and sporadically elsewhere, Aramaic speakers (and writers) used the Phoenician script during the ninth and early eighth centuries; a distinctive Aramaic script developed by the mid eighth century B.C.E. By 700, Aramaic was the preeminent language of the region, and the Persian Empire, established in the mid sixth century, confirmed that position by adopting it as its official language. The official status of Imperial Aramaic provided a stability and uniformity for both the language and the script that outlasted the empire. Extant materials include not only many epigraphs but also several caches of manuscripts from Egypt. Aramaic script was a major influence on the developing scripts of the Transjordanian region: the earliest Ammonite texts are in Aramaic script, probably as a result of contacts with Damascus. Hebrew continued to be written with the linear Hebrew abjad during the exilic period (597-539 B.C.E.), when it was gradually replaced by a form of the Aramaic script. The older ("linear") Hebrew abjad remained in intermittent use, nationalistically or religiously motivated, until 135 C.E.; during this later phase it is called Paleo-Hebrew script. This abjad is the basis of the Samaritan script, which emerged during the first century B.C.E. and is still used for religious purposes. Post-biblical Hebrew scripts, the Jewish (also called square or Assyrian) scripts, develop from the exilic, Aramaic script (SECTION 46).

"The Aramaic script continued its dominance after the collapse of the Achaemenid Empire, spreading far to the east, through Iran to South and Central Asia. The earliest, Semitic phase of this post-imperial history begins with the breakdown of the uniformity of Imperial Aramaic script around 250 B.C.E. (TABLE 5.5). In the western half of the old empire, in addition to the Jewish scripts, the Arabic-speaking Nabateans developed their own Aramaic script; the texts are found in Palestine, Transjordan, the Sinai, and northern Arabia. In the eastern half of the imperial territory, there were a number of developments. The trading oasis of Palmyra in the Syrian desert developed its own script, which may have had some influence in later Iranian developments. Northern Mesopotamian local scripts are attested both in the old Assyrian heartland (at Hatra and Assur) and to the west, at Edessa. The Old Edessan texts are unvocalized and epigraphic or legal in character; their script eventually developed into the Syriac script used to record the literary and religious texts of a large part of Christianity (SECTION 47). In southern Mesopotamia an unattested local script gave rise to the writing system used by Mandean gnostics of the marsh regions. Under the broad heading of Arsacid Aramaic scripts may be gathered texts from the Parthian period texts (200 B.C.E.-200 C.E.): texts from the far north, Armenia and Georgia (Armazi), reflect the Hatran script, while texts from the far south, in the Iranian province of Elymais (ancient Elam), reflect the same origins as the Mandean script. The Elymaic script, though poorly attested, is the chief predecessor of the adaptations of the Aramaic script used to write a range of Iranian dialects in the ensuing Sassanid period and later (SECTION 48).?

In the section, "Samples of West Semitic", from p. 103, taken from Opening of the second section of the Aramaic portion, ca. 850 B.C.E. (Abou-Assaf, Bordreuil, and Millard 1982).:

Daniels & Bright WWS p103

Introduction to Section 47, "Aramaic Scripts for Aramaic Languages" by Peter T. Daniels, p. 499. (in Daniels and Bright, The World's Writing Systems)

"Aramaic was the lingua franca of Southwest Asia from early in the first millennium B.C.E. until the Arab Conquest in the mid seventh century C.E. Contemporary with the Roman Empire, several peoples used varieties of Aramaic script that had become cursive (no comprehensive survey of these "Late Aramaic" scripts has yet been published). These include the Palmyrans (Klugkist 1982)-Palmyra was a city-state in present-day eastern Syria-and the Nabateans (see TABLE 5.5 on page 97); the Manichean script, as well, belongs in this group (SECTION 48). The Nabateans (centered around Petra, in present-day southern Jordan) wrote in Aramaic but spoke Arabic, and the Arabic script (SECTION 50) emerged from the Nabatean (Abbott 1939, Gruendler 1993). Within this Arabic- (and Iranian- and Turkic-)speaking milieu, Aramaic has survived as the vernacular of several non-Muslim minorities (and three villages near Damascus which have become predominantly Muslim); and as the liturgical languages of two sects for which cursive scripts arose, Syriac for certain Christians and Mandaic for Mandeans. Syriac is the vehicle for a vast literature (its Golden Age was before the Conquest, its Silver Age after) and still serves in several contemporary churches; Mandaic, still used by a Gnostic group in Iraq, Iran, and elsewhere, is little known, but its script has undergone the most interesting development of any abjad."

Introduction to Section 48, "Aramaic Scripts for Iranian Languages" by P. Oktor Skj?v? p. 515 (in Daniels and Bright, The World's Writing Systems)

During the Achaemenid period (549-330 B.C.E.), Aramaic was used as the chancery language throughout the Empire (hence the term "Imperial Aramaic"), and subsequently several Iranian states adopted the Aramaic alphabet for their languages. Exceptions occurred only where there was strong competion from other writing systems, such as the Greek script in Bactria and the Indian Brahmi (SECTION 30) used by the Iranians in Chinese Turkestan (Khotan and Tumshuq). We do not know exactly when Iranians started writing their own languages using Aramaic script. We have Aramaic texts from the early days of the Achaemenid empire, while Iranian texts in Aramaic script are known only from the Parthian period (c. 210 B.C.E. - 224 C.E.) onward. Although they are scarce, these Aramaic texts allow us to follow the development of the script in various parts of Iran from its earliest forms through its local variants. The most important are the Parthian, Middle Persian (TABLE 48.I), Avestan (TABLE 48.7), and Sogdian scripts (TABLE 48.2). In addition, Iranian languages were written in varieties of the Syriac scripts (SECTION 47): the Manichean script derived from Estrangelo, used to write Parthian, Middle Persian, Sogdian, and Bactrian (I fragment); and the Christian Sogdian derived from Nestorian script. The Manichean script was also used to write Old Turkish and Tokharian (2 fragments; most Tokharian manuscripts use forms of Brahmi). The Khwarezmian script is known from a few inscriptions; it was later replaced by the Arabic script."



alt descriptionThis Semitic language was used widely throughout the Near East, beginning in the early first millennium BC when it appears in Syria and northern Mesopotamia. Its usage spread under the Assyrian and Persian empires, when it became a kind of lingua franca in the ancient Near East. Although we tend to associate Aramaic with Syria, Palestine and Iraq, it is equally true that Aramaic was widely used in the Gulf region and indeed, apart from the single example of South Arabian used on a pottery fragment from Muweilah, Aramaic is the language most widely attested in the Emirates during the late pre-Islamic era. We find it used in the legends of much of the coinage found at al-Dur and Mileiha, and we find it in stone and bronze inscriptions from these sites as well. Indeed, after the Christianization of the region of Bet Mazunaye, Aramaic would have become the principal liturgical language of the Emirates before the ascendancy of Arabic.

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