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Aramaic in Iran and Central Asia

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Aramaic in Iran and Central Asia

Jan-18-2002 at 12:17 PM (UTC+3 Nineveh, Assyria)

Aramaic in Iran and Central Asia

Already under the Assyrians Aramaic, with its alphabet, has displaced Akkadian as the lingua franca of the Near East. The Achaemenids apparently supported the use of Aramaic as the general means of communication in their empire We know that Elamite was written on clay tablets at Persepolis to keep records of payments to workers, and Aramaic inscriptions on stone objects have also been found there.
The discovery of an Aramaic-Greek bilingual rock inscription at Qandahar, Afghanistan, and Aramaic inscriptions at Taxila and Laghman, Afghanistan, show the widespread use of Aramaic. It is significant that archaic East Iranian words appear in the Qandahar inscription, while the Laghman inscription has Indian Prakrit words. This would indicate that everywhere local words entered the Aramaic language used by the scribes, thus preparing the way for the development of the later Middle Iranian heterographic writing.(Prof. Richard N. Frye. The Heritage of Persia. Page 99-100. Ohio. 1963)

Naturally, as the Achaemenids expanded into Central Asia, they brought the language with them to the region.
Currently, there is no evidence that any system of writing other than Aramaic existed in Central Asia during Achaemenid times, i.e. (6th 4th) century BC. The Aramaic was the bureaucratic language of the Achaemenid Empire, an empire that reached Central Asia. Hence the Aramaic had great influence on the written languages of many Central Asia regions. For instance, the alphabet of Bactria, Sogdiana, and Khwarazm were derived from the Aramaic of the Achaemenid chancellery. Therefore, it is not surprising to read about Aramaic names in Central Asia till this very day.(Prof. Richard Frye. The Heritage of Central Asia: From Antiquity to the Turkish Expansion. Pages 89-90. Princeton. 2001.)

By the way, Bactria is presently northern Afghanistan, southern Uzbekistan, south of Hissar mountain range; Sogdiana is present Uzbekistan north of the Hissar range; and Khwarazm is present Karakalpakia.

At the time of Alexanders conquest Aramaic was still the lingua franca and the language of bureaucracy in western Asia, but Greek had already made inroads on it. From what we have said above it would be natural to assume that the old tradition would have continued in those areas of Iran not subject to direct Seleucid rule while Greek would have become dominant in the areas of Greek colonization. In support of this we have the few Greek inscriptions from central Iran and a lack of any other literary evidence in the pre-Christian era. On the other hand we have interesting evidence for the coexistence of both Greek and Aramaic in farther east. The important bilingual inscription of Aśoka from Qandahar implies that even in a part of the Maury Empire where presumably Greeks and Iranians were settled, Aramaic served as the means of writing for the Iranians. Fortunately, all the material on the use of Aramaic in Iran and the development of Middle Iranian languages and scripts has been assembled, from which one may draw historical conclusions about writing in Iran in this period. In my opinion, the historical process of the use of writing in Iran under the Seleucids can be reconstructed somewhat in the following manner. The Seleucids, as we know, retained Persians and others, as did Alexander, in the government of their empire. The process of creating a Greek chancellery and bureaucracy for the empire must have taken some time, and it would seem that a dual bureaucracy existed at least in the eastern part of the empire, in Greek and in Aramaic, the legacy of the Achaemenids. In order to communicate with their subjects the Seleucids needed some form of writing, and this was naturally Aramaic. When Aśoka wished to write an inscription for the inhabitants of the Qandahar area he had to write it in Greek and Aramaic, since the local spoken Iranian language obviously was not written. I suggest that this imperial bilingual inscription, as well as the bilingual of Mtskheta in Georgia reflects the reality of this duality of the bureaucracy and not just a desire to write in two classical languages. In Mesopotamia where presumably Aramaic dialects were spoken in this period we find seals, bullae, and tablets reflecting this duality. The two names, native and Greek, used by Hellenised Babylonians again attest the duality. Undoubtedly there were Aramaic-speaking scribes, both of Mesopotamia and of local origin in Iran, but presumably they followed the old Achaemenid system of reading off the Aramaic inscriptions or documents in the local language to the local people.
The problem then is when did the system of writing of Aramaic with Iranian loan words change to a system of Iranian with Aramaic ideograms? One must argue for a long and gradual development from the Aramaic of the Taxila and Qandahar inscriptions to the inscriptions of the early Sassanian kings where the system of ideograms or heterograms is well established. The Aramaic inscription of Aśoka from Pul-I Darunta or Laghman in Afghanistan with its Prakrit vocabulary of more that just a few loan words would indicate a possibly early transition to the ideographic system of Middle Iranian, but in this case we are dealing with the Indian borderlands and a Prakrit tongue. The development of Kharoshthi writing from the Aramaic script in north-west India would raise a natural question why the Iranians did not follow suit and write their language alphabetically. The answer may well lie in the retention and support of the Achaemenid Aramaic chancellery by the Seleucids. I suspect that the normal development of writing in Iran was retarded by the policy of the Greeks, or rather one should better say that the support of the old system by the Greeks kept the use of bureaucratic Aramaic side by side with Greek.

The next question is the time when we definitely have the end of Aramaic and the writing of Iranian with ideograms. This is, of course, difficult to answer but one may hazard a guess that in Afghanistan Aramaic writing vanished with the spread of Kharoshthi together with Greek. The coins of the later Bactrian Greeks are in Greek and Kharoshthi, not Aramaic. A rough guess for the disappearance of Aramaic in the farther east would be circa 200 BC.(Prof. Richard N. Frye. The Heritage of Persia. Page 141-142. Ohio. 1963)

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Assyria \ã-'sir-é-ä\ n (1998)   1:  an ancient empire of Ashur   2:  a democratic state in Bet-Nahren, Assyria (northern Iraq, northwestern Iran, southeastern Turkey and eastern Syria.)   3:  a democratic state that fosters the social and political rights to all of its inhabitants irrespective of their religion, race, or gender   4:  a democratic state that believes in the freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture in faithfulness to the principles of the United Nations Charter — Atour synonym

Ethnicity, Religion, Language
» Israeli, Jewish, Hebrew
» Assyrian, Christian, Aramaic
» Saudi Arabian, Muslim, Arabic
Assyrian \ã-'sir-é-an\ adj or n (1998)   1:  descendants of the ancient empire of Ashur   2:  the Assyrians, although representing but one single nation as the direct heirs of the ancient Assyrian Empire, are now doctrinally divided, inter sese, into five principle ecclesiastically designated religious sects with their corresponding hierarchies and distinct church governments, namely, Church of the East, Chaldean, Maronite, Syriac Orthodox and Syriac Catholic.  These formal divisions had their origin in the 5th century of the Christian Era.  No one can coherently understand the Assyrians as a whole until he can distinguish that which is religion or church from that which is nation -- a matter which is particularly difficult for the people from the western world to understand; for in the East, by force of circumstances beyond their control, religion has been made, from time immemorial, virtually into a criterion of nationality.   3:  the Assyrians have been referred to as Aramaean, Aramaye, Ashuraya, Ashureen, Ashuri, Ashuroyo, Assyrio-Chaldean, Aturaya, Chaldean, Chaldo, ChaldoAssyrian, ChaldoAssyrio, Jacobite, Kaldany, Kaldu, Kasdu, Malabar, Maronite, Maronaya, Nestorian, Nestornaye, Oromoye, Suraya, Syriac, Syrian, Syriani, Suryoye, Suryoyo and Telkeffee. — Assyrianism verb

Aramaic \ar-é-'máik\ n (1998)   1:  a Semitic language which became the lingua franca of the Middle East during the ancient Assyrian empire.   2:  has been referred to as Neo-Aramaic, Neo-Syriac, Classical Syriac, Syriac, Suryoyo, Swadaya and Turoyo.

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