The Syriac Language
Syriac is a dialect of Middle Aramaic that was spoken across the Near East during late antiquity and the Middle Ages. It belongs to the Northwestern branch of the Semitic language family and is written in the Syriac alphabet, a derivation of the Aramaic alphabet. Syriac appeared in the first century CE in Edessa (North Mesopotamia) and emerged as a major literary language throughout the Middle East (mostly the Christian world) between the 4th and 8th centuries. Syriac literature comprises the great majority of extant Aramaic texts.
Alongside Latin and Greek, Syriac became one of the most important languages of the Christian tradition in the early centuries of the Common Era. Syriac Christianity spread throughout Central Asia along the Silk Route, reaching as far as the Indian Malabar Coast and Eastern China. Syriac had a tremendous cultural and literary impact on the development of Arabic, which largely supplanted it by the 14th century. Syriac remains the liturgical language of the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Syriac Catholic Church, the Assyrian Church of the East, the Chaldean Catholic Church, and many Syrian churches in India.
Learn more about the Syriac language on vHMML, our online environment for manuscript studies. vHMML School teaches about scripts and manuscripts, introducing learners to the sciences of paleography and codicology: www.vhmml.org/school.
On the left: The briefest of introductions to Syriac. Alphabetum syro-chaldaeum, una cum Oratione dominicali, Salutatione angelica, et Symbolo fidei. Romae: typis Sacrae congregationis de propaganda fide, 1797. Printed on paper. Modern cardboard binding. The Saint John’s Rare Book Collection.