An ancient northwest Semitic people who inhabited the area between the Taurus Mountains and the Arabian Peninsula, east of the Lebanon and principally in Upper Mesopotamia about the Tigris, Euphrates, Habur, and Balih Rivers. This region was called Aram, or Paddan-Aram, or Aram-Naharaim ("Aram of the two rivers"). This article will discuss the folkloric origins and historical emergence of this ancient people, the development of the Aramaean states, their religion and language, and the Nabataean and Palmyrene kingdoms.
Folkloric Origins and Historical Emergence. The Old Testament made Aram, the descendant of Shem (Gn 10.22–23; 1 Chr 1.17), the son of Noah, the progenitor of the Aramaeans, thus relating them to the Semitic peoples. Kemuel, "the father of Aram" (Gn 22.21), was born to Nahor, brother of Abraham; Laban, Rebekah's brother, was "the son of the Aramean Bethuel," another son of Kemuel (Gn 28.5). Israel thus remembered that its patriarchs were Aramaeans (Dt 26.5) who first learned Hebrew, the language of Canaan, when they arrived in Palestine. According to Amos 9.7, the Aramaeans came from Kir (see also Am 1.5), a place not identified with certainty, but associated with Elam in Isaiah 22.6.
Unsuccessful attempts have been made to trace the Aramaeans back to the beginning of the third millennium; the first certain appearance of this people is found in historical records of the twelfth century b.c. From the early second millennium b.c., however, there is evidence of a people in northern Mesopotamia with west-Semitic names who may be the forebears of the Aramaeans later found in Syria and Palestine. Moreover, a nomadic people, called Ah lame, appear in Assyrian records [of the time of King Arikden-ilu (1325–1311 b.c.)], emerging from the Syrian-Arabian Desert, attacking Assyrian lands and towns, and gradually settling down in the northern Mesopotamian area. The specific "Aramaean" type of Aḫlame appears only in the late twelfth century. In the fourth regnal year of Tiglath-Pileser I (1115–1076 b.c.) a major campaign was first recorded against "Aramaean Aḫlame" in the area about the confluence of the H abur and Euphrates Rivers. Their invasion of Assyrian territory was persistent, and Tiglath-Pileser I eventually had to conduct 28 campaigns against them. Soon thereafter an Aramaean usurper, Adad-apil-iddin (1079–1058 b.c.), mounted the throne of Babylon. To this wave of Aramaean invaders belongs also the origin of the Chaldeans, who settled in southern Babylonia probably in the tenth century. But the most important area penetrated by the Aramaeans was Syria, on both sides of the Upper Euphrates; it became known as Aram (Nm 23.7; 22.5). The Aramaeans never formed one great empire to rival the empires of the Assyrians or the Babylonians, but lived, instead, in small federated states.
Aramaean States. Although historical data about the Aramaean states at the beginning of the first millennium b.c. are scarce, the eventual emergence of these must have been the result of their importance, which fluctuated constantly as certain areas were dominated now by one, now by another of their more powerful neighbors. Eleventh-century cuneiform texts reveal Bit-Adini (Beth-Eden in Am 1.5) in north Syria, with its capital at Til-Barsip, as the most important Aramaean state of that time. In the ninth and eighth centuries b.c. the prominent states were Arpad (2 Kgs 18.34) in northern Syria, with such places as Aleppo and Nerab its vassal kingdoms; Hamath (2 Kgs 18.34) in central Syria, with 19 vassal districts; and damascus in southern Syria. Damascus (often called simply Aram) figured prominently in the history of Israel. Rezon I, who had rebelled against Hadadezar, king of Zobah (1 Kgs 11.23–25), set up the Damascene dynasty during Solomon's reign.
Four other Aramaean states are mentioned in the Old Testament. Zobah (2 Sm 8.3–8) was a state north of Damascus in the Beqa’, rich in silver and copper. At a time when it outranked Damascus, David defeated its king, Hadadezer, son of Rehob. Beth-Rehob (2 Sm 10.6) was a small state east of the Jordan and north of Ammon, whose armies the ammonites hired to fight David. Maacah (2 Sm 10.6), a small state at the southern ends of the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon ranges, west of Dan, had once belonged to Israel, but was conquered by Ben-hadad I of Damascus. Geshur (2 Sm 3.3; 13.37–38) was a small state east of the Sea of Galilee. Other Aramaean states are known from inscriptions, such as Sam’al (Ya’di), ‘Umq, Lu’ath.
Ben-Hadad I had 32 vassal kings in his Damascene army (1 Kgs 20.1, 24)—an indication of the multiplicity of Aramaean states in his time. The independence of these states came to an end with the campaigns of Tiglath-Pileser III, who subjugated most of them between 740 and 732 b.c. Little is known about the political history of the Aramaeans after they were incorporated into the Persian Empire in the sixth century. They continued to appear as traders and traveling merchants. Aramaean ethnic groups were found throughout the empire, even at Elephantine in Egypt, where they served along with Jews in a fifth-century military colony.
Religion and Language. The Aramaeans were not monotheistic, but rather venerated a pantheon headed by Hadad, the storm god, whose principal temple was in Aleppo (Ḥalab). His consort was apparently ’Attar (Ishtar—but ’Attar sometimes appears as a god!). In 2 Kings 5.18 Hadad is mentioned under the local Damascene epithet Rimmon ("Thunderer"; Zec 12.11); he was apparently also called Ilu-wer ("the god Wer") and Be’elshamayn ("Lord of the heavens") in the states of Hamath and Lu’ath (Zakur inscription a1, b20, 23; see J. B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament [2d rev. ed. Princeton 1955] 501–502). The Sefîre treaty between Bar-Ga’yah, king of Ktk, and Mati’el, king of the Aramaean state of Arpad (see ibid. ), reveals that the Aramaeans admitted many Babylonian and Canaanite deities to their pantheon. Among the gods who are called to bear witness to the treaty are marduk and Zarpanit, Nabu (see nebo) and Tashmet, Nergal and Laṣ, Shamash and Nur, Sin and Nikkal, Sibitti, El and ’Elyân (these last two Canaanite names eventually became epithets of the Old Testament Yahweh in Gn 14.22), Heaven and Earth, Abyss and Springs, and Day and Night (the last three pairs are personifications).
The early Aramaeans spoke a northwest Semitic language called Aramaic, cognate to the Hebrew and Canaanite dialects. Though derived from a common Proto-Semitic parent stock, it developed independently as a sister language of Hebrew and Phoenician, and constantly underwent influence from the languages spoken by the peoples who adopted it as a secondary language. It was widely used for international communication from c. 700 to 200 b.c., until it was superseded by Greek. (see aramaic language.)
Nabataeans and Palmyrenes. Two later Aramaean kingdoms came to prominence at Petra in southern Trans-jordan and at palmyra in the Syrian Desert. The Nabataeans were originally nomads of obscure origins, perhaps connected with Nebaioth, the first-born of Ishmael (Gn 25.13; Is 60.7), or with the Nabate of eighthto seventh-century Assyrian inscriptions (ibid. ). They first clearly emerged near Petra c. 312 b.c., when they refused allegiance to Antigonus, a successor of Alexander the Great. As prosperous caravan traders, they conducted a flourishing commerce along the caravan route from the Persian Gulf across the Arabian Desert to the Palestinian and Syrian coasts. Though they spoke Aramaic, it was influenced by early Arabic, as was their religion and culture; indeed, their rulers sometimes bore the title, "King of the Arabs" (ὁ τ[symbol omitted]ν ' Aράβων τύνράaννος). Some of the chief names of the Nabataean dynasty are Aretas I (c. 169 b.c.), associated with the flight of the Jewish high priest Jason (2 Mc 5.8); Aretas III, the conqueror of Damascus c. 85 b.c.; Aretas IV (9 b.c. to a.d. 40), whose daughter was married to Herod Antipas, but was later repudiated by him in favor of Herodias (Mt 14.3–4). The ethnarch of Aretas IV controlled Damascus at the time of Paul's escape (2 Cor 11.32). The Nabataeans were conquered by the Romans in a.d. 106, and the Nabataean town, Bostra, became the capital of the Roman province, Arabia.
With the decline of the Nabataeans, the rich caravan trade passed into the hands of the Palmyrene Aramaeans. Palmyra was the Greek name used by the Romans for ancient Tadmor, a fertile oasis in the Syrian Desert. An amalgamation of Aramaean tribes settled there and dominated the caravan route from Babylon to Damascus. Though Tadmor had been inhabited much earlier (built by Solomon according to 2 Chr 8.4), it emerged into political importance only in the first century as a somewhat Hellenized kingdom. From that day until its final defeat in a.d. 272 by the Emperor Aurelian, it passed through various periods of Roman colonization and independent rule, a fact that reflected the unstable conditions of Mesopotamia in those centuries. The Aramaeans who settled there were considerably influenced by the spread of Hellenistic and Roman culture to that part of the world; many bilingual inscriptions (Aramaic and Greek) witness to this influence. Palmyra's heyday, which occurred during the reign of Odaenathus and Queen Zenobia (c. a.d. 260), immediately preceded its downfall.
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[j. a. fitzmyer]