Biblical Studies Aram
Hélène Sader
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 September 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0278


The first genuine reference to Aram is in a 14th-century BCE text of Amenhotep III and attests to a region located in north-central Syria. In the 11th-century BCE Middle Assyrian texts, Aram appears in connection with Ahlamû (i.e., nomadic) groups and refers to the area between the Khabur and the Euphrates and even beyond, since these Ahlamû of the Land Aram or “Aramaeans” seem to move freely also west of the Euphrates as far as Jebel Bishri, Palmyra, and Mount Lebanon. In the 8th-century BCE Aramaic inscription of Sfire there is mention of “All” and “Upper and Lower Aram.” These terms refer most probably to a geographical area which seems to cover roughly the boundaries of modern Syria. In the 8th-century BCE Aramaic inscriptions of Breij and Afis, Aram is the name of a south Syrian kingdom the capital of which was Damascus. This latter use of Aram is attested to in the Old Testament, where the term appears associated also with specific geopolitical entities such as the chiefdoms of Aram-Ṣobah and Aram Beth–Rehob. In short, the available written sources indicate that Aram is a geographical term which refers at times to a specific polity, and, at others, to a wider geographical area located within the territory of present-day Syria. Modern scholarship designates as “Aramaean” any of the Iron Age polities of Syria who bore the characteristic appellation Bīt-PN, and/or whose rulers bore Aramaic names and left inscriptions in the West Semitic dialect known as Aramaic. The inhabitants of these states are referred to as Aramaeans. Regarding the etymology of the name Aram, there is no scholarly consensus on the origin and meaning of the word. Among the most commonly accepted suggestions is an etymology derived from a Semitic root rwm (“to be high”). Another suggestion interprets the name as a broken plural meaning “white antelopes” or “wild bulls.”

Comprehensive Works

Iron Age Syria was divided into several polities, some of which came to be known in modern scholarship as the Aramaean states of Syria. So there was not one but several Aramaean states who shared the same language, religion, and social organization. While earlier works were concerned mainly with the reconstruction of their political history, modern treatments of the subject have widened the scope of scholarly studies to include the results of recent archaeological excavations. In search of an Aramaean identity, scholars carefully studied their material culture and tribal society. This recent evidence has shed new light on the origin of the Aramaeans and on the formation processes of their polities. The study of their material culture, economy, religion, art, script, and language has provided a new basis for an in-depth revision of this very important period of Syrian history.

  • Bunnens, Guy, ed. Essays on Syria in the Iron Age. Ancient Near Eastern Studies Supplement 7. Leuven, Belgium: Peeters Press, 2000.

    An edited collection of scholarly articles which discuss various aspects of Aramaean history and culture as well as the results of some recent excavations in Syria which are relevant to the origin and material culture of the Aramaeans.

  • Daviau, Michèle, John W. Wevers, and Michael Weigl, eds. The World of the Aramaeans. London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001.

    This three-volume Festschrift in honor of Paul-Emile Dion is a wide-ranging multi-authored work that discusses aspects of Aramaean culture as well as its connections to neighboring cultures.

  • Dion, Paul Emile. Les Araméens à l’âge du Fer: Histoire politique et structures sociales. Paris: Gabalda, 1997.

    Extensive discussion of the political history of the Aramaean states of Syria and an in-depth investigation of their social structure.

  • Dušek, Jan, and Jana Mynářová, eds. Aramaean Borders: Defining Aramaean Territories in the 10th–8th Centuries B.C.E. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2019.

    Collection of scholarly articles dedicated to the study of the geographical boundaries of some Aramaean polities.

  • Lipínski, Edouard. The Aramaeans: Their Ancient History, Culture, Religion. Leuven, Belgium: Peeters, 2000.

    This comprehensive work adds to the previous studies a detailed investigation of the small Aramaean entities on the Euphrates bend, of northeast Syria, and of the Aramaeans of south Babylonia, who had been treated separately. It also dedicates chapters to the economic history and religion of the Aramaeans.

  • Niehr, Herbert, ed. The Aramaeans in Ancient Syria. Handbook of Oriental Studies 106. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2014.

    Useful collection of scholarly articles dealing with Aramaean history, language, material culture, and religion.

  • Sader, Hélène. Les états araméens de Syrie depuis leur fondation et jusqu’à leur transformation en provinces assyriennes. Beiruter Texte und Studien 36. Beirut, Lebanon: Steiner Verlag, 1987.

    Forty years after the publication of Dupont-Sommer’s Les Araméens (Paris: Maisonneuve, 1949), first updated discussion of the history of the Aramaean states of Syria. The study deals exclusively with Bit Bahiani, Bit Adini, Bit Agusi, Bit-Gabbari, Hamath, and Aram Damascus and their published material remains.

  • Younger, K. Lawson, Jr. A Political History of the Arameans: From Their Origins to the End of Their Polities. Atlanta: SBL Press, 2016.

    The definitive monograph on the Aramaeans that discusses in detail their origin as well as the history of each individual polity including the small biblical and Syrian Jezirah chiefdoms. It also includes a chapter on the Aramaeans of south Babylonia.

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