In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Archaeology and Material Culture of Aram and the Arameans

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Archaeological Research History before 1940
  • Archaeological Research History after 1945
  • Urbanism and Architecture
  • Other Aspects of Material Culture
  • Aram and Israel

Biblical Studies Archaeology and Material Culture of Aram and the Arameans
Dominik Bonatz
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 September 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0280


At the end of the second millennium BCE, the geographical term “Aram” appears for the first time in the annals of the Middle Assyrian kings and in connection with the ahlammû or ahlammu Arameans (or Aramaeans). At that time, the ahlammu Arameans were considered nomadic tribes who lived in the area between the Khabur and the Middle Euphrates, where they constituted a serious threat to the cultivated land and the Assyrian state. From the ninth century BCE on, when the Aramean tribes had already spread to other parts of Syria as far as Mount Lebanon, it was more common to refer to the “Land of Aram” as the geographic designation for a large area that included several different ethnolinguistic population groups. The term is used by the Assyrians and in the Hebrew Bible, but only very rarely in local Aramaic written sources. Therefore, it is important to stress that Aram was mostly a foreign-constructed term that local dynasts adopted only in a few cases for political or territorial self-expression. Despite the fact that the Aramaic language, which includes several subdialects, gradually developed from the ninth to the seventh century BCE, there is no reason to assume an Aramean political or cultural identity for this period. This is confirmed by the material culture, which definitely shows no distinction between territories and states dominated by Aramaic-speaking population groups and others, such as the so-called Luwian states. Hence, reviewing the archaeology and material culture of Aram and the Arameans in this article calls for caution about any ethnic ascriptions. In fact, the Aramean states of the first half of the first millennium BCE, like Bīt Bahiani/Guzana, Huzirina, Bīt Adīni, Bīt Agusi, Sam’al-Ya’udi, Hamat/Lu’aš, and Damascus-Aram, were individually shaped political units with a strong sense of urban identity. They developed and interacted within the larger Syrian koine that emerged based on common cultural traditions and that continuously transformed its image until it was fully integrated into the Neo-Assyrian state. In this context, it is rather illuminating to investigate the cultural layout of a single state in order to depart from the fallacious idea of a conscious Aramean identity.

General Overviews

In the first comprehensive publication dedicated to the history of the Arameans, Dupont-Sommer 1949, archaeology and material culture are only very marginally touched upon. So, Sader 1987 is the first thorough attempt to integrate the evidence from excavations into the historical and linguistic perspective on Arameans. Lipiński 2000, too, provides rich historical information, but the contributions of Bonatz 2014 and Novák 2014 in Niehr 2014 are the first papers devoted explicitly to the art and architecture of the Arameans. Extremely useful introductions, which include a distinct archaeological perspective, are Dion 1995, Akkermans and Schwartz 2003, and especially Mazzoni 2014. Blanchard 2019 presents masterpieces of Aramean art with helpful background information. Most recently, Osborn 2021 discusses aspects of Aramean art and culture in the context of a refreshing new look on the Syro-Anatolian city-states of the Iron Age.

  • Akkermans, Peter M. M. G., and Glenn M. Schwartz. The Archaeology of Syria: From Complex Hunter-Gatherers to Early Urban Societies, ca. 16,000–300 BC. Cambridge World Archaeology. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

    In this book, the chapter on Iron Age Syria includes an insightful section on the Luwian-Aramean states, which takes aspects of material culture into consideration (pp. 366–377).

  • Blanchard, Vincent, ed. Royaumes oubliés: De L’Empire Hittite aux Araméens. Paris: Lienard, 2019.

    This well-illustrated and commented catalogue was published on the occasion of an exhibition in the Louvre Museum in which outstanding objects and artworks from the Aramean states, including the restored sculptures from Tell Halaf, were presented to the public.

  • Bonatz, Dominik. “Art.” In The Aramaeans in Ancient Syria. Edited by Herbert Niehr, 205–253. Handbook of Oriental Studies, Section 1, Ancient Near East, vol. 106. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2014.

    A comprehensive overview of monumental art in architecture, free-standing sculptures, seals, and minor arts in the Aramean states of Iron Age I–II, with critical remarks on the problematic definition of an Aramean art.

  • Dion, Paul-Eugène. “Aramaean Tribes and Nations of First-Millennium Western Asia.” In Civilizations of the Ancient Near East. Vol. 2. Edited by Jack M. Sasson, 1281–1294. New York: Scribner, 1995.

    A short overview that focuses on the origin and spread of the Arameans in Syria and that also includes a section on their material culture.

  • Dupont-Sommer, André. Les Araméens. Paris: Maisoneuve, 1949.

    The first comprehensive but predominantly historical and philological study of the Arameans.

  • Lipiński, Edward. The Aramaeans: Their Ancient History, Culture, Religion. Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 100. Louvain, Belgium: Peeters, 2000.

    This is the most comprehensive work so far on the history and political organization of the Arameans from the twelfth to the seventh century BCE, which also includes the Chaldeans in Babylonia and the northern Arabian tribes. The author uses mainly textual sources and pays attention to linguistic features; however, archaeological evidences are not taken into consideration.

  • Mazzoni, Stefania. “The Aramean States during the Iron Age II–III Periods.” In The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of the Levant, c. 8000–332 BCE. Edited by Margreet L. Steiner and Ann E. Killebrew, 683–716. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    A comprehensive and state-of-the-art introduction to the political, economic, and cultural development of the Aramean states during Iron Age II–III, with evidence taken mostly from the archaeological record.

  • Niehr, Herbert, ed. The Aramaeans in Ancient Syria. Handbook of Oriental Studies, Section 1, Ancient Near East, Vol. 106. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2014.

    An updated encyclopedic compendium on the Arameans in ancient Syria that includes chapters on history, society (including law and the economy), language and script, literature, religion, art, architecture, Arameans outside of Syria, and Aramean heritage.

  • Novák, Mirko. “Architecture.” In The Aramaeans in Ancient Syria. Edited by Herbert Niehr, 255–271. Handbook of Oriental Studies, Section 1, Ancient Near East, Vol. 106. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2014.

    A systematic consideration of urban elements in the Aramean states, including city planning, citadels and fortifications, palaces, temples, houses, and workshops.

  • Osborn, James F. The Syro-Anatolian City-States: An Iron Age Culture. Oxford Studies in the Archaeology of Ancient States. New York: Oxford University Press, 2021.

    DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199315833.001.0001

    In this book, a new approach is presented to define the origins and development of the “Syro-Anatolian Culture Complex” in the Iron Age. Monuments from the so-called Aramean city-states are discussed in several chapters of the book, but the approach is far from identifying them as Aramean art.

  • Sader, Hélène S. Les états araméens de Syrie depuis leur fondation jusqu’à leur transformation en provinces assyriennes. Beiruter Texte und Studien 36. Wiesbaden, Germany: Franz Steiner, 1987.

    This study is still a valuable source for the history and archaeology of six Aramean states (Guzana, Bīt Adīni, Bīt Agusi, Sam’al, Hamat, and Damascus-Aram), although the year of its publication makes it necessary to consult updated works that take account of recent discoveries and research activities.

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