Syriac, the slightly archaizing Eastern Aramaic dialect of the city of Edessa (Orhāy, ar-Ruhā, Urfa), is the most important Aramaic dialect used by Christians. It is the earliest and basic language of Oriental Christianity and was spoken by the large number of Christians living under Sasanian rule. The literature written in Syriac is by far the largest and most varied in any Aramaic dialect. Most of it deals with theology, liturgy, and related matters, but it has also produced a substantial number of secular works on subjects such as history, philosophy, and science. Its religious poetry is distinguished by true artistic feeling and great emotional impact. The physicians of the medical academy in Gondēšāpūr (Jondīsābūr) wrote their works in Syriac. Their Syriac translations of Greek medical works, and many other Syriac translations from Greek literature and scholarship served frequently as intermediaries in the Greco-Arabic translation movement of the 8th and 9th centuries. Thus Syriac served as an important contributor to the mainstream of medieval Islamic and Western European civilization. (from: Franz Rosenthal, ARAMAIC i. General)

See also: Gernot Windfuhr, IRAN vii. NON-IRANIAN LANGUAGES (10). Aramaic.

Figure 1. Table of Syriac characters [untitled] , by Julius Euting, in Theodor Nöldeke, Compendious Syriac Grammar, tr. James A. Crichton from the 2d and improved German ed., London, 1904, p. 2.


This entry is divided into three sub-articles:

i. Iranian loanwords in Syriac.

ii. Syriac writings on pre-Islamic Iran.

iii. Syriac translators as the medium for transmission of Greek ideas to Sasanian Iran.

(Multiple Authors)

Originally Published: March 9, 2015

Last Updated: March 9, 2015

Cite this entry:

EIr, "SYRIAC LANGUAGE," Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2015, available at (accessed on 09 March 2015).