What is Syriac

The Syriac language was once widely spoken across the Middle East and Asia. A dialect of Aramaic, Syriac flourished from A.D. 200 to 1300. Similar to Hebrew and Arabic, Syriac is read from right to left. The Syriac script spread widely, reaching as far as central Asia where it was the basis for the Sogdian and Mongolian alphabets.


Centers of Syriac Christianity

Early Christianity began among Aramaic speakers in Roman Palestine on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. According to the New Testament, it was in the Syrian city of Antioch that followers of this religious movement first took the name “Christians”. The spread of this new religion followed linguistic routes: westward among the Greek and Latin speakers of the Roman Empire and eastward among the Aramaic and Syriac populations of Mesopotamia. Over time, Syriac speaking Christians became the great missionaries of early Christianity travelling across the Near East, to eastern Africa, and as far as India and China. This map shows the influence of Syriac churches from A.D. 100 to 1500. These centers include bishoprics (Antioch), schools (Edessa), monasteries (Egypt), imperial capitals (Baghdad), and points of contact on trade routes (Turfan Oasis).


[The Lord’s Prayer in Syriac and English], The Hexaglot Bible. Volume 5.

Although the Syriac version of the Lord’s Prayer is a translation from the Greek New Testament, its cadences and vocabulary may evoke the Aramaic original that Jesus taught his disciples. The devotional practice of prayer has held great importance for many Syriac Christians. A 5th-century Syriac author wrote: “When evening comes, collect your thoughts and ponder over the entire course of the day: observe God’s providential care for you...consider the rising of the moon, the joy of daylight, all the hours and moments, the divisions of time, the sight of different colors, the beautiful adornment of creation, the course of the sun, how your own person has been protected; consider the blowing of the wind.... When you have pondered on all this, wonder at God’s love towards you will well up within you, and gratitude for his grace will bubble up inside of you.” -John the Solitary, translated by S. Brock in The Syriac Fathers on Prayer and the Spiritual Life (1987), 94-5.


Grammatica Syriaca, sive Chaldaica

Jirjis ʿAmira, also known as Georgius Michaelis Amira, (c. 1573-1644) was born in Lebanon and studied at the Maronite College in Rome in 1583. He returned to Lebanon in 1595 and in 1634 he was elected Patriarch of the Maronite Church. His Syriac grammar, Grammatica syriaca, sive chaldaica (1596) is notable for being largely independent of other grammatical scholarship at the time and instead, drawing significant insights from within the Syriac literary traditions. The page displayed here shows the names of the Syriac letters, their Latin phonetic equivalents, and various forms of the Syriac alphabet including the three widely used scripts (from right to left): Estrangelo (“Estrāghelo”), East Syriac (“Nestorianus”), and Serto (“Simplex”).