As people began to settle down in towns in West Asia, about 4000 BC, they began to speak differently from their neighbors. Some people spoke Hebrew, some spoke Arabic, some spoke Akkadian. The people who lived in Syria spoke Aramaic.
After the Dark Age around 1000 BC, these Syrians spread out into Babylon and Assyria, and they brought their language with them. They also brought the newly invented alphabet to write it with. Aramaic slowly became the language everyone used for government, and to communicate with strangers. By about 600 BC, most people in West Asia spoke at least some Aramaic, even if it wasn’t their first language.
Then the Persians conquered West Asia and made it all into the Persian Empire in the 500s BC. The Persians didn’t speak Aramaic themselves – they spoke Farsi, an Indo-European language. But they still went right on using Aramaic to talk to the people they ruled. With so many people using the Aramaic alphabet to keep records and write letters, people got sick of drawing little pictures and worked out easier, quicker ways to make the letters. You can see what Aramaic looked like on the right. It’s the same letters, in the same order, but simpler.
Under Alexander the Great, and then under the Romans and the Sassanians, people in West Asia went right on using Aramaic as their main language. Aramaic was what Jesusand his disciples spoke, most of the time. Most people in West Asia – except the Persians, who kept on speaking Farsi – kept using Aramaic until about 700 AD, when the Islamic conquests caused people to slowly shift to speaking Arabic instead.