Aramaic as a Lingua Franca During the Persian Empire (538-333 B.C.E.)

Chul-hyun Bae 1
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1Seoul National University

Copyright ⓒ 2016, Sejong University Language Research Institue. This is an Open-Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Published Online: Jan 01, 2017


In the sixth century B.C.E. King Darius, king of the then-illiterate Persians, subjected the peoples from the Nile to the Indus. Old Persian, the language of the ruling Persian class, did not spread beyond the Zagros mountain because the rapidity of his empire’s expansion outstripped the speed of its diffusion and intelligibility among the provinces of his vast empire. Furthermore, Old Persian script, newly created during the time of King Darius, was used only for special declarations, edicts, and proclamations of the king. Therefore, King Darius was forced to employ the contemporaneous languages of the ancient Near East for the record of his empire. For effective diplomatic communication among the provinces of the empire, Aramaic, a non-Iranian language, as a lingua franca, was chosen. It was a natural choice and a practical one: Aramaic was already widely spoken in the Levant, Egypt, and Western Iran and its alphabetic script was much easier to learn and write than the complicated Elamite or Akkadian cuneiform.

Keywords: pidgin; creole; lingua franca; Aramaic; Bisitun Inscription; Persian Empire



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