Era100 BCE – 240 CE
Hatran alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3None (mis)
RegionUpper Mesopotamia
EraDramatically declined as a vernacular language after the 14th century[1]
Hatran alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3
22 Letters of the Ashurian alphabet

Aramaic of Hatra, Hatran Aramaic or Ashurian designates a Middle Aramaic dialect, that was used in the region of Hatra and Assur in northeastern parts of Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), approximately from the 3rd century BC to the 3rd century CE.[2][3] Its range extended from the Nineveh Plains in the centre, up to Tur Abdin in the north, Dura-Europos in the west and Tikrit in the south.

Most of the evidence of the language comes from inscriptions within the cities dating between 100 BC and the mid-3rd century AD, coinciding with Shapur I's destruction of Hatra in 241 AD and Assur in 257 AD.[4][5] As a result of Hatra being the site with the most attestation, Hatran Aramaic is a more common name. It is attested by inscriptions from various local sites, that were published by Walter Andrae in 1912 and were studied by S. Ronzevalle and P. Jensen. The excavations undertaken by the Iraqi Department of Antiquities brought to light more than 100 new texts, the publication of which was undertaken by F. Safar in the journal Sumer. The first four series were the subject of reviews in the journal Syria. The texts range in date from the 2nd or 3rd century BCE to the destruction of the city c. 240 CE; the earliest dated text provides a date of 98 BCE.

For the most part, these inscriptions are short commemorative graffiti with minimal text. The longest of the engraved inscriptions does not have more than 13 lines. It is therefore difficult to identify more than a few features of the Aramaic dialect of Hatra, which shows overall the greatest affinity to Syriac.

Slab with Aramaic Hatran Inscription from Hatra. Iraq Museum

The stone inscriptions bear witness to an effort to establish a monumental script. This script is little different from that of the Aramaic inscriptions of Assur (possessing the same triangular š, and the use of the same means to avoid confusion between m, s, and q). The ds and the rs are not distinguished from one another, and it is sometimes difficult not to confuse w and y.

Having conquered the Aramean city-states to the west, the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911–605 BC) adopted Old Aramaic as the official language alongside the Assyrian Akkadian language. With the Achaemenid Empire succeeding them and adopting Old Aramaic, it rose to become the lingua franca of Iran, Mesopotamia and the Levant.[6]


Hatran Aramaic developed through dialectic deviation as well as producing its own script. Various dialects of Aramaic developed around major cities or regions including the sister dialect of Syriac (city of Edessa), Mandaic (region surrounding the head of the Persian Gulf, Nabataean (from the Negev to the east bank of the Jordan River and the Sinai Peninsula), Jewish Babylonian Aramaic (Babylon), Palmyrene (Palmyra) and various Palestinian sub dialects (Palestine). Syriac, Mandaic and Christian Palestinian Aramaic also developed their own variants of the original script which is still employed today by Western Neo-Aramaic speakers as well as members of the Jewish nation for Hebrew who refer to it as ‘Ktāḇ Āšūrī’ (Assyrian writing) since it was the Assyrian monarchs who promulgated it.[7]

Hatran Aramaic and Syriac have been heavily influenced by Akkadian, partly due to the proximity to the heartland as well as the native Assyrians having adopted these two dialects. Many commonly-used nouns such as month names were burrowed from Akkadian as well as being influenced phonologically, morphologically and syntactically.[8]


The city of Nisibis came under siege several times during the Roman-Persian Wars. However, in 363 AD the Romans were forced to surrender the city to the Persians and standby as the Christian population was expelled.[9] St Ephrem the Syrian was one of these refugees and ended up settling in Edessa. The city was flourishing with pagans, quite the opposite to his beloved Nisibis which had been a bastion for Syriac-speaking Christians.[10] As Edessa's demographics shifted to a Christian-majority which used Syriac as the language of worship, the language rose to become the new regional lingua franca. Well over 70 important Syriac writers are known from the gold age of Syriac (5th – 9th centuries), stretching from the Levant and the Sinai to the foothills of the Zagros Mountains and Qatar.[11] Combined with the devastation of the cities of Assur and Hatra, Syriac replaced the language of the locals and remained as a major language until its decline following the Mongol invasions and conquests and rise of the Neo-Aramaic languages.

Evidence and attestation

With Hatra enjoying great prosperity during the life of the language, the city has by far the most inscriptions with the city of Assur also containing numerous inscriptions. The rest of the evidence is spread sparsely throughout Dura-Europos, Gaddāla, Tikrit, Qabr Abu Naif, Abrat al-Sagira and Sa'adiya.[12] The surviving corpus which has been published, transliterated and translated consists of commemorative and votive inscriptions, similar to those found in Edessa, Palmyra and among the Nabataean inscriptions. This method usually includes the date of completion of the writing, place, person who commissioned the inscription or statue as well as the scribe's own details on some occasions. Unlike the Neo-Assyrian, Neo-Babylonian and the Syriac scribes of the Sasanian realm, the regal year is not included.[13] Both Assyro-Babylonian and Arabian gods are mentioned in the inscriptions including Ashur, Allat, Bel, Gad (Tyche), Nabu, Nasr, (Apollo), Shamash and Sin. ܽWhile both cities also attest the personal names of affluent citizens, the Hatran rulers with distinctly Parthian names are attested only in Hatra.[14]

Ashurian Transliteration English Translation Syriac Equivalent
'Assurḥēl Ashur is powerful ܐܠܗܐ ܚܝܠܬܢܐ
'Assurḥannī Ashur took pity on me ܐܬܪܚܡ ܐܠܗܐ ܥܠܝ
'Assurəmar Ashur has declared ܐܡܪ ܐܠܗܐ
'Assurnṯan Ashur has given (compare with Esarhaddon) ܢܬܠ ܐܠܗܐ
'Assur'qab Ashur has replaced (a son) ܥܩܒ ܐܠܗܐ
'Assuršma' Ashur has heard (our prayer/supplication) ܫܡܥ ܐܠܗܐ
'Assurtāreṣ Ashur set (it) right ܬܪܨ ܐܠܗܐ
'Ap̄rahāṭ Aphrahat (or sage) ܐܦܪܗܛ ܐܘ ܚܟܝܡܐ
Bēṯ(ə)lāhyhaḇ The house of God has given (a son) ܒܝܬ ܐܠܗܐ ܝܗܒ
Bar Nērgāl Son of Nergal ܒܪ ܪܓܠ
Bar Nešrā Son of Nasr (the eagle) ܒܪ ܢܫܪܐ
Māranyhaḇ Our lord has given (a son) ܝܗܒ ܡܪܢ
Māryā The lord (used as a term for the Hatran rulers before using the title king; used by Syriac-speaking Christians to refer to God) ܡܪܝܐ
Mlāḇēl Bel has filled ܡܠܐ ܒܝܠ
Nḇūḇnā Nabu has built (a son) ܒܢܐ ܢܒܘ
Nḇūḡabbār Nabu is mighty ܢܒܘ ܓܢܒܪܐ
Nḇūdayyān Nabu is the judge ܢܒܘ ܕܝܢܐ
Nērgāldammar Nergal is wondrous ܢܪܓܠ ܕܘܡܪܐ
Nešrānṯan Nasr has given (a son) ܢܬܠ ܢܫܪܐ
Sanaṭrūq Sanatruq I and Sanatruq II ܣܢܛܪܘܩ
Slōkh Seleucus ܣܠܘܟ
Walagaš Vologash ܘܠܓܫ

Grammatical sketch


The dialect of Hatra is no more consistent than that of Palmyra in its use of matres lectiones to indicate the long vowels ō and ī; the pronominal suffix of the 3rd person plural is written indiscriminately, and in the same inscription one finds hwn and hn, the quantifier kwl and kl "all", the relative pronoun dy and d, and the word byš and "evil".


The following features are attested:


A weakening of ‘ayn; in one inscription, the masculine singular demonstrative adjective is written ‘dyn (‘dyn ktb’ "this inscription") which corresponds to Mandaic and Jewish Babylonian Aramaic hādēn. Similar demonstratives, ‘adī and ‘adā, are attested in Jewish Babylonian Aramaic.



The divine name Nergal, written nrgl, appears in three inscriptions. The pronunciation nergōl is also attested in the Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin, 63b) where it rhymes with tarnəgōl, "cock."

Syntactic phonology

The Hatran b-yld corresponds to the Syriac bēt yaldā "anniversary". The apocope of the final consonant of the substantive bt in the construct state is not attested in either Old Aramaic or Syriac; it is, however, attested in other dialects such as Jewish Babylonian Aramaic and Jewish Palestinian Aramaic.


Verbal morphology

  1. In the jussive: lṭb bꜥšym "that Bacl Šemēn may announce it" (Syriac ’aṭeb(b)), l’ ldbrhn ... bqṭyr’ "that he not oppress them" (Syriac dəbar baqəṭīrā "to oppress," lit. "to carry away with force").
  2. In the indicative: mn dy lšḥqh "whoever strikes him" (Syriac šəḥaq), mn dy lqrhy wl’ ldkrhy "whoever reads it and does not make mention of it", mn dlꜥwl mhk’ bmšn "whoever goes from here to Mesene", kwl mn dlcbwr ... wlktwb lꜥlyh "whoever passes ... and writes over".
  3. The preformative l- is employed identically in the Aramaic of Assur. The dialect of Hatra is thus further distinguished from Syriac (which uses an n- preformative) and also from Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, in which the use of the l- preformative for the indicative is not consistent.

Nominal morphology

The distinction between the three states is apparent. As in Syriac, the masculine plural form of the emphatic state has the inflection , written -’. The confusion of this form with that of the construct state may explain the constructions bn’ šmšbrk "sons of Š." and bn’ ddhwn "their cousins." The absolute state is scarcely used: klbn "dogs" and dkyrn "(that they may be) remembered."


The ancient Semitic construction, according to which the counted noun, in the plural, is preceded by a numeral in the construct state, with an inversion of genders, is attested by one inscription: tltt klbn "three dogs." This same construction has been discovered in Nabataean: tltt qysrym "the three Caesars."


As in Syriac, the analytical construction of the noun complement is common. The use of the construct state appears to be limited to kinship terms and some adjectives: bryk’ ꜥh’. In the analytical construction, the definite noun is either in the emphatic state followed by d(y) (e.g. ṣlm’ dy ... "statue of ...", spr’ dy brmryn’ "the scribe of (the god) Barmarēn") or is marked by the anticipatory pronominal suffix (e.g. qnh dy rꜥ’ "creator of the earth," ꜥl ḥyyhy d ... ’ḥyhy "for the life of his brother," ꜥl zmth dy mn dy ... "against the hair (Syriac zemtā) of whomever ..."). The complement of the object of the verb is also rendered analytically: ...l’ ldkrhy lnšr qb "do not make mention of N.", mn dy lqrhy lꜥdyn ktb’ "whoever reads this inscription."

Likewise, the particle d(y) can have a simple declarative meaning: ...l’ lmr dy dkyr lṭb "(a curse against whomever) does not say, 'may he be well remembered'" which can be compared with l’ lmr dy dkyr.


Practically all of the known Hatran words are found in Syriac, including words of Akkadian origin, such as ’rdkl’ "architect" (Syriac ’ardiklā), and Parthian professional nouns such as pšgryb’ / pzgryb’ "inheritor of the throne" (Syriac pṣgryb’); three new nouns, which appear to denote some religious functions, are presumably of Iranian origin: hdrpṭ’ (which Safar compares with the Zoroastrian Middle Persian hylpt’ hērbed "teacher-priest"), and the enigmatic terms brpdmrk’ and qwtgd/ry’.


Hatran script
Hatran Aramaic script
Script type
Time period
c.98 BCE — c.257 AD
Related scripts
Parent systems
ISO 15924
ISO 15924Hatr (127), ​Hatran
Unicode alias
Final Accepted Script Proposal

The Hatran alphabet is the script used to write Aramaic of Hatra, a dialect that was spoken from approximately 98/97 BC (year 409 of the Seleucid calendar) to 240 AD by early inhabitants of present-day northern Iraq. Many inscriptions of this alphabet could be found at Hatra, an ancient city in northern Iraq built by the Seleucid Empire and also used by the Parthian Empire, but subsequently destroyed by the Sassanid Empire in 241 AD. Assur also has several inscriptions which came to an end following its destruction by the Sasanians in 257 AD while the rest of the inscriptions are spread sparsely throughout Dura-Europos, Gaddala, Tur Abdin, Tikrit, Sa'adiya and Qabr Abu Naif.[15] Many of the contemporary ruins were destroyed by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in early 2015. It was encoded in the Unicode Standard 8.0 with support from UC Berkeley's Script Encoding Initiative.

The script is written from right to left, as is typical of Aramaic scripts and of most abjads. Numerals are also written from right to left (bigger place value on the right), and there are two known punctuation marks as well. Some common ligatures also exist, and they do not appear to be necessary, and are rather just a shorthand form of writing. Some 600 texts are known to exist.[16]

The Ashurian alphabet consists of the following letters. Ligatures have been used in certain inscriptions, although it appears to be optional.[17]

Name Letter Sound Value Numerical
Inscription Form Transliteration IPA
ʾĀlap̄* ʾ or nothing [ʔ]
or silent
1 א ا
Bēṯ hard: b
soft: (also bh, v, β)
hard: [b]
soft: [v] or [w]
2 ב ب
Gāmal hard: g
soft: (also , gh, ġ, γ)
hard: [ɡ]
soft: [ɣ]
3 ג ج
Dālaṯ* hard: d
soft: (also dh, ð, δ)
hard: [d]
soft: [ð]
4 ד د, ذ
* h [h] 5 ה ه

consonant: w
mater lectionis: ū or ō
(also u or o)
consonant: [w]
mater lectionis: [u] or [o]
6 ו و
Zayn* z [z] 7 ז ز
Ḥēṯ [ħ], [x], or [χ] 8 ח ح, خ
Ṭēṯ [] 9 ט ط, ظ
Yōḏ consonant: y
mater lectionis: ī (also i)
consonant: [j]
mater lectionis: [i] or [e]
10 י ي
Kāp̄ hard: k
soft: (also kh, x)
hard: [k]
soft: [x]
20 כ ך ك
Lāmaḏ l [l] 30 ל ل
Mīm m [m] 40 מ ם م
Nūn n [n] 50 נ ן ن
Semkaṯ s [s] 60 ס
ʿĒ ʿ [ʕ] 70 ע ع, غ
hard: p
soft: (also , , ph, f)
hard: [p]
soft: [f]
80 פ ף ف
Ṣāḏē* [] 90 צ ץ ص, ض
Qōp̄ q [q] 100 ק ق
Rēš* r [r] 200 ר ر
Šīn š (also sh) [ʃ] 300 ש س, ش
Taw* hard: t
soft: (also th, θ)
hard: [t]
soft: [θ]
400 ת ت, ث


Main article: Hatran (Unicode block)

Hatran/Ashurian script was added to the Unicode Standard in June, 2015 with the release of version 8.0.

The Unicode block for Hatran/Ashurian is U+108E0–U+108FF:

Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+108Ex 𐣠 𐣡 𐣢 𐣣 𐣤 𐣥 𐣦 𐣧 𐣨 𐣩 𐣪 𐣫 𐣬 𐣭 𐣮 𐣯
U+108Fx 𐣰 𐣱 𐣲 𐣴 𐣵 𐣻 𐣼 𐣽 𐣾 𐣿
1.^ As of Unicode version 15.1
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

See also


  1. ^ Micheau 2006, pp. 391.
  2. ^ Beyer 1986, p. 32.
  3. ^ Gzella 2015, p. 273.
  4. ^ Beyer 1998, p. 155
  5. ^ Geoff Hann (2015). Iraq: The ancient sites and Iraqi Kurdistan. Bradt Travel Guides. p. 246. ISBN 9781841624884.
  6. ^ M. Folmer (2015). The Aramaic Language in the Achaemenid Period: A Study in Linguistic Variation. Peeters Publishers. p. 6. ISBN 978-9068317404.
  7. ^ "Aramaic language". Encyclopædia Britannica. 29 March 2024.
  8. ^ Stephen Kaufman (1974). The Akkadian influences on Aramaic (PDF).
  9. ^ "St Ephraem". New Advent.
  10. ^ MSusan Myers (2010). Spirit Epicleses in the Acts of Thomas. Mohr Siebeck. p. 38. ISBN 9783161494727.
  11. ^ "Origins of Syriac". Beth Mardutho. Archived from the original on 2018-06-28. Retrieved 2016-06-03.
  12. ^ Beyer 1998, p. 155
  13. ^ Sebastian P. Brock (2015). Fashion in early Syriac colophons. Archived from the original on 2016-04-05. Retrieved 2016-06-04.
  14. ^ Beyer 1998, pp. 155–185
  15. ^ Beyer 1998, p. 155
  16. ^ Everson, Michael (September 24, 2012). "N4324: Preliminary proposal for encoding the Hatran script in the SMP of the UCS" (PDF). International Organization for Standardization. Retrieved 20 August 2016.
  17. ^ Everson, Michael (September 24, 2012). "Preliminary proposal for encoding the Hatran script in the SMP of the UCS" (PDF). International Organization for Standardization. Retrieved 30 May 2016.