Lebanon in History from the Earliest Times to the Present

By Philip K. Hitti | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII PERIOD OF INDEPENDENCE: TRADE, ARTS AND COLONIES

IN the course of the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries a large part of Mesopotamia and North and Central Syria was overrun by new Semitic hordes, the Aramaeans. Gradually earlier inhabitants of the land, whether Amorites, Hurrians or Hittites, were swamped and absorbed or driven out. Mount Lebanon hindered this penetration westward. In it the old Amorite and Hittite communities continued to flourish, while in its maritime plain the Canaanite settlements remained untouched. By 1200 B.C. Damascus, future capital of the Aramaean state, was already peopled by the new Semites. In due course the newcomers assimilated the higher culture of the Amorites and the Canaanites among whom they settled. One important feature of their own culture, however, they retained -- language. Unlike the Israelites and the Philistines, who in the late thirteenth and early twelfth centuries were settling south of them, the Aramaeans maintained their original dialect, the one later used as the mother tongue of Christ and destined to play a major rôle in the linguistic life of the entire West Asian region. What makes this spread of Aramaic especially remarkable is the fact that it was not a concomitant of any political expansion but rather of commercial activity. By the eighth pre-Christian century Aramaic had displaced Canaanite as the language of Syria. There it remained entrenched until the Moslem conquest of the seventh Christian century, after which it was replaced by its Arabic cousin.

Aramaeans

Founded in the late eleventh century, almost contemporaneously with the Hebrew monarchy, the state of Aram Damascus comprised the hinterland of Syria east of Mount Lebanon together with North Syria and Bashan. Aram then, centring in Damascus, became synonymous with what the Greeks later called Syria and was so used in the Old Testament.

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