Syriac, also known as Syriac Aramaic, is a dialect of Middle Aramaic that was once spoken across much of the Fertile Crescent and Eastern Arabia. Having first appeared in the early first century AD in Edessa, classical Syriac became a major literary language throughout the Middle East from the 4th to the 8th centuries, the classical language of Edessa, preserved in a large body of Syriac literature. Indeed, Syriac literature comprises roughly 90% of the extant Aramaic literature.
Old Aramaic was adopted by the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911-605 BC) when they conquered the various Aramean city-kingdoms to its west.
The Achaemenid Empire, which rose after the fall of the Assyrian Empire, also adopted Old Aramaic as its official language and Old Aramaic quickly became the lingua franca of the region.
During the course of the third and fourth centuries AD, the inhabitants of the region began to embrace Christianity.
Along with Latin and Greek, Syriac became one of "the three most important Christian languages in the early centuries" of the Christian Era. From the 1st century AD Syriac became the vehicle of Syriac Christianity and culture, and the liturgical language of the Syriac Orthodox Church and subsequently the Church of the East, along with its descendants: the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Assyrian Church of the East, the Ancient Church of the East, the Saint Thomas Christian Churches, and the Assyrian Pentecostal Church.
Syriac Christianity and language spread throughout Asia as far as the Indian Malabar Coast and Eastern China, and was the medium of communication and cultural dissemination for the later Arabs and, to a lesser extent, the Parthian Empire and Sassanid Empire Persians. Primarily a Christian medium of expression, Syriac had a fundamental cultural and literary influence on the development of Arabic, which largely replaced it towards the 14th century. Syriac remains the liturgical language of Syriac Christianity to this day.
Syriac is a Middle Aramaic language and, as such, a language of the Northwestern branch of the Semitic family. It is written in the Syriac alphabet, a derivation of the Aramaic alphabet.