Aramaic is a Semitic language spoken in much of the Middle East outside the Arabian Peninsula in ancient times. It first entered the region sometime in the 12th century BC and eventually became the major spoken language of Syria, Judea, and Mesopotamia, and along with Greek and (later) Latin, a major language of trade in the Mediterranean. Aramaic was almost certainly the native language of Jesus (Hebrew, by his time, mostly being used for religious purposes by the Jews). Parts of the Old Testament of the Bible were written in Aramaic, as was some of the Talmud, the main scripture, besides the Torah, of Judaism.
Aramaic retained its importance until the conquest of the Middle East by the Arabs in the 7th and 8th centuries AD. The Arabs made Arabic the dominant language of government, and, over the next several hundred years, it replaced Aramaic as the first language of most of the population. Aramaic is still spoken by several thousand people in isolated villages in Syria and Iraq.
By around the 8th century BC, Aramaic began to be written down using an adaptation of the Phoenician alphabet. The Aramaic writing system represents consonants only (though it may sometimes indicate vowels by means of diacritics).
The term "Syriac" is often used to refer to later phases of the history of Aramaic.