During the second millennium B.C.E. the Hittites, a group of people who spoke an Indo-European language established an empire, Hattusa, centered in north-central Anatolia (the Asian part of modern-day Turkey). The empire reached its height in the 14th century B.C.E., but by the 12th century B.C.E. had broken up into a number of independent Neo-Hittite city-states. By the beginning of the first millennium B.C.E., a number of the Neo-Hittites states were being overrun by “roaming” Aramean tribes who spoke a Semitic language, Aramaic.
Accounts from the ninth century B.C.E., mainly Neo-Assyrian, depict the Aramean tribes either wrestling with Luwian/Hittite kings for their territories or joining together with them in an effort to stave off the Assyrian conquest. In the famous battle of Qarqar in 853 B.C.E. a coalition of Neo-Hittite and Aramean kings, which also included king Ahab of Israel, formed an anti-Assyrian alliance against Shalmaneser III.
It was about this same time, the mid-ninth century, that the Aramean kings began to produce their own written records, though few would survive. Unlike Assyrian and Babylonian cuneiform, the Arameans wrote with an alphabet used mainly on papyrus or animal skin. Such perishable materials can survive only in the most arid climates such as that of Egypt or Judean desert, but not in the rainier regions where the Aramean kingdoms emerged. Therefore little of Aramaic literature from before the Persian period has survived except for those inscribed on stone in funerary and architectural monuments. The monumental inscriptions of these early Aramean kings make up the bulk of Iron Age Aramaic Literature.
The Semitic language of the Aramean inscriptions, as with their other cultural traditions displays a blend of Syrian, Anatolian and Phoenician elements. The Hittite influence was particularly evident in traditions of royal administration, monumental sculpture and literature. The gods seem to have remained Semitic, at least in name, though Hittite counterparts were often recognized for Semitic deities. Several of the early Aramean inscriptions are reminiscent of Hittite courtly literature known from the Late Bronze Age.
The Hittites had two writing systems: a form of Akkadian Cuneiform adapted for their Indo-European Hittite, and an indigenous hieroglyphic system called Luwian. The Arameans borrowed much from the Neo-Hittites especially in terms of royal and administrative practice. But their Canaanite/ Phoenician alphabet they borrowed from a near-by Semitic culture. Some of the earliest Aramean monumental inscriptions, such as those from Sam’al are written in Phoenician with many Aramaic elements. Although they use the Phoenician alphabet instead of Luwian Hieroglyphics their habit of sculpting the letters in bas relief so that they stand out from the stone, imitates the Luwian inscriptions. Most other Aramean inscriptions of the period are scratched directly into the stone.