Syriac or Syrian Christianity (Syriac: ܡܫܝܚܝܘܬܐ ܣܘܪܝܝܬܐ, mšiḥāiūṯā suryāiṯā), the Syriac-speaking Christians of Mesopotamia, comprises multiple Christian traditions of Eastern Christianity. With a history going back to the 1st century AD, in modern times it is represented by denominations primarily in the Middle East and in Kerala, India. Christianity began in the Middle East in Jerusalem among Aramaic speaking Semitic peoples. It quickly spread to Sassanid-ruled Mesopotamia & Assyria, Roman-ruled Syria (ancient Aramea), Phoenicia, India, and Egypt. From there it spread to Asia Minor, Greece, Armenia, Georgia and the Caucasus region.
Services in this tradition tend to feature liturgical use of ancient Syriac, a dialect of Middle Aramaic that is of direct relation to the Aramaic of Jesus.
Syriac Christianity is divided into two major traditions: Eastern Rite, historically centered in Assyria/Mesopotamia, and West Syrian, centered in Antioch. The Eastern Rite tradition was historically associated with the Church of the East, and is currently employed by the Middle Eastern churches that descend from it, the Assyrian Church of the East, Ancient Church of the East, and the Chaldean Catholic Church, (the members of these churches usually consider themselves to be ethnic Assyrians) as well as by the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church of India. The West Syrian tradition is used by the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Maronite Church, the Syriac Catholic Church, and churches that descend from them, as well as by the Malankara churches of the Saint Thomas Christian tradition in India.
Syriac Christian heritage is transmitted through various Neo Aramaic dialects (particularly the Syriac dialect of Mesopotamia) of old Aramaic. Unlike the Greek Christian culture, Assyrian culture borrowed much from early Rabbinic Judaism and Mesopotamian culture. Whereas Latin and Greek Christian cultures became protected by the Roman and Byzantine empires respectively, Syriac Christianity often found itself marginalised and persecuted. Antioch was the political capital of this culture, and was the seat of the Patriarchs of the church. However, Antioch was heavily Hellenized, and the Mesopotamian cities of Edessa, Nisibis and Ctesiphon became Syriac cultural centres.
The early literature of Syriac Christianity includes the Diatessaron of Tatian; the Curetonian Gospels and the Syriac Sinaiticus; the Peshitta Bible; the Doctrine of Addai and the writings of Aphrahat; and the hymns of Ephrem the Syrian.