A people known as the Arameans lived in the regions of Syria and Mesopotamia in antiquity. They were a large group of linguistically related peoples who spoke dialects of a West Semitic language known as Aramaic. Although not politically unified, they developed powerful city-states that had a strong cultural influence in the Near East in the first millennium BC. The Aramaic language, very similar to Hebrew, became the official international language during the Persian Period, ca. 539–332 BC, and eventually replaced many of the local languages of the area, including Hebrew. As a result, in New Testament times the main local language was Aramaic rather than Hebrew.