History of Greek

This article is an overview of the history of the Greek language.


Proto Greek Area reconstruction
Proto-Greek area according to linguist Vladimir I. Georgiev

There are several theories about the origins of the Greek language. One theory suggests that it originated with a migration of proto-Greek speakers into the Greek peninsula, which is dated to any period between 3000 BC and 1700 BC. Another theory maintains that the migration into Greece occurred at a pre-proto-Greek (late PIE) stage, and the characteristic Greek sound-changes occurred later.

Mycenaean Greek

The first known script for writing Greek was the Linear B syllabary, used for the archaic Mycenaean dialect. Linear B was not deciphered until 1953. After the fall of the Mycenaean civilization during the Bronze Age collapse, there was a period of about five hundred years when writing was either not used or nothing has survived to the present day. Since early classical times, Greek has been written in the Greek alphabet.

Ancient Greek dialects

AncientGreekDialects (Woodard) en
Distribution of Greek dialects in the classical period

In the archaic and classical periods, there were three main dialects of the Greek language: Aeolic, Ionic, and Doric, corresponding to the three main tribes of the Greeks, the Aeolians (chiefly living in the islands of the Aegean and the west coast of Asia Minor north of Smyrna), the Ionians (mostly settled in the west coast of Asia Minor, including Smyrna and the area to the south of it), and the Dorians (primarily the Greeks of the coast of the Pelopennesus, for example, of Sparta, Crete and the southernmost parts of the west coast of Asia Minor). Homer's Iliad and Odyssey were written in a kind of literary Ionic with some loan words from the other dialects. Ionic, therefore, became the primary literary language of ancient Greece until the ascendancy of Athens in the late 5th century. Doric was standard for Greek lyric poetry, such as Pindar and the choral odes of the Greek tragedians.

Attic Greek

Attic Greek, a subdialect of Ionic, was for centuries the language of Athens. Most surviving classical Greek literature appears in Attic Greek, including the extant texts of Plato and Aristotle, which were passed down in written form from classical times.

Koine Greek

Hellenistic Greek
Koine Greek language area:
  Areas where Greek speakers were probably the majority.
  Intensely hellenised areas with a significant Greek-speaking minority.

For centuries, the Greek language had existed in multiple dialects. As Greek culture under Alexander the Great (356–323 BC) and his successors spread from Asia Minor to Egypt and the border regions of India the Attic dialect became the basis of the Koiné (Κοινή; "common"). The language was also learned by the inhabitants of the regions that Alexander conquered, turning Greek into a world language. The Greek language continued to thrive after Alexander, during the Hellenistic period (323 BC to 31 BC). During this period the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, appeared.

For many centuries Greek was the lingua franca of the eastern half of the Roman Empire. It was during Roman times that the Greek New Testament appeared, and Koiné Greek is also called "New Testament Greek" after its most famous work of literature.

Medieval Greek

Anatolian Greek dialects
Distribution of Greek dialects in Asia Minor after the fall of the Byzantine Empire. Demotic in yellow. Pontic in orange. Cappadocian Greek in green.[1]

Medieval Greek, also known as Byzantine Greek,[2] is the stage of the Greek language between the beginning of the Middle Ages around 600 and the Ottoman conquest of the city of Constantinople in 1453. The latter date marked the end of the Middle Ages in Southeast Europe. From 620 onwards, Greek was the only language of administration and government in the Byzantine Empire, due to the reforms of Heraclius. This stage of language is thus described as Byzantine Greek. The study of the Medieval Greek language and literature is a branch of Byzantine Studies, or Byzantinology, the study of the history and culture of the Byzantine Empire.

The beginning of Medieval Greek is occasionally dated back to as early as the 4th century, either to 330, when the political centre of the monarchy was moved to Constantinople, or to 395, the division of the Empire. However, this approach is rather arbitrary as it is more an assumption of political as opposed to cultural and linguistic developments. It is only after the Eastern Roman-Byzantine culture was subjected to such massive change in the 7th century that a turning point in language development can be assumed. Medieval Greek is the link between the ancient and modern forms of the language because on the one hand, its literature is still strongly influenced by Ancient Greek, while on the other hand, many linguistic features of Modern Greek were already taking shape in the spoken language.

Modern Greek

Modern Greek dialects en
The distribution of major modern Greek dialect areas

The beginning of the "modern" period of the language is often symbolically assigned to the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, even though that date marks no clear linguistic boundary and many characteristic modern features of the language had already been present centuries earlier, from the 4th to the 15th century. During most of the period, the language existed in a situation of diglossia, with regional spoken dialects existing side by side with learned, archaic written forms.

After the establishment of Greece as an independent state in 1829, the Katharévusa (Καθαρεύουσα) form—Greek for "purified language"—was sanctioned as the official language of the state and the only acceptable form of Greek in Greece. The whole attempt led to a linguistic war, along with the creation of literary factions: the Dhimotikistés (Δημοτικιστές), who supported the common (Demotic) dialect, and the Lóyii (Λόγιοι), or Katharevusyáni (Καθαρευουσιάνοι), who supported the "purified dialect". Up to that point, use of Dhimotikí in state affairs was generally frowned upon. Use of the Demotic dialect in state speech and paperwork was forbidden.

The fall of the Junta of 1974 and the end of the era of Metapolítefsi 1974–1976 brought the acceptance of the Demotic dialect as both the de facto and de jure forms of the language for use by the Greek government, though the Katharevousa movement has left marks in the language.

Today, standard modern Greek, based on Demotic, is the official language of both Greece and Cyprus. Greek is spoken today by approximately 12–15 million people, mainly in Greece and Cyprus, but also by minority and immigrant communities in many other countries.

See also


  1. ^ Dawkins, R.M. 1916. Modern Greek in Asia Minor. A study of dialect of Silly, Cappadocia and Pharasa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://archive.org/details/moderngreekinas00hallgoog
  2. ^ "There is a pending petition for an ISO639-3 code of Medieval Greek: gkm". Sil.org.


  • Geoffrey Horrocks, Greek: A History of the Language and Its Speakers (Longman Linguistics Library). Addison Wesley Publishing Company, 1997. ISBN 0-582-30709-0

External links

Aegean Macedonia

This article is about the term "Aegean Macedonia". For the region in Greece, see Macedonia (Greece).Aegean Macedonia (Bulgarian: Егейска Македония, Macedonian: Егејска Македонија) is a term describing the modern Greek region of Macedonia in Northern Greece. It is currently mainly used in the Republic of North Macedonia, including in the irredentist context of a United Macedonia. The term is also used in Bulgaria as the more common synonym for Greek Macedonia, without the connotations it has in the Republic of North Macedonia. The term has no circulation in Greece, since Aegean usually refers to the Greek islands or to strictly Greek coastal areas with direct access to the Aegean Sea. Although Greek Macedonia does indeed have its coastline along the northern Aegean, the province is more than anything else dominated by its high mountain ranges and broad, grassy plains, rather than by its coastline (with the exception of the Chalkidiki peninsula, which is a popular holiday destination in eastern Macedonia noted for its beaches).

Anaximenes of Miletus

Anaximenes of Miletus (; Greek: Ἀναξιμένης ὁ Μιλήσιος; c. 586 – c. 526 BC) was an Ancient Greek Pre-Socratic philosopher active in the latter half of the 6th century BC. The details of his life are obscure and undocumented because none of his work has been preserved. Anaximenes’s ideas and philosophies are known today because of comments made by Aristotle and other writers on the history of Greek Philosophy. Apollodurus noted the dates Anaximander was alive in relation to defining historical events, and estimated Anaximenes’s lifespan to occur in same time period that Cyrus beat Croesus in the Battle of Thymbra in 546 BCE. Some of his writings survived the Hellenistic Age, but no record of these documents currently exist. As one of the three Milesian philosophers that were considered the first revolutionary thinkers of the Western world, he is best known and identified as a younger friend or student of Anaximander. Much of his astronomical thought was based on Anaximander’s, but he altered Anaximander’s astrological ideas to better fit his own philosophical views on physics and the natural world. The Ionian school was the first school on record that encouraged their pupils to constructively criticize their master’s teachings, which aptly demonstrated a tolerance toward new ideas and logic for their time. Thales taught Anaximander, and Anaximander taught Anaximenes. Each philosopher developed a distinct system of cosmology without completely rejecting their teacher’s view of universe or creating major disagreement between them. Anaximenes, like others in his school of thought, practiced material monism. This tendency to identify one specific underlying reality made up of a material thing is what Anaximenes is principally known for today. Anaximenes was the last known Milesian philosopher, as Miletus was taken over by the Persian army in 494 BC. Because none of his works contain theological references, there is no evidence as to whether or not he practiced religion or if he was an atheist.

Ancient Greek personal names

The study of ancient Greek personal names is a branch of onomastics, the study of names, and more specifically of anthroponomastics, the study of names of persons. There are hundreds of thousands and even millions of Greek names on record, making them an important resource for any general study of naming, as well as for the study of ancient Greece itself. The names are found in literary texts, on coins and stamped amphora handles, on potsherds used in ostracisms, and, much more abundantly, in inscriptions and (in Egypt) on papyri. This article will concentrate on Greek naming from the 8th century BC, when the evidence begins, to the end of the 6th century AD.


Arche (; Ancient Greek: ἀρχή) is a Greek word with primary senses "beginning", "origin" or "source of action" (εξ’ ἀρχής: from the beginning, οr εξ’ ἀρχής λόγος: the original argument), and later "first principle" or "element", first so used by Anaximander (Simplicius in Ph. 150.23). By extension, it may mean "first place, power", "method of government", "empire, realm", "authorities" (in plural: ἀρχαί), "command". The first principle or element corresponds to the "ultimate underlying substance" and "ultimate undemonstrable principle". In the philosophical language of the archaic period (8th to 6th century BC), arche (or archai) designates the source, origin or root of things that exist. In ancient Greek philosophy, Aristotle foregrounded the meaning of arche as the element or principle of a thing, which although undemonstrable and intangible in itself, provides the conditions of the possibility of that thing.

Armistice of Salonica

The Armistice of Salonica (also known as the Armistice of Thessalonica) was signed on 29 September 1918 between Bulgaria and the Allied Powers in Thessaloniki. The convention followed after a request by the Bulgarian government on 24 September asking for a ceasefire. The armistice effectively ended Bulgaria's participation in World War I on the side of the Central Powers and came into effect on the Bulgarian front at noon on 30 September. The armistice regulated the demobilization and disarmament of the Bulgarian armed forces.

The signatories were, for the Allies, the French General Louis Franchet d'Espérey, commander of the Allied Army of the Orient, and a commission appointed by the Bulgarian government, composed of General Ivan Lukov (member of the Bulgarian Army HQ), Andrey Lyapchev (cabinet member) and Simeon Radev (diplomat).

Diogenes Laërtius

Diogenes Laërtius (; Greek: Διογένης Λαέρτιος, Diogenēs Laertios; fl. 3rd century AD) was a biographer of the Greek philosophers. Nothing is definitively known about his life, but his surviving Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers is a principal source for the history of ancient Greek philosophy. His reputation is controversial among scholars because he often repeats information from his sources without critically evaluating it. He also frequently focuses on trivial or insignificant details of his subjects' lives while ignoring important details of their philosophical teachings and he sometimes fails to distinguish between earlier and later teachings of specific philosophical schools. However, unlike many other ancient secondary sources, Diogenes Laërtius generally reports philosophical teachings without attempting to reinterpret or expand on them, which means his accounts are often closer to the primary sources. Due to the loss of so many of the primary sources on which Diogenes relied, his work has become the foremost surviving source on the history of Greek philosophy.

Football in Greece

Football is the most popular sport in Greece, followed by basketball.

Greco-Roman world

The Greco-Roman world, Greco-Roman culture, or the term Greco-Roman ( or ); spelled Graeco-Roman in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth), when used as an adjective, as understood by modern scholars and writers, refers to those geographical regions and countries that culturally (and so historically) were directly, long-term, and intimately influenced by the language, culture, government and religion of the ancient Greeks and Romans. It is also better known as the Classical Civilisation. In exact terms the area refers to the "Mediterranean world", the extensive tracts of land centered on the Mediterranean and Black Sea basins, the "swimming-pool and spa" of the Greeks and Romans, i.e. one wherein the cultural perceptions, ideas and sensitivities of these peoples were dominant.

This process was aided by the universal adoption of Greek as the language of intellectual culture and commerce in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, and of Latin as the tongue for public management and forensic advocacy, especially in the Western Mediterranean.

Though Greek and Latin never became the native idioms of the rural peasants who composed the great majority of the empire's population, they were the languages of the urbanites and cosmopolitan elites, and the lingua franca, even if only as corrupt or multifarious dialects to those who lived within the large territories and populations outside the Macedonian settlements and the Roman colonies. All Roman citizens of note and accomplishment regardless of their ethnic extractions, spoke and wrote in Greek and/or Latin, such as the Roman jurist and Imperial chancellor Ulpian who was of Phoenician origin, the mathematician and geographer Claudius Ptolemy who was of Greco-Egyptian origin and the famous post-Constantinian thinkers John Chrysostom and Augustine who were of Syrian and Berber origins, respectively, and the historian Josephus Flavius who was of Jewish origin and spoke and wrote in Greek.

Greek and Roman Egypt

Greek and Roman Egypt spans from 332 BC to 642 AD, and is generally divided into the following sub-periods:

Ptolemaic Kingdom (332–30 BC)

Egypt (Roman province) (30 BC – 380 AD)

Diocese of Egypt (380–642 AD)

Greek art

Greek art began in the Cycladic and Minoan civilization, and gave birth to Western classical art in the subsequent Geometric, Archaic and Classical periods (with further developments during the Hellenistic Period). It absorbed influences of Eastern civilizations, of Roman art and its patrons, and the new religion of Orthodox Christianity in the Byzantine era and absorbed Italian and European ideas during the period of Romanticism (with the invigoration of the Greek Revolution), until the Modernist and Postmodernist.

Greek art is mainly five forms: architecture, sculpture, painting, pottery and jewelry making.

Incident at Petrich

The Incident at Petrich, or the War of the Stray Dog, was a Greek–Bulgarian crisis in 1925, in which there was a short invasion of Bulgaria by Greece near the border town of Petrich, after the killing of a Greek captain and a sentry by Bulgarian soldiers. The incident ended after a decision of the League of Nations.

Macedonian Front

The Macedonian Front, also known as the Salonica Front (after Thessaloniki), was a military theatre of World War I formed as a result of an attempt by the Allied Powers to aid Serbia, in the fall of 1915, against the combined attack of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria. The expedition came too late and in insufficient force to prevent the fall of Serbia, and was complicated by the internal political crisis in Greece (the "National Schism"). Eventually, a stable front was established, running from the Albanian Adriatic coast to the Struma River, pitting a multinational Allied force against the Bulgarian Army, which was at various times bolstered with smaller units from the other Central Powers. The Macedonian Front remained quite stable, despite local actions, until the great Allied offensive in September 1918, which resulted in the capitulation of Bulgaria and the liberation of Serbia.

Middle Platonism

Middle Platonism is the modern name given to a stage in the development of Platonic philosophy, lasting from about 90 BC – when Antiochus of Ascalon rejected the scepticism of the New Academy – until the development of Neoplatonism under Plotinus in the 3rd century. Middle Platonism absorbed many doctrines from the rival Peripatetic and Stoic schools. The pre-eminent philosopher in this period, Plutarch (c. 45–120), defended the freedom of the will and the immortality of the soul. He sought to show that God, in creating the world, had transformed matter, as the receptacle of evil, into the divine soul of the world, where it continued to operate as the source of all evil. God is a transcendent being, which operates through divine intermediaries, which are the gods and daemons of popular religion. Numenius of Apamea (c. 160) combined Platonism with Neopythagoreanism and other eastern philosophies, in a move which would prefigure the development of Neoplatonism.

Platonic Academy

The Academy (Ancient Greek: Ἀκαδημία) was founded by Plato in c. 387 BC in Athens. Aristotle studied there for twenty years (367–347 BC) before founding his own school, the Lyceum. The Academy persisted throughout the Hellenistic period as a skeptical school, until coming to an end after the death of Philo of Larissa in 83 BC. The Platonic Academy was destroyed by the Roman dictator Sulla in 86 BC.

Provisional Government of National Defence

The Provisional Government of National Defence (Greek: Προσωρινή Κυβέρνηση της Εθνικής Αμύνης), or the Movement of National Defence, was a parallel administration set up in the city of Thessaloniki by former Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos and his supporters during World War I, in opposition and rivalry to the official royal government in Athens.

The establishment of this second Greek state had its origins in the debate over Greece's entry into the war on behalf of the Entente, as advocated by Venizelos, or a Germanophile neutrality as preferred by King Constantine I. This dissension soon began to divide Greek society around the two leaders, beginning the so-called "National Schism". In August 1916, as parts of eastern Macedonia were not defended by the royal government against a Bulgarian invasion, Venizelist officers of the Hellenic Army launched an Entente-supported coup in Thessaloniki. After a brief hesitation, Venizelos and his principal supporters joined the uprising and began the establishment of a second Greek government in the north of the country, which entered the war on the side of the Entente. The National Defence government endured until June 1917, when the Entente powers forced Constantine I to abdicate, and allowed Venizelos to return to Athens as Prime Minister of a unified country. Nevertheless, the establishment of the National Defence government deepened the rift of the National Schism, which would plague Greek political life for over a generation, and contribute to the Asia Minor Catastrophe.

Ptolemaic Kingdom

The Ptolemaic Kingdom (; Koinē Greek: Πτολεμαϊκὴ βασιλεία, romanized: Ptolemaïkḕ basileía) was a Hellenistic kingdom based in ancient Egypt. It was ruled by the Ptolemaic dynasty, which started with Ptolemy I Soter's accession after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and which ended with the death of Cleopatra and the Roman conquest in 30 BC.

The Ptolemaic Kingdom was founded in 305 BC by Ptolemy I Soter, a diadochus originally from Macedon in northern Greece who declared himself pharaoh of Egypt and created a powerful Macedonian Greek dynasty that ruled an area stretching from southern Syria to Cyrene and south to Nubia. Scholars also argue that the kingdom was founded in 304 BC because of different use of calendars: Ptolemy crowned himself in 304 BC on the ancient Egyptian calendar, but in 305 BC on the ancient Macedonian calendar; to resolve the issue, the year 305/4 was counted as the first year of Ptolemaic Kingdom in Demotic papyri.Alexandria, a Greek polis founded by Alexander the Great, became the capital city and a major center of Greek culture and trade. To gain recognition by the native Egyptian populace, the Ptolemies named themselves as pharaohs. The later Ptolemies took on Egyptian traditions by marrying their siblings per the Osiris myth, had themselves portrayed on public monuments in Egyptian style and dress, and participated in Egyptian religious life. The Ptolemies were involved in foreign and civil wars that led to the decline of the kingdom and its final conquest by Rome. Their rivalry with the neighboring Seleucid Empire of West Asia led to a series of Syrian Wars in which both powers jockeyed for control of the Levant. Hellenistic culture continued to thrive in Egypt throughout the Roman and Byzantine periods until the Muslim conquest.


A sophist (Greek: σοφιστής, sophistes) was a specific kind of teacher in ancient Greece, in the fifth and fourth centuries BCE. Many sophists specialized in using the tools of philosophy and rhetoric, though other sophists taught subjects such as music, athletics, and mathematics. In general, they claimed to teach arete ("excellence" or "virtue", applied to various subject areas), predominantly to young statesmen and nobility.

The term originated from Greek σόφισμα, sophisma, from σοφίζω, sophizo "I am wise"; confer σοφιστής, sophistēs, meaning "wise-ist, one who does wisdom," and σοφός, sophós means "wise man".

Theognis of Megara

Theognis of Megara (Greek: Θέογνις ὁ Μεγαρεύς, Théognis ho Megareús) was a Greek lyric poet active in approximately the sixth century BC. The work attributed to him consists of gnomic poetry quite typical of the time, featuring ethical maxims and practical advice about life. He was the first Greek poet known to express concern over the eventual fate and survival of his own work and, along with Homer, Hesiod and the authors of the Homeric Hymns, he is among the earliest poets whose work has been preserved in a continuous manuscript tradition (the work of other archaic poets is preserved as scattered fragments). In fact more than half of the extant elegiac poetry of Greece before the Alexandrian period is included in the approximately 1,400 lines of verse attributed to him (though several poems traditionally attributed to him were composed by others, e.g. Solon, Euenos). Some of these verses inspired ancient commentators to value him as a moralist yet the entire corpus is valued today for its "warts and all" portrayal of aristocratic life in archaic Greece.The verses preserved under Theognis' name are written from the viewpoint of an aristocrat confronted by social and political revolution typical of Greek cities in the archaic period. Part of his work is addressed to Cyrnus, who is presented as his erōmenos. The author of the poems celebrated him in his verse and educated him in the aristocratic values of the time, yet Cyrnus came to symbolize much about his imperfect world that the poet bitterly resented:

In spite of such self-disclosures, almost nothing is known about Theognis the man: little is recorded by ancient sources and modern scholars question the authorship of most of the poems preserved under his name.

W. K. C. Guthrie

William Keith Chambers Guthrie (1 August 1906 – 17 May 1981), usually cited as W. K. C. Guthrie, was a Scottish classical scholar, best known for his History of Greek Philosophy, published in six volumes between 1962 and his death. He served as Laurence Professor of Ancient Philosophy at the University of Cambridge from 1952 to 1973 and as master of Downing College, Cambridge from 1957 to 1972.

Origin and genealogy
Writing systems
Promotion and study

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