Greek language includes the forms of Greek used in ancient
Greece and the ancient world from around the 9th century BC to the 6th
century AD. It is often roughly divided into the Archaic period (9th
to 6th centuries BC), Classical period (5th and 4th centuries BC), and
Hellenistic period (Koine Greek, 3rd century BC to the 4th century
AD). It is antedated in the second millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek
and succeeded by medieval Greek.
Koine is regarded as a separate historical stage of its own, although
in its earliest form it closely resembled
Attic Greek and in its
latest form it approaches Medieval Greek. Prior to the Koine period,
Greek of the classic and earlier periods included several regional
Ancient Greek was the language of
Homer and of fifth-century Athenian
historians, playwrights, and philosophers. It has contributed many
words to English vocabulary and has been a standard subject of study
in educational institutions of the
Western world since the
Renaissance. This article primarily contains information about the
Epic and Classical periods of the language.
1.2 Related languages or dialects
2.1 Differences from Proto-Indo-European
2.2 Phonemic inventory
4 Writing system
5 Sample texts
6 Modern use
7 See also
9 Further reading
10 External links
10.1 Grammar learning
10.2 Classical texts
Ancient Greek dialects
Ancient Greek was a pluricentric language, divided into many dialects.
The main dialect groups are Attic and Ionic, Aeolic, Arcadocypriot,
and Doric, many of them with several subdivisions. Some dialects are
found in standardized literary forms used in literature, while others
are attested only in inscriptions.
There are also several historical forms.
Homeric Greek is a literary
form of Archaic Greek (derived primarily from Ionic and Aeolic) used
in the epic poems, the "Iliad" and "Odyssey", and in later poems by
Homeric Greek had significant differences in grammar
and pronunciation from Classical Attic and other Classical-era
Ancient Greek Language
The origins, early form and development of the Hellenic language
family are not well understood because of a lack of contemporaneous
evidence. Several theories exist about what Hellenic dialect groups
may have existed between the divergence of early Greek-like speech
from the common
Proto-Indo-European language and the Classical period.
They have the same general outline, but differ in some of the detail.
The only attested dialect from this period is Mycenaean Greek, but
its relationship to the historical dialects and the historical
circumstances of the times imply that the overall groups already
existed in some form.
Scholars assume that major
Ancient Greek period dialect groups
developed not later than 1120 BC, at the time of the Dorian
invasion(s)—and that their first appearances as precise alphabetic
writing began in the 8th century BC. The invasion would not be
"Dorian" unless the invaders had some cultural relationship to the
historical Dorians. The invasion is known to have displaced population
to the later Attic-Ionic regions, who regarded themselves as
descendants of the population displaced by or contending with the
The Greeks of this period believed there were three major divisions of
all Greek people—Dorians, Aeolians, and Ionians (including
Athenians), each with their own defining and distinctive dialects.
Allowing for their oversight of Arcadian, an obscure mountain dialect,
and Cypriot, far from the center of Greek scholarship, this division
of people and language is quite similar to the results of modern
One standard formulation for the dialects is:
Distribution of Greek dialects in
Greece in the classical period.
Euboea and colonies in Italy
West vs. non-west Greek is the strongest marked and earliest division,
with non-west in subsets of Ionic-Attic (or Attic-Ionic) and Aeolic
vs. Arcadocypriot, or Aeolic and Arcado-Cypriot vs. Ionic-Attic. Often
non-west is called East Greek.
Arcadocypriot apparently descended more closely from the Mycenaean
Greek of the Bronze Age.
Boeotian had come under a strong Northwest Greek influence, and can in
some respects be considered a transitional dialect. Thessalian
likewise had come under Northwest Greek influence, though to a lesser
Pamphylian Greek, spoken in a small area on the southwestern coast of
Anatolia and little preserved in inscriptions, may be either a fifth
major dialect group, or it is
Mycenaean Greek overlaid by Doric, with
a non-Greek native influence.
Most of the dialect sub-groups listed above had further subdivisions,
generally equivalent to a city-state and its surrounding territory, or
to an island. Doric notably had several intermediate divisions as
well, into Island Doric (including Cretan Doric), Southern
Peloponnesus Doric (including Laconian, the dialect of Sparta), and
Northern Peloponnesus Doric (including Corinthian).
The Lesbian dialect was Aeolic Greek.
All the groups were represented by colonies beyond
Greece proper as
well, and these colonies generally developed local characteristics,
often under the influence of settlers or neighbors speaking different
The dialects outside the Ionic group are known mainly from
inscriptions, notable exceptions being:
fragments of the works of the poet
Sappho from the island of Lesbos,
in Aeolian, and
the poems of the Boeotian poet
Pindar and other lyric poets, usually
After the conquests of
Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great in the late 4th century BC,
a new international dialect known as Koine or Common Greek developed,
largely based on Attic Greek, but with influence from other dialects.
This dialect slowly replaced most of the older dialects, although
Doric dialect has survived in the Tsakonian language, which is spoken
in the region of modern Sparta. Doric has also passed down its aorist
terminations into most verbs of Demotic Greek. By about the 6th
century AD, the Koine had slowly metamorphosized into Medieval Greek.
Related languages or dialects
Main article: Ancient Macedonian language
Ancient Macedonian was an Indo-European language closely related to
Greek, but its exact relationship is unclear because of insufficient
data: possibly a dialect of Greek; a sibling language to Greek; or a
close cousin to Greek, and perhaps related to some extent, to Thracian
and Phrygian languages. The Macedonian dialect (or language) appears
to have been supplanted by
Attic Greek in the Hellenistic period.
Differences from Proto-Indo-European
Main article: Proto-Greek language
Ancient Greek differs from Proto-Indo-European and other Indo-European
languages in certain ways. In phonotactics,
Ancient Greek words could
end only in a vowel or /n s r/; final stops were lost, as in γάλα
"milk", compared with γάλακτος "of milk" (genitive). Ancient
Greek of the classical period also differed in phonemic inventory:
PIE *s became /h/ at the beginning of a word (debuccalization): Latin
sex, English six,
Ancient Greek ἕξ /héks/.
PIE *s was elided between vowels after an intermediate step of
debuccalization: Sanskrit janasas,
Latin generis (where s > r by
rhotacism), Greek *genesos > *genehos > Ancient Greek
γένεος (/géneos/), Attic γένους (/génoːs/) "of a kind".
PIE *y /j/ became /h/ (debuccalization) or /(d)z/ (fortition):
Ancient Greek ὅς /hós/ "who" (relative pronoun);
Latin iugum, English yoke,
Ancient Greek ζυγός /zygós/.
PIE *w, which occurred in Mycenaean and some non-Attic dialects, was
lost: early Doric ϝέργον /wérgon/, English work, Attic Greek
PIE and Mycenaean labiovelars changed to plain stops (labials,
dentals, and velars) in the later Greek dialects: for instance, PIE
*kʷ became /p/ or /t/ in Attic:
Attic Greek ποῦ /pôː/ "where?",
Attic Greek τίς /tís/,
Latin quis "who?".
PIE "voiced aspirated" stops *bʰ dʰ ǵʰ gʰ gʷʰ were devoiced and
became the aspirated stops φ θ χ /pʰ tʰ kʰ/ in Ancient Greek.
Ancient Greek phonology
The pronunciation of
Ancient Greek was very different from that of
Ancient Greek had long and short vowels; many
diphthongs; double and single consonants; voiced, voiceless, and
aspirated stops; and a pitch accent. In Modern Greek, all vowels and
consonants are short. Many vowels and diphthongs once pronounced
distinctly are pronounced as /i/ (iotacism). Some of the stops and
glides in diphthongs have become fricatives, and the pitch accent has
changed to a stress accent. Many of the changes took place in the
Koine Greek period. The writing system of Modern Greek, however, does
not reflect all pronunciation changes.
The examples below represent
Attic Greek in the 5th century BC.
Ancient pronunciation cannot be reconstructed with certainty, but
Greek from the period is well documented, and there is little
disagreement among linguists as to the general nature of the sounds
that the letters represent.
[ŋ] occurred as an allophone of /n/ that was used before velars and
as an allophone of /ɡ/ before nasals. /r/ was probably voiceless when
word-initial (written ῥ). /s/ was assimilated to [z] before voiced
/oː/ raised to [uː], probably by the 4th century BC.
Ancient Greek grammar
Ostracon bearing the name of Cimon, Stoa of Attalos
Greek, like all of the older Indo-European languages, is highly
inflected. It is highly archaic in its preservation of
Proto-Indo-European forms. In Ancient Greek, nouns (including proper
nouns) have five cases (nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, and
vocative), three genders (masculine, feminine, and neuter), and three
numbers (singular, dual, and plural). Verbs have four moods
(indicative, imperative, subjunctive, and optative) and three voices
(active, middle, and passive), as well as three persons (first,
second, and third) and various other forms. Verbs are conjugated
through seven combinations of tenses and aspect (generally simply
called "tenses"): the present, future, and imperfect are imperfective
in aspect; the aorist (perfective aspect); a present perfect,
pluperfect and future perfect. Most tenses display all four moods and
three voices, although there is no future subjunctive or imperative.
Also, there is no imperfect subjunctive, optative or imperative. The
infinitives and participles correspond to the finite combinations of
tense, aspect, and voice.
The indicative of past tenses adds (conceptually, at least) a prefix
/e-/, called the augment. This was probably originally a separate
word, meaning something like "then", added because tenses in PIE had
primarily aspectual meaning. The augment is added to the indicative of
the aorist, imperfect, and pluperfect, but not to any of the other
forms of the aorist (no other forms of the imperfect and pluperfect
The two kinds of augment in Greek are syllabic and quantitative. The
syllabic augment is added to stems beginning with consonants, and
simply prefixes e (stems beginning with r, however, add er). The
quantitative augment is added to stems beginning with vowels, and
involves lengthening the vowel:
a, ā, e, ē → ē
i, ī → ī
o, ō → ō
u, ū → ū
ai → ēi
ei → ēi or ei
oi → ōi
au → ēu or au
eu → ēu or eu
ou → ou
Some verbs augment irregularly; the most common variation is e → ei.
The irregularity can be explained diachronically by the loss of s
between vowels. In verbs with a prefix, the augment is placed not at
the start of the word, but between the prefix and the original verb.
For example, προσ(-)βάλλω (I attack) goes to
προσέβαλoν in the aorist.
Following Homer's practice, the augment is sometimes not made in
poetry, especially epic poetry.
The augment sometimes substitutes for reduplication; see below.
Almost all forms of the perfect, pluperfect, and future perfect
reduplicate the initial syllable of the verb stem. (Note that a few
irregular forms of perfect do not reduplicate, whereas a handful of
irregular aorists reduplicate.) The three types of reduplication are:
Syllabic reduplication: Most verbs beginning with a single consonant,
or a cluster of a stop with a sonorant, add a syllable consisting of
the initial consonant followed by e. An aspirated consonant, however,
reduplicates in its unaspirated equivalent: Grassmann's law.
Augment: Verbs beginning with a vowel, as well as those beginning with
a cluster other than those indicated previously (and occasionally for
a few other verbs) reduplicate in the same fashion as the augment.
This remains in all forms of the perfect, not just the indicative.
Attic reduplication: Some verbs beginning with an a, e or o, followed
by a sonorant (or occasionally d or g), reduplicate by adding a
syllable consisting of the initial vowel and following consonant, and
lengthening the following vowel. Hence er → erēr, an → anēn, ol
→ olōl, ed → edēd. This is not actually specific to Attic Greek,
despite its name, but it was generalized in Attic. This originally
involved reduplicating a cluster consisting of a laryngeal and
sonorant, hence h₃l → h₃leh₃l → olōl with normal Greek
development of laryngeals. (Forms with a stop were analogous.)
Irregular duplication can be understood diachronically. For example,
lambanō (root lab) has the perfect stem eilēpha (not *lelēpha)
because it was originally slambanō, with perfect seslēpha, becoming
eilēpha through compensatory lengthening.
Reduplication is also visible in the present tense stems of certain
verbs. These stems add a syllable consisting of the root's initial
consonant followed by i. A nasal stop appears after the reduplication
in some verbs.
Archaic local variants
Use in other languages
Use as scientific symbols
Main article: Greek orthography
Ancient Greek was firstly written in Linear B, but afterwards it was
written in the Greek alphabet, with some variation among dialects.
Early texts are written in boustrophedon style, but left-to-right
became standard during the classic period. Modern editions of Ancient
Greek texts are usually written with accents and breathing marks,
interword spacing, modern punctuation, and sometimes mixed case, but
they all were introduced later.
The beginning of Homer's
Iliad exemplifies the Archaic period of
Ancient Greek (see
Homeric Greek for more details):
Μῆνιν ἄειδε, θεά, Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος
οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί’ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε’
πολλὰς δ’ ἰφθίμους ψυχὰς Ἄϊδι
ἡρώων, αὐτοὺς δὲ ἑλώρια τεῦχε
οἰωνοῖσί τε πᾶσι· Διὸς δ’
ἐξ οὗ δὴ τὰ πρῶτα διαστήτην
Ἀτρεΐδης τε ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν καὶ δῖος
The beginning of Apology by
Attic Greek from the
Classical period of Ancient Greek:
Ὅτι μὲν ὑμεῖς, ὦ ἄνδρες Ἀθηναῖοι,
πεπόνθατε ὑπὸ τῶν ἐμῶν κατηγόρων,
οὐκ οἶδα· ἐγὼ δ' οὖν καὶ αὐτὸς ὑπ'
αὐτῶν ὀλίγου ἐμαυτοῦ ἐπελαθόμην,
οὕτω πιθανῶς ἔλεγον. Καίτοι ἀληθές
γε ὡς ἔπος εἰπεῖν οὐδὲν εἰρήκασιν.
Using the IPA:
[hóti men hyːmêːs ɔ̂ː ándres atʰɛːnaî̯i̯oi
pepóntʰate hypo tɔ̂ːn emɔ̂ːŋ katɛːɡórɔːn uːk
oî̯da ‖ éɡɔː dûːŋ kai̯ au̯tos hyp au̯tɔ̂ːn
olíɡuː emau̯tûː epelatʰómɛːn hǔːtɔː pitʰanɔ̂ːs
éleɡon ‖ kaí̯toi̯ alɛːtʰéz ɡe hɔːs épos eːpêːn
uːden eːrɛ̌ːkaːsin ‖]
Transliterated into the
Latin alphabet using a modern version of the
Hóti mèn hūmeîs, ô ándres Athēnaîoi, pepónthate hupò tôn
emôn katēgórōn, ouk oîda: egṑ d' oûn kaì autòs hup' autōn
olígou emautoû epelathómēn, hoútō pithanôs élegon. Kaítoi
alēthés ge hōs épos eipeîn oudèn eirḗkāsin.
Translated into English:
How you, men of Athens, are feeling under the power of my accusers, I
do not know: actually, even I myself almost forgot who I was because
of them, they spoke so persuasively. And yet, loosely speaking,
nothing they have said is true.
See also: Classical compound
The study of
Ancient Greek in European countries in addition to Latin
occupied an important place in the syllabus from the
the beginning of the 20th century.
Ancient Greek is still taught as a
compulsory or optional subject especially at traditional or elite
schools throughout Europe, such as public schools and grammar schools
in the United Kingdom. It is compulsory in the
Liceo classico in
Italy, in the gymnasium in the Netherlands, in some classes in
Croatia in klasična gimnazija, in Classical Studies in
ASO in Belgium and it is optional in the Humanistisches Gymnasium in
Germany (usually as a third language after
Latin and English, from the
age of 14 to 18). In 2006/07, 15,000 pupils studied
Ancient Greek in
Germany according to the Federal Statistical Office of Germany, and
280,000 pupils studied it in Italy. It is a compulsory subject
Latin in the Humanities branch of Spanish Bachillerato.
Ancient Greek is also taught at most major universities worldwide,
often combined with
Latin as part of Classics. It will also be taught
in state primary schools in the UK, to boost children’s language
skills, and will be offered as a foreign language to pupils in
all primary schools from 2014 as part of a major drive to boost
education standards, together with Latin, Mandarin, French, German,
Spanish, and Italian.
Ancient Greek is also taught as a compulsory
subject in all Gymnasiums and Lyceums in Greece.
Modern authors rarely write in Ancient Greek, though Jan Křesadlo
wrote some poetry and prose in the language, and Harry Potter and the
Philosopher's Stone and some volumes of Asterix have been
translated into Ancient Greek. Ὀνόματα Kεχιασμένα
(Onomata Kechiasmena) is the first magazine of crosswords and puzzles
in Ancient Greek. Its first issue appeared in April 2015 as an
annex to Hebdomada Aenigmatum.
Alfred Rahlfs included a preface, a
short history of the
Septuagint text, and other front matter
Ancient Greek in his 1935 edition of the Septuagint;
Robert Hanhart also included the introductory remarks to the 2006
revised Rahlfs–Hanhart edition in the language as well.
Ancient Greek is also used by organizations and individuals, mainly
Greek, who wish to denote their respect, admiration or preference for
the use of this language. This use is sometimes considered graphical,
nationalistic or funny. In any case, the fact that modern Greeks can
still wholly or partly understand texts written in non-archaic forms
of ancient Greek shows the affinity of modern
Greek language to its
An isolated community near Trabzon, Turkey, an area where Pontic Greek
is spoken, has been found to speak a variety of Greek that has
parallels, both structurally and in its vocabulary, to Ancient Greek
not present in other varieties. As few as 5,000 people speak the
dialect but linguists believe that it is the closest living language
to Ancient Greek.
Ancient Greek is often used in the coinage of modern technical terms
in the European languages: see English words of Greek origin.
Latinized forms of
Ancient Greek roots are used in many of the
scientific names of species and in scientific terminology.
Ancient Greek grammar
Ancient Greek dialects
Varieties of Modern Greek
Exploring the Ancient Greek Language and Culture (competition)
List of Greek phrases
List of Greek phrases (mostly Ancient Greek)
List of Greek and
Latin roots in English
^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds.
Ancient Greek (to 1453)".
Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max
Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
^ Imprecisely attested and somewhat reconstructive due to its being
written in an ill-fitting syllabary (Linear B).
^ This one appears in recent versions of the Encyclopædia Britannica,
which also lists the major works that define the
^ Roger D. Woodard (2008), "Greek dialects", in: The Ancient Languages
of Europe, ed. R. D. Woodard, Cambridge: Cambridge
^ W.B. Lockwood, "A panorama of Indo-European languages", Hutchinson
University Library, London, p.6
^ Palmer, Leonard (1996). The Greek Language. Norman, OK: University
of Oklahoma Press. p. 262. ISBN 0-8061-2844-5.
Ancient Greek 'to be taught in state schools'". Telegraph.co.uk. 30
July 2010. Retrieved 3 May 2015.
^ "Now look, Latin's fine, but Greek might be even Beta", TES
Editorial, 2010 - TSL Education Ltd.
^ More primary schools to offer
Latin and ancient Greek, The
Telegraph, 26 November 2012
^ "Ωρολόγιο Πρόγραμμα των μαθημάτων
των Α, Β, Γ τάξεων του Hμερησίου
Γυμνασίου". Retrieved 3 May 2015.
^ "ΩΡΟΛΟΓΙΟ ΠΡΟΓΡΑΜΜΑ ΓΕΝΙΚΟΥ ΛΥΚΕΙΟΥ".
Retrieved 3 May 2015.
^ Areios Potēr kai ē tu philosophu lithos, Bloomsbury 2004,
Asterix around the World - the many Languages of Asterix".
Retrieved 3 May 2015.
Enigmistica: nasce prima rivista in greco antico 2015).
^ Rahlfs, Alfred, and Hanhart, Robert (eds.), Septuaginta, editio
altera (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2006).
^ "Akropolis World News". Retrieved 3 May 2015.
^ Jason and the argot: land where Greek's ancient language survives,
The Independent, 3 January 2011
^ Against all odds: archaic Greek in a modern world,
^ Archaic Greek in a modern world video from Cambridge University, on
Library resources about
Resources in your library
Resources in other libraries
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Greece and Rome 61.1: 102-13, 2014.
Allan, Rutger J. "Changing the Topic: Topic Position in Ancient Greek
Word Order." Mnemosyne: Bibliotheca Classica Batava 67.2: 181-213,
Athenaze: An Introduction to
Ancient Greek (Oxford
[A series of textbooks on
Ancient Greek published for school use.]
Bakker, Egbert J., ed. A Companion to the
Ancient Greek Language.
Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.
Beekes, Robert S. P. Etymological Dictionary of Greek. Leiden, The
Netherlands: Brill, 2010.
Chantraine, Pierre. Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue grecque,
new and updated edn., edited by Jean Taillardat, Olivier Masson, &
Jean-Louis Perpillou. 3 vols. Paris: Klincksieck, 2009 (1st edn.
Christidis, Anastasios-Phoibos, ed. A History of Ancient Greek: from
the Beginnings to Late Antiquity. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Easterling, P and Handley, C. Greek Scripts: An Illustrated
Introduction. London: Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies,
2001. ISBN 0-902984-17-9
Fortson, Benjamin W. Indo-European Language and Culture: An
Introduction. 2d ed. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.
Hansen, Hardy and Quinn, Gerald M. (1992) Greek: An Intensive Course,
Horrocks, Geoffrey. Greek: A History of the Language and its Speakers.
2d ed. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.
Janko, Richard. "The Origins and Evolution of the Epic Diction." In
The Iliad: A Commentary. Vol. 4, Books 13–16. Edited by Richard
Janko, 8–19. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992.
Jeffery, Lilian Hamilton. The Local Scripts of Archaic Greece: Revised
Edition with a Supplement by A. W. Johnston. Oxford: Oxford Univ.
Morpurgo Davies, Anna, and Yves Duhoux, eds. A Companion to Linear B:
Mycenaean Greek Texts and their World. Vol. 1. Louvain, Belgium:
Swiggers, Pierre and Alfons Wouters. "Description of the Constituent
Elements of the (Greek) Language." In Brill’s Companion to Ancient
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Classical Greek Lessons (free online through the Linguistics Research
Center at UT Austin)
Online Greek resources – Dictionaries, grammar, virtual libraries,
Alpheios – Combines LSJ, Autenrieth, Smyth's grammar and inflection
tables in a browser add-on for use on any web site
Ancient Greek basic lexicon at the Global Lexicostatistical Database
Ancient Greek Swadesh list of basic vocabulary words (from
Wiktionary's Swadesh list appendix)
"Greek Language". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.).
Slavonic - online editor for Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek (
Beta version) - Wikimedia Incubator
Wikibooks has a book on the topic of: Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek test of at Wikimedia Incubator
Ancient Greek repository of Wikisource, the free library
For a list of words relating to Ancient Greek, see the Ancient Greek
language category of words in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Wikisource has original text related to this article:
Texts in Ancient Greek
A more extensive grammar of the Ancient
Greek language written by J.
Recitation of classics books
Perseus Greek dictionaries
Greek-Language.com – Information on the history of the Greek
language, application of modern Linguistics to the study of Greek, and
tools for learning Greek
Free Lessons in Ancient Greek, Bilingual Libraries, Forum
A critical survey of websites devoted to Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek Tutorials – Berkeley Language Center of the University
A Digital Tutorial For
Ancient Greek Based on White's First Greek Book
New Testament Greek
Acropolis World News – A summary of the latest world news in Ancient
Greek, Juan Coderch,
University of St Andrews
Perseus – Greek and Roman Materials
Ancient Greek Texts
Greek Dark Ages
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Antigonid Macedonian army
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