Ancient Greek Language

A Look at the Various Languages That Ancient Greeks Used

Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta are the first four alphabets of the Greek language. Here is an insight into the origin and types of languages spoken by the ancient Greeks. These languages were also used by various legendary ancient Greek scholars to pen some of their greatest historic and literary works.
Historyplex Staff
Last Updated: Sep 25, 2017
Ancient Greek laid the foundation for all the modern European languages. The first Europeans to use alphabets to read and write were the ancient Greeks. There are a couple of theories relating to the origin of the Greek language. Some scholars and historians believe that Proto-Greek speakers who had migrated to the Greek peninsula somewhere in 2500 BC had founded the language. There is another theory that claims that Greek language prevailed even before the migration of the Proto-Greeks into Greece.

Historians started to understand and decipher the script only in the mid-twentieth century. Historians believe, Linear B Syllabary was the script used to write Greek. This script was used in the "Mycenaean Dialect", an ancient form of Greek.

Three Major Ancient Greek Languages

Aeolic, Doric and Ionic were major dialects that were used in ancient Greece. The three tribal natives of ancient Greece used these dialects which acted as the predecessors of the Greek languages as we know them.

The tribes known as Aeolians used Aeolic dialect. These tribes lived in the islands of Aegean, on the west coast of Asia Minor, north of Smyrna.

The Dorians used the pre-ancient-Greek dialect, Doric. Dorians lived on the coastal areas of Greece such as Crete, Sparta, and the southern part of the west coast of Asia Minor.

The tribes known as Ionians used the ancient Greek dialect, Ionic. Ionians were the inhabitants of the west coast of Asia Minor and Smyrna.

Iliad and Odyssey the well-known works of Homer were mainly written in Ionic language. Historians believe, Ionic was the primary and literary language of ancient Greece and retained this position till late 5th century. The poems such as "Pindar" and the choral odes of the ancient Greek tragedy were written in Doric. Hence, in olden days, Doric was the language that was used in Greek lyrics and poems and Ionic was used in literary works.

Other Ancient Languages of Greece

Attic Greek
This is an ancient language which is a subset of the Ionic language. Attic Greek was the language of Athens, for many centuries. The works of Plato and Aristotle, known as classical literature, were written in this language.

Also known as Hellenistic Greek or Biblical Greek, it was formulated when Asia Minor, Egypt and some parts of Middle East were colonized by the Greeks. The Greek language began to evolve into multiple dialects during this time. However, during the reign of Alexander the Great, the multiple dialects were combined to form the "Koine" or "common" language. You could correctly say, during the Hellenistic period (323 BC to 281 BC), Greek became a popular language, used by many around the Mediterranean region as a means of oral and written communication.

The languages of ancient Greece used Greek alphabets that were derived from Phoenician alphabets. There are many clear-cut evidences to support this view. Herodotus, in his historical works, has mentioned the Greek alphabet included Phoenician-styled alphabets. Another point worth the mention is that ancient Greek was written from right to left like the Phoenician script.