Ancient writing systems in the Mediterranean

A critical guide to electronic resources

Ancient greek

edited by: G. D'Alessandro, A. Magnetto, D. Erdas (translation revised by Melanie Rockenhaus)

  • Introduction
  • Ancient Writing Systems

Greek is a flexional language related to the 'Indo-European' group. It has been supposed that it was the language spoken by the people who settled in the Greek isles and mainland during the second millennium BC; however, the earliest evidence for it is represented by the Linear-B clay tablets from Crete, Pylon and Thebes, the most ancient of which date back to the 13th century BC. The dialect of these documents is generally called 'Mycenaean'.
From the 9th century BC on it is possible to distinguish a certain number of Greek dialects. They are usually divided into the following groups:

- Attic, Spoken in Athens, Attica and Attic settlements

- Ionic, Spoken in the Aegean isles and in part of Asia Minor

- Aeolic, Spoken in Greek settlements of Asia Minor

- Doric , Spoken in most of Peloponnese, in other parts of the mainland and in Crete

- Arcadocypriot, Spoken in Arcadia and Cyprus

- Tessalic , Spoken in Thessaly

- West dialects, Spoken in the northern Peloponnese, in Aetolia and Acharnania


The unification of the Greek world brought about by the Hellenism caused a gradual decline of dialects, but did not lead to their complete disappearance. In official documents and literary prose a common form called Koiné (koiné, scil. diàlektos = common language), reached a position of predominance; it was based mostly upon the Attic dialect.

5th and 4th century Attic in its purest form also became also the model for the prose; considering its role as language connected with classical tragedy, comedy and philosophy and its importance in teaching, it can be practically regarded as the Greek dialect par excellence. The artificial reproduction of Attic dialect reached its peak during the 2nd century AD, and continued until recent times: Attic 'perfection' was indeed the goal both of Byzantine prose and of modern  Katavrèusa.

Pronunciation varied in time and was different also from place to place. Modern rules ('Erasmian' pronunciation) represent an endeavour to restore the classic pronunciation.

Generally speaking, the language used in the Byzantine Empire for official documents and literary texts can also be considered Greek.

Ancient Writing Systems

  1. Greek alphabets