The Hellenization of the classical world is one of the biggest events in ancient history, similar to the conquests of Rome in later centuries. Greek rulers held Egypt, Mesopotamia, Turkey, even places as far as Afghanistan and Delhi. This trend continued into antiquity, with koine Greek becoming the lingua franca of the eastern half of the Roman Empire and still being used as a language of administration until the 1500s. My question is, why did Greek not develop into different languages over such a long period of time? Latin diverged into dozens of distinct languages in half the time, yet Greek remained mostly pure from Anatolia to Bactria. Why?

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    I am by no means an expert, so the preceding comment is not intended as an answer; rather, I’m wondering how you know Greek did not develop into different languages? What makes you say so? By “languages”, do you mean specifically formalized/standardized distinct varieties of speech with distinct written traditions that are associated with particular nationalities and felt by their speakers to not fall under some overarching category? Nov 29, 2017 at 21:01
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    I've only heard the 'common Greek' of the Hellenistic world referred to as Koine Greek, whereas I've never heard any variety of Italian referred to as Italian Latin. Nov 30, 2017 at 1:54
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    Yes; we don't in fact call Italian Latin, but I'm saying I don't think there is any particularly linguistics-based reason for that. It's just an arbitrary convention Nov 30, 2017 at 1:57
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    A very interesting question! Looking forward to reading the answers here. I might share my thoughts too - can't promise though (too much work). Off the top of my head, I'd say it's because of the sociohistorical and sociolinguistic variables (so, those would be extralinguistic factors then).
    – Alex B.
    Nov 30, 2017 at 4:22
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    Georg Bossong (Bossong 2017) writes that "The Falisco-Latin branch of Italic turned out to be one of the world's most successful language families. This is evidently due to not to inherent qualities of Latin, but to the military and political superiority of the Romans (senatus populusque romanus) (p. 861; emphasis mine - Alex B.).
    – Alex B.
    Nov 30, 2017 at 4:36

1 Answer 1


Ancient Greek did develop into other languages. It's just that they did not end up as widespread as many of the descendants of Latin did. As happens to many (if not most?) languages, its descendants died out before becoming established. Even today, though, there are descendants of Ancient Greek which diverge from the Demotic/Katharevousa standard: e.g. Pontic, Cappadocian, Griko, Rumeíka.

The most divergent from standard Greek is probably Tsakonian, which although sometimes called a Greek 'dialect', is not mutually intelligible with standard Greek and probably deserves to be considered a distinct language. It is believed to be descended from Doric. It has only a few hundred speakers at most and is probably moribund.

As for why this happened, that's hard to say. Language evolution takes its twists and turns due to accidents of history.

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    @DeLissaplitzAnonymous Had the Greek dialects from Greece to India survived to the modern day, we would have distinct languages probably more divergent than the Romance languages, as they would have been spoken in Anatolia, Persia, Bactria etc. for far longer than the Romance languages in their current domains. Remember that the Roman empire lasted a long time after the collapse of the Greeks (unless you count the Byzantines as Greeks,... Nov 30, 2017 at 12:39
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    I think that the reason "why" has something to do with the relative lack of political power held by people who spoke varieties of Greek, compared to the political power held by people who spoke varieties of Latin. Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, Romanian, etc. speakers have held political power in the regions where their languages diverged from Latin. But this didn't happen in the Hellenic languages; there is no "Spain" of Greek. Nov 30, 2017 at 14:27
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    @MarkBeadles One reason for that would be that to the East, many of the cultures had as much of a writing tradition, so they preserved their languages better. Greece vs Persia is very different than Rome vs some Iberian tribes. Greece is effectively insular, the civilisation flourished at sea, so although it existed as far as Spain, Crimea, Egypt and so on, it was almost always along the coasts. The Romans in contrast could build roads into the continent, and notably their language did not survive in the provinces to which they could not. Nov 30, 2017 at 22:52
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    @DeLissaplitzAnonymous "Is the Greek language just more conservative by nature than Latin? Is there innate some factor in language evolution that discourages changes in some languages?" No. As others said, it's all political/cultural. Nov 30, 2017 at 22:52
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    As for why this happened, that's hard to say - Macedon conquered the then-civilized world (the Orient), whereas Rome expanded into the previously barbarian territories of Europe.
    – Lucian
    Jul 8, 2020 at 1:52

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