|History of the
(see also: Greek alphabet)
|Mycenaean (c. 1600–1100 BC)
|Ancient Greek (c. 800–330 BC)
Aeolic, Arcadocypriot, Attic-Ionic,
Doric, Locrian, Pamphylian;
|Koine Greek (c. 330 BC–330)*
|Medieval Greek (330–1453)
|Modern Greek (from 1453)
Cappadocian, Cheimarriotika, Cretan,
Cypriot,Demotic, Griko, Katharevousa,
Pontic, Tsakonian, Maniot, Yevanic
Koine Greek (Greek: Ελληνιστική Κοινή Koine Greek: /kɔɪ'nɛ/, Modern Greek: /ciˈni eliniˈci/, common Greek; or ἡ κοινὴ διάλεκτος, the common dialect) is the popular form of Greek which emerged in post-Classical antiquity (c.300 BC – AD 300). Other names are Alexandrian, Hellenistic, Patristic, Common, Biblical or New Testament Greek. Original names were koine, Hellenic, Alexandrian and Macedonian (Macedonic); all on the contrast to Attic dialect. Koine was the first common supra-regional dialect in Greece and came to serve as a lingua franca for the eastern Mediterranean and ancient Near East throughout the Roman period. It was also the original language of the New Testament of the Christian Bible and of the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Jewish Scriptures). Koine is the main ancestor of modern Greek.
Koine Greek arose as a common dialect within the armies of Alexander the Great. Under the leadership of Macedon who colonized the known world, their newly formed common dialect was spoken from Egypt to the fringes of India. Though elements of Koine Greek took shape during the late Classical Era, the post-Classical period of Greek dates from the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, when cultures under Hellenistic sway in turn began to influence the language. The passage into the next period, known as Medieval Greek, dates from the foundation of Constantinople by Constantine I in 330. The post-Classical period of Greek thus refers to the creation and evolution of Koine Greek throughout the entire Hellenistic and Roman eras of history until the start of the Middle Ages.
Koine (Κοινή), Greek for "common", is a term which had been previously applied by ancient scholars to several forms of Greek speech. A school of scholars such as Apollonius Dyscolus and Aelius Herodianus maintained the term Koine to refer to the Proto-Greek language, while others would use it to refer to any vernacular form of Greek speech which differed from the literary language. When Koine gradually became a language of literature, some people distinguished it in two forms: Hellenic (Greek) as the literary post-classical form, and Koine (common) as the spoken popular form. Others chose to refer to Koine as the Alexandrian dialect (Περὶ τῆς Ἀλεξανδρέων διαλέκτου) or the dialect of Alexandria, a term often used by modern classicists.
The linguistic roots of the Common Greek dialect had been unclear since ancient times. During the Hellenistic age, most scholars thought of Koine as the result of the mixture of the four main Ancient Greek dialects, "ἡ ἐκ τῶν τεττάρων συνεστῶσα" (the composition of the Four). This view was supported in the early 20th century by Austrian linguist P. Kretschmer in his book "Die Entstehung der Koine" (1901), while the German scholar Wilamowitz and the French linguist Antoine Meillet, based on the intense Ionic elements of the Koine — such as σσ instead of ττ and ρσ instead of ρρ (θάλασσα — θάλαττα, ἀρσενικός — ἀρρενικός) — considered Koine to be a simplified form of Ionic. The final answer which is academically accepted today was given by the Greek linguist G. N. Hatzidakis, who proved that, despite the "composition of the Four", the "stable nucleus" of Koine Greek is Attic. In other words, Koine Greek can be regarded as Attic with the admixture of elements especially from Ionic, but also from other dialects. The degree of importance of the non-Attic linguistic elements on Koine can vary depending on the region of the Hellenistic World. In that respect, the varieties of Koine spoken in the Ionian colonies of Asia Minor and Cyprus would have more intense Ionic characteristics than others. The literary Koine of the Hellenistic age resembles Attic in such a degree that it is often mentioned as Common Attic.
The first scholars who studied Koine, both in Alexandrian and contemporary times, were classicists whose prototype had been the literary Attic language of the Classical period, and would frown upon any other kind of Hellenic speech. Koine Greek was therefore considered a decayed form of Greek which was not worthy of attention. The reconsideration on the historical and linguistic importance of Koine Greek began only in the early nineteenth century, where renowned scholars conducted a series of studies on the evolution of Koine throughout the entire Hellenistic and Roman period which it covered. The sources used on the studies of Koine have been numerous and of unequal reliability. The most significant ones are the inscriptions of the post-Classical periods and the papyri, for being two kinds of texts which have authentic content and can be studied directly. Other significant sources are the Septuagint, the somewhat literal Greek translation of the Old Testament, and the New Testament, parts of which may have been translated from the Hebrew Gospel by Jerome (or others) using similar rules to the Septuagint translators. The teaching of the Testaments was aimed at the most common people, and for that reason they use the most popular language of the era. Information can also be derived from some Atticist scholars of the Hellenistic and Roman periods, who, in order to fight the evolution of the language, published works which compared the supposedly "correct" Attic against the "wrong" Koine by citing examples. For example, Phrynichus Arabius during the second century AD wrote:
Βασίλισσα οὐδείς τῶν Ἀρχαίων εἶπεν, ἀλλὰ βασίλεια ἢ βασιλίς.
Basilissa (Queen) none of the Ancients said, but Basileia or Basilis.
Διωρία ἑσχάτως ἀδόκιμον, ἀντ' αυτοῦ δὲ προθεσμίαν ἐρεῖς.
Dioria (deadline) is badly illiteral, instead use Prothesmia.
Πάντοτε μὴ λέγε, ἀλλὰ ἑκάστοτε καὶ διὰ παντός.
Do not say Pantote (always), but Hekastote and Dia pantos.
Other sources can be based on random findings such as inscriptions on vases written by popular painters, mistakes made by Atticists due to their imperfect knowledge of pure Attic, or even some surviving Greco-Latin glossaries of the Roman period, e.g:
Bono die, venisti?
Good day, you came?
Ἐὰν θέλεις, ἐλθὲ μεθ' ἡμῶν.
Si vis, veni mecum.
If you want, come with us (The Latin actually says with me, not us).
Πρὸς φίλον ἡμέτερον Λεύκιον.
Ad amicum nostrum Lucium.
To our friend Lucius.
Τί γὰρ ἔχει;
Quid enim habet?
Indeed, what does he have?
What is it with him?.
Finally, a very important source of information on the ancient Koine is the modern Greek language with all its dialects and its own Koine form, which have preserved some of the ancient language's oral linguistic details which the written tradition has lost. For example the Pontic and Cappadocian dialects preserved the ancient pronunciation of η as ε (νύφε, συνέλικος, τίμεσον, πεγάδι etc), while the Tsakonic preserved the long α instead of η (ἁμέρα, ἀστραπά, λίμνα, χοά etc) and the other local characteristics of Laconic. Dialects from the Southern part of the Greek-speaking regions (Dodecanese, Cyprus etc), preserve the pronunciation of the double similar consonants (ἄλ-λος, Ἑλ-λάδα, θάλασ-σα), while others pronounce in many words υ as ου or preserve ancient double forms (κρόμμυον — κρεμ-μυον, ράξ — ρώξ etc). Linguistic phenomena like the above imply that those characteristics survived within Koine, which in turn had countless variations in the Greek-speaking world.
The study of all sources from the six centuries which are symbolically covered by Koine reveals linguistic changes from ancient Greek on phonology, morphology, syntax, vocabulary and other elements of the spoken language. Most new forms start off as rare and gradually become more frequent until they are established. From the linguistic changes which took place in Koine, Greek gained such a resemblance to its medieval and modern successors that almost all characteristics of modern Greek can be traced in the surviving texts of Koine. As most of the changes between modern and ancient Greek were introduced via Koine, Koine is largely intelligible to speakers of the modern language.
During the period generally designated as "Koine" Greek, a great deal of phonological change occurred: at the start of the period, the pronunciation was virtually identical to classical ancient Greek, whereas in the end it had much more in common with modern Greek.
The three most significant changes during this period were the loss of vowel length distinction, the substitution of the pitch accent system with a stress accent system, and the monophthongization of several diphthongs.
Evolution in phonology is summarised below:
"Biblical Koine" refers to the varieties of Koine Greek used in the Christian Bible and related texts. Its main sources are:
There has been some debate to what degree Biblical Greek represents the mainstream of contemporary spoken Koine and to what extent it contains specifically Semitic substratum features (cf. Aramaic primacy). These could have been induced either through the practice of translating closely from Hebrew or Aramaic originals, or through the influence of the regional non-standard Greek spoken by the originally Aramaic-speaking Jews. Some of the features discussed in this context are the Septuagint's normative absence of the particles μεν and δε, and the use of εγενετο to denote "it came to pass." Some features of Biblical Greek which are thought to have originally been non-standard elements eventually found their way into the main of the Greek language.
The term Patristic Greek is sometimes used for the Greek written by the Church Fathers, the early Christian theologians in late antiquity. Christian writers in the earliest time tended to use a simple register of Koiné, relatively close to the spoken language of their time, following the model of the Bible. After the 4th century, when Christianity became the official state religion of the Roman Empire, more learned registers of Koiné influenced by Atticism came also to be used.
The Koine Greek in the table represents a reconstruction of New Testament Koine Greek, deriving to some degree from the dialect spoken in Judaea and Galilaea during the 1st century and similar to the dialect spoken in Alexandria, Egypt. Note the realizations of certain phonemes differ from the more standard Attic dialect of Koine. Note the soft fricative "β" in intervocalic position, the preservation of the aspirated plosive value of "ph", "th" and "kh", the preservation of a distinction between the four front vowels "i", "ē", "e", and "y" (which is still rounded), and other features.
|Beta||β (-β-)||b||b (-β-)|
|Sigma||σ (-σ-/-σσ-)||s (-s-/-ss-)||s (-z-/-sː-)|
The following excerpts illustrate the phonological development within the period of Koine. The phonetic transcriptions are tentative, and are intended to illustrate two different stages in the reconstructed development, an early conservative variety still relatively close to Classical Attic, and a somewhat later, more progressive variety approaching Modern Greek in some respects.
The following excerpt, from a decree of the Roman Senate to the town of Thisbae in Boeotia in 170 BC, is rendered in a reconstructed pronunciation representing a hypothetical conservative variety of mainland Greek Koiné in the early Hellenistic era. The transcription shows partial, but not yet completed raising of η and ει to /i/, retention of pitch accent, fricativization of γ to /j/ but no fricativisation of the other stops as yet, and retention of word-initial /h/.
περὶ ὧν Θισ[β]εῖς λόγους ἐποιήσαντο· περὶ τῶν καθ᾿αὑ[τ]οὺς πραγμάτων, οἵτινες ἐν τῇ φιλίᾳ τῇ ἡμετέρᾳ ἐνέμειναν, ὅπως αὐτοῖς δοθῶσιν [ο]ἷς τὰ καθ᾿ αὑτοὺς πράγματα ἐξηγήσωνται, περὶ τούτου τοῦ πράγματος οὕτως ἔδοξεν· ὅπως Κόιντος Μαίνιος στρατηγὸς τῶν ἐκ τῆς συνκλήτου [π]έντε ἀποτάξῃ οἳ ἂν αὐτῷ ἐκ τῶν δημοσίων πρα[γμ]άτων καὶ τῆς ἰδίας πίστεων φαίνωνται.
IPA: [ˈperì hôːn tʰizbîːs lóɡuːs epojéːsanto; perì tôːn katʰ hautùːs praɡmátoːn, hoítines en tîː pʰilíaːi tîː heːmetéraːi enémiːnan, hópoːs autoîs dotʰôːsin hoîs tà katʰ hautùːs práɡmata ekseːɡéːsoːntai, perì túːtuː tûː práɡmatos húːtoːs édoksen; hópoːs ˈkʷintos ˈmainios strateːɡòs tôːn ek têːs syŋkléːtuː pénte apotáksiː, hoì àn autôːi ek tôːn deːmosíoːn praɡmátoːn kaì têːs idíaːs písteoːs pʰaínoːntai]
Concerning those matters about which the citizens of Thisbae made representations. Concerning their own affairs: the following decision was taken concerning the proposal that those who remained true to our friendship should be given the facilities to conduct their own affairs; that our governor Quintus Maenius should delegate five members of the senate who seemed to him suitable in the light of their public actions and individual good faith.
The following excerpt, the beginning of the Gospel of St John, is rendered in a reconstructed pronunciation representing a progressive popular variety of Koiné in the early Christian era, with vowels approaching those of Modern Greek.
Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος. οὗτος ἦν ἐν ἀρχῇ πρὸς τὸν θεόν. πάντα δι᾽ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο, καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν. ὃ γέγονεν. ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν, καὶ ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς τῶν ἀνθρώπων. καὶ τὸ φῶς ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ φαίνει, καὶ ἡ σκοτία αὐτὸ οὐ κατέλαβεν.
IPA: [ˈen arˈkʰi in o ˈloɣos, ke o ˈloɣos in bros to(n) tʰeˈo(n), ke tʰeˈos in o ˈloɣos. ˈutos in en arˈkʰi pros to(n) tʰeˈo(n). ˈpanda di aɸˈtu eˈjeneto, ke kʰoˈris aɸˈtu eˈjeneto ude ˈen o ˈjeɣonen. en aɸˈto zoˈi in, ke i zoˈi in to pʰos ton anˈtʰropon; ke to pʰos en di skoˈtia ˈpʰeni, ke i skoˈti(a) a(ɸ)ˈto u kaˈtelaβen]
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shone in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
This is from the LXX version of Joshua, dating to c. 150 BC. This Greek is the "Biblical Greek" discussed above. Note that because of literalness this text in many ways does not fit the Hellenistic Greek of the time, full of semiticisms.
Καὶ ἐγένετο μετὰ τὴν τελευτὴν Μωυσῆ εἶπεν κύριος τῷ ᾿Ιησοῖ υἱῷ Ναυη τῷ ὑπουργῷ Μωυσῆ λέγων. Μωυσῆς ὁ θεράπων μου τετελεύτηκεν· νῦν οὖν ἀναστὰς διάβηθι τὸν Ιορδάνην, σὺ καὶ πᾶς ὁ λαὸς οὗτος, εἰς τὴν γῆν, ἣν ἐγὼ δίδωμι αὐτοῖς. πᾶς ὁ τόπος, ἐφ᾽ ὃν ἂν ἐπιβῆτε τῷ ἴχνει τῶν ποδῶν ὑμῶν, ὑμῖν δώσω αὐτόν, ὃν τρόπον εἴρηκα τῷ Μωυσῇ, τὴν ἔρημον καὶ τὸν ᾿Αντιλίβανον ἕως τοῦ ποταμοῦ τοῦ μεγάλου, ποταμοῦ Εὐφράτου, καὶ ἕως τῆς θαλάσσης τῆς ἐσχάτης ἀφ᾽ ἡλίου δυσμῶν ἔσται τὰ ὅρια ὑμῶν. οὐκ ἀντιστήσεται ἄνθρωπος κατενώπιον ὑμῶν πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας τῆς ζωῆς σου, καὶ ὥσπερ ἤμην μετὰ Μωυσῆ, οὕτως ἔσομαι καὶ μετὰ σοῦ καὶ οὐκ ἐγκαταλείψω σε οὐδὲ ὑπερόψομαί σε. ἴσχυε καὶ ἀνδρίζου· σὺ γὰρ ἀποδιαστελεῖς τῷ λαῷ τούτῳ τὴν γῆν, ἣν ὤμοσα τοῖς πατράσιν ὑμῶν δοῦναι αὐτοῖς. ἴσχυε οὖν καὶ ἀνδρίζου φυλάσσεσθαι καὶ ποιεῖν καθότι ἐνετείλατό σοι Μωυσῆς ὁ παῖς μου, καὶ οὐκ ἐκκλινεῖς ἀπ᾽ αὐτῶν εἰς δεξιὰ οὐδὲ εἰς ἀριστερά, ἵνα συνῇς ἐν πᾶσιν, οἷς ἐὰν πράσσῃς. καὶ οὐκ ἀποστήσεται ἡ βίβλος τοῦ νόμου τούτου ἐκ τοῦ στόματός σου, καὶ μελετήσεις ἐν αὐτῷ ἡμέρας καὶ νυκτός, ἵνα συνῇς ποιεῖν πάντα τὰ γεγραμμένα· τότε εὐοδωθήσῃ καὶ εὐοδώσεις τὰς ὁδούς σου καὶ τότε συνήσεις. ἰδοὺ ἐντέταλμαί σοι· ἴσχυε καὶ ἀνδρίζου, μὴ δειλιάσῃς μηδὲ φοβηθῇς, ὅτι μετὰ σοῦ κύριος ὁ θεός σου εἰς πάντα, οὗ ἐὰν πορεύῃ. Καὶ ἐνετείλατο ᾿Ιησοῦς τοῖς γραμματεῦσιν τοῦ λαοῦ λέγων. Εἰσέλθατε κατὰ μέσον τῆς παρεμβολῆς τοῦ λαοῦ καὶ ἐντείλασθε τῷ λαῷ λέγοντες ῾Ετοιμάζεσθε ἐπισιτισμόν, ὅτι ἔτι τρεῖς ἡμέραι καὶ ὑμεῖς διαβαίνετε τὸν Ιορδάνην τοῦτον εἰσελθόντες κατασχεῖν τὴν γῆν, ἣν κύριος ὁ θεὸς τῶν πατέρων ὑμῶν δίδωσιν ὑμῖν. καὶ τῷ Ρουβην καὶ τῷ Γαδ καὶ τῷ ἡμίσει φυλῆς Μανασση εἶπεν ᾿Ιησοῦς. Μνήσθητε τὸ ῥῆμα κυρίου, ὃ ἐνετείλατο ὑμῖν Μωυσῆς ὁ παῖς κυρίου λέγων Κύριος ὁ θεὸς ὑμῶν κατέπαυσεν ὑμᾶς καὶ ἔδωκεν ὑμῖν τὴν γῆν ταύτην. αἱ γυναῖκες ὑμῶν καὶ τὰ παιδία ὑμῶν καὶ τὰ κτήνη ὑμῶν κατοικείτωσαν ἐν τῇ γῇ, ᾗ ἔδωκεν ὑμῖν· ὑμεῖς δὲ διαβήσεσθε εὔζωνοι πρότεροι τῶν ἀδελφῶν ὑμῶν, πᾶς ὁ ἰσχύων, καὶ συμμαχήσετε αὐτοῖς, ἕως ἂν καταπαύσῃ κύριος ὁ θεὸς ὑμῶν τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς ὑμῶν ὥσπερ καὶ ὑμᾶς καὶ κληρονομήσωσιν καὶ οὗτοι τὴν γῆν, ἣν κύριος ὁ θεὸς ἡμῶν δίδωσιν αὐτοῖς· καὶ ἀπελεύσεσθε ἕκαστος εἰς τὴν κληρονομίαν αὐτοῦ, ἣν δέδωκεν ὑμῖν Μωυσῆς εἰς τὸ πέραν τοῦ Ιορδάνου ἀπ᾽ ἀνατολῶν ἡλίου. καὶ ἀποκριθέντες τῷ ᾿Ιησοῖ εἶπαν Πάντα, ὅσα ἂν ἐντείλῃ ἡμῖν, ποιήσομεν καὶ εἰς πάντα τόπον, οὗ ἐὰν ἀποστείλῃς ἡμᾶς, πορευσόμεθα· κατὰ πάντα, ὅσα ἠκούσαμεν Μωυσῆ, ἀκουσόμεθα σοῦ, πλὴν ἔστω κύριος ὁ θεὸς ἡμῶν μετὰ σοῦ, ὃν τρόπον ἦν μετὰ Μωυσῆ. ὁ δὲ ἄνθρωπος, ὃς ἐὰν ἀπειθήσῃ σοι καὶ ὅστις μὴ ἀκούσῃ τῶν ῥημάτων σου καθότι ἂν αὐτῷ ἐντείλῃ, ἀποθανέτω. ἀλλὰ ἴσχυε καὶ ἀνδρίζου.
This text serves as an introduction to Koine Greek, also known as Biblical Greek, appropriate for a two year course. A fluent knowledge of English is presumed.
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