Medieval Greek

Medieval Greek (Μεσαιωνική Ελληνική) is a linguistic term that describes the third period in the history of the Greek language. Its symbolic boundaries start with the transfer of the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to Constantinople in 330 AD, and end with the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire in 1453 AD (although linguistically it had not evolved from the Koine dialect of Ancient Greek until at least the 7th Century AD). As Medieval Greek co-exists with the history of the Byzantine Empire, another term often used to describe the period is Byzantine Greek.


When the capital of the Roman Empire was transferred to Constantinople in the 4th century AD, the official language of the state continued to be the Latin, yet the literary and spoken language of the entire Eastern part of the Empire continued to be the Greek. Greek was also the language of the church and education, while the university preserved a diglossia between the two. Even though this new Greco-Latin diglossia lasted more than two centuries, the Byzantine emperors had been favouring the official use of Greek over Latin since the beginning. Latin was preserved on inscriptions and coinage until the 11th c. AD. The separation of the mixed or non Greek-speaking populations of the Western part of the Empire, accelerated the Hellenisation of the Eastern one. Later when Greek dynasties of emperors establish themselves on the Byzantine throne and change the official language of the public services, Greek displaces Latin completely. Eventually, the Greeks of the Eastern Roman Empire adopt the Roman name and Romans (Ρωμαίοι) itself becomes a synonym for a Greek (Έλλην), while the official name of the Byzantine state "ΡΩΜΑΝΙΑ", ends up referring to the medieval Greek state of Byzantium. The name "Ρωμαίοι" (Romans) is used as a title of prestige, which symbolises the awe of the old Roman Empire, and typically declares the land claims of the Byzantine state.

Evolution from Hellenistic to Medieval Koine

The cultural and linguistic center of the Greek World during the Byzantine era, as it had once been Athens, becomes Constantinople. The capital acts as a linguistic center on Byzantine Hellenism, for both literary (Atticist) and popular (spoken) forms of speech. The diglossy in Byzantium is defined by the medieval literary Koine, which has elements of archaism (equivalent to the Hellenistic Atticism), and the spoken or popular Koine which is the authentic successor of Koine Greek. In the way that the Western scholars use Classical Latin for their literary work, the Byzantines tend to archaism with elements of Atticism. Paulus Silentiarius (Paul the Silentiary) writes at the time of Justinian I his "Description of Hagia Sophia" (Έκφρασιν του Ναού της Αγίας Σοφίας) with iambs and Homeric hexameters that were characterised as a dark and poetic language. The historians Procopius and Critobulus imitate Thucydides while Anna Comnena has a general Atticist literary style. The members of the Church up until the 4th c. AD follow the example of the Apostols and use the Medieval Koine. However from the 4th century and forth, the language of the church becomes Atticistic due to the intervention of the Cappadocian Fathers who had been educated in Greek schools of rhetoric. In that respect, the Church is using the older language of the Greeks in order to fight off their older pagan religion. By that time most of the popular masses had already been converted to Christianity, however the introduction of the Atticistic language attracts also rich Greek pagans of higher social status. Thus the Atticist rhetoric helped the Byzantine state to fight off the heresies, and the vernacular Koine enhanced the literary speech with elements from the spoken language.

Evolution in vocabulary:

Due to the long-term diglossy between Latin and Greek, Medieval Greek borrowed various linguistic elements from the Latin language, part of which survived in Modern Greek. A number of Latin words and popular phrases can be traced in Medieval Greek are the following (bold marking signifies assimilation to the language and survival to Modern Greek):

Common phrases:

άνω φηλικίσιμε! < Annos Felicissimos!

βαίνε < Bene (Venisti!)

του βίκας! < tu vincas!

ιν μούλτος άννος! < in multos annos!

Everyday words:

Αύγουστος (August), Καίσαρ (Cesar), πρίγκιψ (Prince), κόμης (Count), μάγιστρος (magician), κοιέστωρ, σιλεντιάριος, παλάτιον (palace), κουροπαλάτης, ακτουάριος, καγκελλάριος (chancellor), Μαγναύρα, λάβαρον, βούλλα, τίτλος (title), αντιμήνσιον, κανδήλιον (candle), μανουάλιον (manual), φαιλόνιον, σακελλάριος, τιτουλάριος, καλένδαι, βίσεκτος, etc.


Αξούγγιον, βερίκοκον, βίγλα, βούκα, γούλα, εξέμπλιον, καλαμάριον, καλλίγιον, κάγκελον, κάρβουνον, κουβούκλιον, στέρνα, λουκάνικον, λωρίον, μάγκιψ, μάγουλον, μακελλάρης, μανίκιον, μαρούλιον, μενσάλιον, μίλλιον, μουλλάριον, οσπίτιον, παλούκιον, πανάριον, πέδικλον, πούγγιον, σέλλα, σέρβουλον, σκαμνίον, σκουτέλλιον, στάβλος, ταβέρνα, τάβλα, φλάσκα, φόρος, φούρκα, φούρνος etc.


Βαρβάτος, βένετος, μπλάβος etc.


Ακκομβίζω, βουλλώνω, καβαλικεύω, κανακεύω, μισσεύω, πλουμίζω, φουρνίζω etc.


  • -aton: Μαγιστράτον, μανδάτον, δουκάτον etc.
  • -atos: Αμυγδαλάτος, καρυδάτος, κυδωνάτος, πιπεράτος etc.
  • -arios: Νοτάριος, σχολάριος etc.
  • -poullos/poullon: Κομητόπουλλος, Τουρκόπουλλος, Αρχοντόπουλλον, Φραγκόπουλλον etc.
  • -isios: Καστρήσιος, κολονήσιος, βουνήσιος etc.
  • -anos: Δέκανος, Πάγανος etc.
  • -alion: Μανουάλλιον, Μενσάλλιον, τριβουνάλιον etc.

Evolution in phonology:

In phonology, both rare and common innovations described in Koine Greek become more generalised.

  • The vowel η has already been merged with ι, except in Pontus and Cappadocia, where it preserved its ancient accent (νύφε, κεπίν, τίμεσον, Ελλένικος, θελυκό, πεγάιδι).
  • The vowel υ and the diphtong οι, which during Hellenistic Koine had taken the sound of the French 'u', also merge with ι in the 10th century, except some local dialects such as the ones of Aegina, Megara and Cumae (κιούτομαι, χιούρος, τσιουλία, Κούμη).
  • The vowel ω is in restricted cases converted into ου (ζουμιν, κλουβίν, κουνούπιν, κουπίν, αλωπού, μαιμού, Γιλλού).
  • The vowel ε is occasionally converted to ι when it is succeeded by α and ο, and during the 13th century it loses its accent (μηλέα>μυλιά, λεοντάριν>λιοντάριν), everywhere except in Pontus, Cappadocia, the Ionian Islands and Southern Italy.
  • The vowel ο is gradually neglected from the termination -ιον, -ιος (καλαμάριν, κουβάριν, σακκίν, χαρτίν, κύρις).
  • The phonetic combination of ου-ε is occasionally pronounced as ο (μόδωκε, οπόχουν, πόναι, οπόκαμεν, πόλειπες).
  • Consonants κ and π are occasionally converted to χ and φ when succeeded by τ (νύχτα, προσεχτικά, σουδαχτικά, εκλεχτοί, εφτά, λεφτός, φτωχός, βαφτίζω).
  • Consonants θ is occasionally converted to τ when preceded by φ and χ (εγεύτη, φτοράν, φτόνος, παρευτύς, εταράχτησαν, να συναχτούν, να δεχτούμε, μάχεστε, επιάστη).
  • The vowel υ from diphthongs αυ and ευ, which from the time of Koine Greek had already acquired the sound of φ and β, now they're occasionally silenced when succeeded by μ (θάμα, ψέμα), and are converted to π when succeeded by σ (απεζέψασιν, επλέψασιν, ωδήγεψαν, να θεραπέψουν, ανάπαψη).
  • The vowel υ in the combination υν is converted to μ (εύνοστος>έμνοστος, χαύνος>χάμνος, ελαύνω>λάμνω).
  • The nasal consonants μ and ν stop being pronounced when succeeded by aspirated consonants (νύφη, άθος, πεθερός).
  • The terminating -ν continues to be pronounced (καλαμάριν, κουβάριν, σακκίν, χαρτίν) and in several occasions appears equivalently (γάλαν, οξύγαλαν, πράμαν, εγίνοτον, επνίγην, εκτίστην).

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