Geoffrey Horrocks

in The Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Studies

Published in print October 2008 | ISBN: 9780199252466
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Classics and Ancient History


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  • Classical Studies
  • Classical Reception
  • Historical Archaeology



In addition to Greek, the Byzantines spoke many other languages. In Late Antiquity, Latin and Greek, the two "world languages", were not only the primary cultural languages, but also the sole official languages, of the Roman Empire. By the end of the sixth century, however, Greek-Latin bilingualism in the east, including Constantinople, had waned. This article looks at the range of languages used in the period of the Byzantine Empire's greatest extent, immediately after Justinian's wars of reconquest, from Late Antiquity and the early Byzantine Empire, to the middle and late Byzantine periods (mid-seventh century to 1453). It also discusses the evolving linguistic situation as the empire contracted, focusing on Greek diglossia and the problems and opportunities arising from the coexistence of different "varieties" of Greek as a spoken and written medium.

Keywords: Greek; Latin; languages; Byzantine Empire; Late Antiquity; bilingualism; Roman Empire; Justinian; diglossia

Article.  3325 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Classical Reception ; Historical Archaeology

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