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  • Cited by 3
  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: November 2007

9 - Language and Literature


Language: The Rise of the Koine

The army that marched through Asia under Alexander’s command included speakers of many regional Greek dialects, but its official, administrative language, spoken by its Macedonian leaders and used in formal documents, was a version of Attic, the dialect spoken at Athens. The evidence for a native “Macedonian” language is shadowy, but suggests that it was either an idiosyncratic variant of Greek or a closely related Indo-European language. Although the Macedonian royal house claimed to have its origins in Argos, where the spoken language was a form of Doric Greek, the political power and cultural influence exerted by Athens made its dialect particularly important for a philhellenic Macedonian court interested in laying claim to a Hellenic heritage. The formal adoption of Attic as the official language of the Macedonian court under Philip II was merely the culmination of a linguistic trend that had already been under way for more than half a century. Its consequences for the linguistic and cultural landscape of the Hellenistic period were monumental.

The version of Attic adopted by the Macedonian royal house differed in some respects from the local dialect spoken by ordinary Athenians. By the late fifth century, the influence of Ionic, a dialect closely related to Attic and spoken in many of the city-states that made up the Athenian empire, had led to the development of a “Greater Attic” dialect in which certain marked local morphological and syntactical features were diminished or eliminated entirely.

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