What language did the Byzantines speak

3. The Greek language

As already mentioned several times, the Greek language remained the basis of all education in the Byzantine East even after antiquity. However, Byzantine Greek was the result of a long evolution from linguistic diversity to uniformity. The staggered immigration of various Greek tribes from the Balkans to Greece in the course of the 1st millennium BC originally caused the language family to split up. Contributed. Then there was the deepening of already existing differences through the spatial separation of the tribes within Greece. Since the 6th century BC BC political differences also counteracted a linguistic agreement. One of the few examples of cross-regional Greek from that time are the Homeric epics, which were, however, written in an artificial language from elements of different dialects. In literary terms, diversity was overcome relatively early. The actual mixing of the dialects occurred for the first time in the Common Greek Persian Wars. After the victory against the overpowering opponent, Athens was also able to assert itself linguistically through its political leadership role and make the Attic dialect the leading language variant in all of Greece - similar to how Roman later became the language of Italy and then of the entire empire. However, this influence was due not only to Athens' power, but also to the role of Athens as the cultural center to which it had developed under Pericles. The linguistic standardization (unlike in Italy) was based to a considerable extent on the cultural unification of Greece under the leadership of the educational institutions of Athens and the sophistics developed in Athens. This is particularly evident in the continued cultural significance of Athens in the face of declining political power in the 4th century BC. Chr.

Another big step towards linguistic unification was the work of Alexander the Great at the end of the 4th century BC. BC: In addition to the mixing of Greek tribes in his huge army, his campaigns also carried the Greek language to foreign peoples. Although the languages ​​of the conquered also added new elements, the need for general understanding quickly led to a more or less uniform and simple language. The role of Greek in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC BC was similar to that of English in the 19th and 20th centuries: It was the first or second language for all residents of the Alexander Empire, its influence was reinforced by the army, the administration and the traders. In trade, Greek remained the lingua franca until it was introduced in the 7th century AD. was replaced by Arabic. The already mentioned influence of foreign languages ​​on the "new" language consisted not only in the adoption of certain expressions, but also in the grinding of phonetic problems and in the superimposition of different language families.

This gave rise to an easily understandable variant of Greek, the koiné [dialektos], which was simplified in both phonetic and syntactic terms. The characteristics of the development to koiné were:

  1. the beginning of the coincidence of light vowels and double vowels in i (Itazism) up to the 10th century AD.
  2. the disappearance of the differences in length and shortening (due to the influence of foreign languages)
  3. the simplification of the verb and case forms
  4. the simplification in sentence formation

Already during the reign of Philip of Macedonia there had been approaches to such a general language, but it was only under his son Alexander (and in the Diadochian empires) that it really became established. Due to the juxtaposition of the written Attic language and koiné for everyday use, a kind of diglossia of two dialects rather than two languages ​​established itself in the Greek East. The classical Attic language became more and more an artificial language and slowly moved away from the spoken language until the gap between the two levels in the 5th and 6th centuries AD. became irreconcilable. The koiné also exerted a certain influence on the written language. Even the Biblical Greek of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament (260/250 BC), showed clear traces of everyday language; The climax in this respect was the New Testament. Its widespread use also meant an appreciation of the written koiné, which, however, was soon stopped by Christian theologians (for reasons to be explained), so that the New Testament became both the climax and the end of the Developing a written koiné was. Oral preaching in the church will in future be an important factor in balancing the written and spoken language.

But despite all efforts, the uniformity achieved was around 300 AD. partly lost again, although Greek was spoken throughout the core of the Byzantine Empire until the 11th century. In the time of Justinian (565 AD), this huge linguistic unit was influenced in the northeast by Georgian, in the east by Armenian, Syrian, Arabic and Coptic, in the west and south by Latin and Germanic. Under Basileos II (around 1025 AD) the picture had not changed significantly, only the Latin influence had declined and was replaced in the north by Slavic. However, all these foreign languages ​​were only effective in the border areas of Byzantium, with the exception of Armenian and Latin. The Armenians had a large proportion of the population in Asia Minor, and had their own language and culture; the senior Armenian civil servants were probably the only truly bilingual Byzantines. Otherwise, there was a close connection between territorial and linguistic unity in Byzantium. Only in the treatment of Latin was there a deviation from the generally accepted koiné for ideological reasons: From the point of view of the state, Byzantium was the Eastern Roman Empire, so that Latin, despite its practical insignificance, has been used since the 7th century AD. was artificially upheld as a solemn state language. This ideology was supported by the conquests of Justinian, who recaptured large parts of the Latin west from the Greek East and had the new unity of the Roman Empire expressed in Latin in the codification of Roman law, the Codex Justinianus. The emperor also promoted Latin grammar lessons in Constantinople, where the most important grammarian of late antiquity, Priscian, also taught. The praise for Justinian was also in Latin. His successors kept this direction, so that until the 11th century AD. Coin inscriptions in (incorrect) Latin script and language were minted. During this time, the disappearance of the former official language from public life came to an end. In the army, in which Latin-speaking soldiers from the Balkans still served until the 6th century, only a few commands reminded of the origin of the legions. The last example of a Latin command comes from the description of a 10th century Arabic author who reported about the horse races in Constantinople that the horses would go with Sta! brought to a halt. But already 100 years after Justinian's death, his great legal work was no longer readily understandable, and lawyers had to use legal dictionaries and Greek translations because state legislation had worked in Greek since the early 7th century. At the same time, the ideological claim to represent the Eastern Roman Empire sank up to the 9th century.

In the second half of the 13th century, the Franciscans and Dominicans in Byzantium tried to give Latin lessons independent of the ancient heritage, which at that time was already the language of the ecclesiastical enemy of the Greek Orthodox Church. In general, the Byzantines knew no systematic foreign language acquisition, a consequence of their arrogance towards foreign peoples and their languages. This attitude had disadvantages especially for diplomacy. The interpreters, either prisoners of war or traders, were well equipped for oral negotiations, but often had to fit in with the written fixation of the results in the respective written languages. Language acquisition in Byzantium was limited to learning Greek orthography. The spread of the koiné in everyday life, its rapid change and the contrast to the strongly deviating Attic written language increased the need for language lessons because Greek native speakers were no longer clear about the "correct" forms and pronunciation and spelling in the 10th century AD . differed greatly. The task was difficult enough, since the elementary schools did not work with colloquial language but with Attic grammar. The need for grammars and lexicons already established the scientific occupation with the language, the philology, in the Alexander Empire. The methods and classifications of language teaching at that time, e.g. the distinction between cases and verb forms, were adopted by medieval and modern grammarians and applied not only to Indo-European, but to all languages ​​of the world.