Take the 2-minute tour ×
History Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for historians and history buffs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Most of western languages adopt the Latin alphabet with minor variations. Arabic letters are adopted by quite a few other languages. The same is true for Eastern Europe with Cyrillic letters. Why was not the Greek alphabet adopted by others given the Greek prominence, power, and influence in the old ages? Aside from the sciences, we hardly see any use of the Greek alphabet except in Greece.

share|improve this question
"Why was not the Greek alphabet adopted by others" - It was, Cyrillic is based on the Greek alphabet. –  Lennart Regebro Dec 22 '13 at 3:13
The armenians adopted the greek alphabet IIRC –  Jeroen K Dec 22 '13 at 9:13
@JeroenK: Armenian alphabet looks nothing like Greek. You probably mean Cyrillic alphabet used in Russian language that most Armenians speak fluently. –  Michael Dec 22 '13 at 20:32
@LennartRegebro: Yes, Cyrillic was based mostly on the Greek language of Byzantium, (although some of the letter were borrowed from Hebrew and Latin). I guess the question refers to an earlier period of Greek domination, before Romans took it away from them. IMO the interesting question is: was Greek alphabet adopted by other languages before 3rd century BC? –  Michael Dec 22 '13 at 20:42

5 Answers 5

It was adopted widely. But later was replaced with Latin or the peoples were assimiliated.

  • Balkan peoples: Macedonians, Thracians, Illirians, Liburgians, Messapians, Phrygians,

  • Central European people: Helvetii (mentioned by Caesar as writing with Greek alphabet) and other varieties of Celts and Germanic peoples.

  • In Spain: Iberians (Ibero-Ionian script)

  • In Italy: Etruscans

and a lot of other peoples wrote in their languages using Greek alphabet.

share|improve this answer
Two small corrections here. Old Phrygian alphabetic writing is as old a Greek and has some few exlcusive letters, hence considered to be an independent alphabet (not Greek based, but deriving directly from Phoenician). The Macedonians had not a distinct alphabet, but were using Greek already from 740 BC (Pieria region and Aiani), which makes them one of the ealiest users of the alphabet in Greece. That last fact is rather unknown to most people. –  Midas Jul 1 at 12:02

Because the territories where those languages originated were ruled by Rome, not Athens or Byzantium, for a semi-millennium. In areas where contact with Byzantium/Constantinople dominated contact with Rome, such as Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, the Cyrillic alphabet is primary.

Here is a map showing those countries where the Cyrillic alphabet is primary.

share|improve this answer

Ancient Greece's energies were generally oriented towards their older civilized neighbors to the east. As such, nearly all the people they traded with or conquered already had an established writing system. The colonies and trade ties they established in the uncivilized west were almost entirely usurped by Rome in the runup and aftermath of the Second Punic war.

That being said, the Latin alphabet, which as a result of that is used by nearly all Western Indo-Europeans, was ultimately derived from the Greek alphabet. Much more recently the Cyrillic Script used for most Slavic languages (and several that aren't even Indo-European) uses Greek-inspired glyphs. If you combine these two scripts, it would be fair to say that Greek-derived alphabets are in use as the primary script in close to the majority of the land area of all inhabited continents on earth.

share|improve this answer
Greece was a newcomer? Sorry, I strongly disagree. Greek language has one of the oldest written history. –  Anixx Jul 30 at 6:38
@Anixx - Ah. Yes, that sentence makes no sense at all out of context like I left it there. Thank you for pointing it out. I've elaborated what I meant to say. Does this make more sense now? –  T.E.D. Jul 30 at 7:37

It was, for the most part. While there are many other writing systems, both the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets (and, in fact, the use of an alphabet – as opposed to other type of writing systems including abjads like the Arabic or Phoenician writing system) all derive from the Greek one.

share|improve this answer
The Semitic alphabets (Phoenician, Hebrew, Arabic etc.) do not derive from the Greek. In fact, the Greek alphabet derives from the Phoenician. –  fdb Jul 31 at 13:09
@fdb That's true but those are not alphabets at all. –  Relaxed Jul 31 at 14:23
Of course they are alphabets. Each letter of a word represents a single phoneme. –  fdb Jul 31 at 14:29
@fdb I never disputed any of that but they have no glyphs for vowels and are more properly called abjads. –  Relaxed Jul 31 at 14:31
@fdb I tried to clarify that in my answer since it seemed to confuse you. –  Relaxed Jul 31 at 14:33

Greek script was used to write Bactrian, an Iranian language spoken in what is now Afghanistan. That is about as far as you can get from Greece.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.