I was just reflecting on the fact that Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and French all evolved from Latin, the language spread across that area by the Roman Empire 2000 years ago. (Romanian too, I suppose.)

Yet although Greece was firmly a part of the Roman Empire, Latin never took root there, it seems, as the Greek language is quite distinct from the Romance languages. The same is true for the territories above Greece-- that whole region east of the Adriatic aside from Romania.

Why is this so?

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    IMO, Romania is an even bigger mystery, given that it's geographically isolated from other Romance areas. See this map for example.
    – user69715
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 23:17

4 Answers 4


Suspect it was because Greek already had well established literacy whereas other regions you name were much less literate. The Latin alphabet was based on the Etruscan alphabet which was in turn based on the Greek alphabet.

If you were going to rule the Greeks you were going to have to do it in Greek.

To those areas you name Romanization brought both the Latin language and the alphabet.

To the extent that Spain for example was already literate was due to colonies of other nations... there were Greek and Carthaginian colonial cities/trading centers in Spain where they wrote in the the tongues of their colonizers.


Greek states were very much culturally superior to Rome at the time of conquest. This was recognized even by the Romans themselves. A well-educated Roman had to read and speak Greek. There was absolutely no reasons to introduce Latin in the Greek states. All science, philosophy and much of the literature in the Roman empire was written in Greek.

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    "And captive Greece took captive her rude conqueror." Horace
    – TheHonRose
    Commented Apr 24, 2016 at 1:47
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    @TheHonRose: Thanks for the very nice illustration!
    – Alex
    Commented Apr 24, 2016 at 3:10
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    @TheHonRose I have read that quote in an (inaccurate but) alliterative form: "Captive Greece took her captor captive."
    – taninamdar
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 17:09

Well, one must remember that Latin, was the primary and central language of the Roman Empire-(though the Greek language was a close runner-up, particularly among the Nobility and Patrician related classes). Latin's linguistic influence was far more widespread in countries to the North and West of Rome, due in great part to the continuity of the Greek language in lands to the East and South-(though to a limited extent) of Rome.

Although the Romans had conquered the near entirety of the centuries old and diverse Greco-Hellenistic imperial zones, the strength and continuity of the Greek language lived on in the various academic institutions, though had also continued, in many cases, within the larger institutions of everyday society. In other words, the Greek language, even under Roman colonial occupation, still retained its elite and preferential status, continuity, indispensability.

Comparatively speaking, the Romans had greater cultural freedom and autonomy in the more underdeveloped lands to its West and particularly, to its North. Much of the WESTERN Roman empire was a primitive backwater and thus, for the Romans, it not only provided them with the ability to pave better roads and bridges, but also to pave an uniquely autonomous cultural and linguistic legacy and continuity.


The old Greek empire, meaning the empire of the Macedonians, the empire created by Alexander spoke Greek widely and had many Greek colonies. The entire city of Alexandria, which was founded by Alexander and became the center of learning in the Western world for 500 years was entirely composed of Greeks and Greek-speaking people. The political control of Rome did nothing to change this.

  • But then why did it change things in other regions? Your answer kind of restates the premise of my question without explaining why, which is what I'm asking. Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 17:38
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    @Aerovistae Because there were no Greeks in other regions. Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 17:41
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    I can't tell if you're joking. Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 17:46
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    Part of the reason is that the Romans admired classical Greek civilization, so educated Romans learned Greek, had Greek tutors & physicians, imported antique Greek art (and sometimes counterfeited it)...
    – jamesqf
    Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 17:48
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    But Tyler, why can't you just say "Where there were Celts they spoke Celtic, and where there were Goths they spoke Gothic"-- you can't because it isn't true-- they started speaking Latin instead. WHY did they change, while the Greeks didn't? Commented Dec 10, 2016 at 2:04

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