Archaic Greek in a modern world

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From the Cambridge University YouTube channel on which the above video appears:

An endangered Greek dialect which is spoken in north-eastern Turkey has been identified by researchers as a "linguistic goldmine" because of its startling closeness to the ancient language, as Cambridge researcher Dr Ioanna Sitaridou explains.

For more information please visit:

As traders and conquerors, the Greeks spread all over the ancient and medieval worlds, so it would not be surprising if they left their linguistic legacy where they went.  If some of their colonies were isolated by geographic or other circumstances, they might well preserve archaic features of their ancestral language.  Such appears to be the case with the community documented here.

I knew an eminent Soviet archeologist named Viktor Ivanovich Sarianidi or Victor Sarigiannides (Russian: Ви́ктор Ива́нович Сариани́ди; Greek: Βίκτωρ Σαρηγιαννίδης; September 23, 1929 – December 22, 2013).  "He discovered the remains of a Bronze Age culture in the Karakum Desert in 1976. The culture came to be known as the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex." 

Sarianidi was born in Tashkent to a family of Pontic Greek descent. "His parents, Ioannis and Athena Sarianidi had immigrated there from Yalta in the 1920s.

Sarianidi graduated from the Central Asian State University in 1952. He then obtained a master's degree in 1961 from the Institute of Archaeology of the Soviet Academy of Sciences in Moscow. His doctoral dissertation, titled Afghanistan in the Bronze and Iron Ages, came out in 1975."


Because of Sarianidi's family and professional Central Asian Greek associations, especially as epitomized by Yalta, I will linger on this topic for a moment before closing with some brief reflections on the legacy of Alexander.

Yalta (Ukrainian and Russian: Я́лта) is a resort city on the south coast of the Crimean Peninsula surrounded by the Black Sea. It serves as the administrative center of Yalta Municipality, one of the regions within Crimea.

The city is located on the site of the ancient Greek colony of Yalita. It is said to have been founded by the Greek settlers who were looking for a safe shore (Γιαλός, yalos in Greek) on which to land. It is situated on a deep bay facing south towards the Black Sea, surrounded by the mountain range Ai-Petri. It has a warm humid subtropical climate and is surrounded by numerous vineyards and orchards.

The area became famous when the city held the Yalta Conference as part of the Allied World War II conferences in 1945.


Yalta is also celebrated for its literary associations, Leo Tolstoy spent summers there and Anton Chekhov in 1898 bought a house (the White Dacha) here, where he lived till 1902; Yalta is the setting for Chekhov's short story, "The Lady with the Dog", and such prominent plays as The Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard were written in Yalta.

The transformations of the name Alexander in Central Asia are a good indication of the widespread influence of Greek language and culture in that part of the world.

Iskandar, Iskander, Askander, Eskinder, or Scandar (Persian: اسکندر Eskandar or سکندر Skandar), is a variant of the given name Alexander in cultures such as Iran (Persia), Arabia and others throughout the Middle East, Caucasus and Central Asia. Originally referring to Alexander the Great, it was transmitted through works such as the Iskandarnamah and the Sirr al-Asrar, and became a popular name for rulers in the medieval period.

The Arabic version may also add the definite-article prefix al-, giving al-ʾiskandar (Arabic: الاسكندر,الإِسْكَنْدَر). al-Iskandarīyah ("of Alexander") is the Arabic name of the Egyptian city of Alexandria.


Something similar could be said for Roxanne, the name of Alexander's wife, which can be traced all the way across Eurasia to China.

Roxanne is a feminine given name. It is derived from the Greek name Rhōxanē (Latinised to Roxana), used for Roxana, the wife of Alexander the Great, a derivative of the Persian Roshanak, meaning bright star. In Kurdish (Roj-an) as well as in Avesta (Rowc) it means "bright, sun, sunlight, sun god, day".

(sources here and here)

There is still much to be done on the linguistic and cultural impact of Hellenic civilization on ancient and medieval Eurasia, especially Central Asia and East Asia.


Selected readings

[Thanks to Lucas Christopoulos]


  1. jin defang said,

    July 16, 2022 @ 12:58 pm

    Iskander is also the name of a Russian short-range missile that has been much used, with devastating effect, in the conflict in Ukraine.

  2. Peter B. Golden said,

    July 16, 2022 @ 1:14 pm

    There are Rumeyka-speaking ethnic Greek populations in Mariupol (or were until the Russian terror-bombing of the city), also speaking a dialect of Pontic Greek origin. In addition, part of the Greek population of that region, the Urums, speak a dialect of Crimean Tatar (Urum Tili) as their principal language. The ethnonym Urum is from Rūm (Arabic > Turkish) "Rome," the Byzantines" (who referred to themselves as "Romans /Ρωμαιοι)

  3. Keith said,

    July 16, 2022 @ 1:26 pm

    Very interesting. Annoyingly, the site does not allow copying of any text, making it tiresome to quote anything from it. Not a good image for an institute that is supposed to be about scholarly dissemination of information and learning.

    I noticed that transcriptions of Romeyka address given in a kind of pseudo-IPA, teacher than in Greek, which makes me think that Romeyka is an entirely oral language with no tradition of being written.

    Finally, the name Romeyka reminds me of Rum, making me think that it is an endonym applied to and then adopted by this population.

  4. Keith said,

    July 16, 2022 @ 1:29 pm

    Autocorrect mangled my post a bit…


  5. Victor Mair said,

    July 16, 2022 @ 2:05 pm

    @jing defang, Peter B. Golden, and Keith

    Thanks for your wonderfully informative comments!

  6. robin rapport said,

    July 16, 2022 @ 4:03 pm

    to Keith:
    I use SingleFile from Firefox which saves the web content to my PC. This version of the webpage no longer displays the restriction you encountered.
    SingleFile is an add-on for Firefox Desktop and Mobile that helps you to save an entire webpage including images, styling, frames, fonts etc. as a single HTML file.
    Also: of reference:

  7. Philip Taylor said,

    July 16, 2022 @ 4:26 pm

    Keither — "the site does not allow copying of any text" — I was unable to replicate this, being able to copy their text without any difficulty and paste it into an e-mail (fragment follows). Can you give the exact page (URL and context) where you encountered this problem ?

    Romeyka exhibits many interesting characteristics that are not found in other varieties of Greek and are not so common cross-linguistically. As such, a detailed knowledge of the Romeyka grammatical system would benefit linguistic theory more generally

    Due to geographical isolation and the nature of the mountain village communities, there is significant micro-variation within the regions where Romeyka is spoken. Given their level of isolation, we can use this micro-variation to attempt to accurately model contact-induced syntactic change, which is notoriously evasive to capture theoretically.

  8. M. said,

    July 16, 2022 @ 5:07 pm

    See also the English adjective Romaic and the English place name Rumelia.

  9. Hiroshi Kumamoto said,

    July 16, 2022 @ 7:52 pm

    Re: Avesta (Rowc)

    When you google, it's kind of surprising how many sites uncritically copy and paste this non-existent and impossible "Avesta" word from Wikipedia.
    The Av. word for "light" is raocah-, cognate with OP raučah- "day", OInd. verb ruc-/roc- "to shine".

  10. Martin Schwartz said,

    July 16, 2022 @ 8:25 pm

    For those who wish to hear a Ponti(a)c Greek popular song with
    lyric (in Greek script) whose composers who, like the late
    Sarianidi (who spoke Black Sea Greek as well as perfect Athenian)
    come from Tashkent, go to @VASILIADIS Kavkaz YouTube (the melody is a variant of a West Armenian tune). I know 2 people from Greece descended from Greeks who came to Greece from Asia Minor in 1922, they speak Ponti(a)c Greek and cling to their traditons, including Greek Orthodoxy. As to the song, it is 75%
    intelligible to those who speak only Modern (Athenian) Greek
    Less intelligible to the latterr group is the language called
    Tsakonian, also threatened (though there are local attempts at revival), spoken on the coast of the Peloponnese north of Leonidion,
    and descended from Doric Greek; the language was still thriving
    when I was there in the early 1960s. As for Alexander's name,
    the al- was eliminated as representing the Arabic article.
    Classical Persian has both Iskandar and Sikandar, and while Turkish has the equivalent of the former name, the latter is eliminated
    because sik(-) has obscene connotations. Re Roxanne,
    the name is not from Persian roušan, Middle Persian rōšn 'bright, light' or the like, but from Sogdian roxšn- 'id.', or its Bactrian equivalent. The Old Iranian antecedent of all of thse is represented
    by Avestan raoxšna- 'bright', whereas raocah- is 'light, day',
    cf. Kurd. roj, and raocana- is 'shining', cf. Kurd. rojan, all of which has Persian cognates. The Av. raoxšna- is formally paralleled by
    OLat. lousna, Lat. lūna, Russ. luná, etc. < PIE *louksnā.
    Martin Schwartz

  11. martin schwartz said,

    July 16, 2022 @ 8:33 pm

    p.s the Greek form whence Roxanne has omega, so must be descended from a Sogdian or Bactrian form which (stiil) had *ō.
    Wikipedia is not at all to be trusted for matters Iranian.

  12. Jongseong Park said,

    July 16, 2022 @ 9:29 pm

    @Peter B. Golden

    Although it is common to refer to the ethnic Greeks traditionally living in the Azovian coast of Ukraine centred around Mariupol as Pontic Greeks, they seem not to trace their origins to the Pontus region and therefore form a separate community from the Pontic Greeks proper.

    We know that Greek-speaking populations were present in Crimea for at least two thousand years before they were resettled in the north shore of the Azov Sea around 1780 by Catherine II. There is no prima facie reason to assume that the historical Crimean Greeks came from the Pontus rather than other parts of the Greek-speaking world in the intervening millennia.

    We could look at the linguistic evidence for clues. As we can see above, the Pontic Greek dialect proper is called Romeyka. Azov Greek (or Mariupol Greek) is called Ruméika. In Is Rumeíka a Pontic or a Northern Greek Dialect?, Maxim Kisilier concludes that it is separate from Pontic Greek:

    But Rumeíka is, certainly, not either Pontic or a Northern Greek dialect. The Azov Greeks must have had contacts with Pontos and Northern Greece. Some immigrants could have even come from Northern Greece, but still Rumeíka should be regarded as a separate Greek dialect or even a group of Greek dialects. I suppose that the Azov Greeks originate from various parts of Greece, including Northern Greece and islands, like Crete, for example.

    There is (or was) however an actual Pontic Greek-speaking village to the north of Mariupol called Anadol (Анадоль) which was settled by ethnic Greeks from Pontus in 1826.

  13. Keith said,

    July 17, 2022 @ 1:11 am

    the problem I described occurs on every page, beginning with the default page, when viewing the site on my phone (Firefox, Android, Fairphone 3+). Whenever I put my finger on a word to begin selecting, I see a message "You do not have permission to copy images from this site ©Sitaridou 2008-2019".

    Now that I am viewing the site on a laptop computer (Android, Lunix, Thinkpad T420), I am able to select any text and copy it, and the message about not having permission to copy only appears when I try to copy an image.

    Curiously, I have just discovered that on my phone I can hold my finger down on any image and from the contextual menu that appears I can choose "save image"…

    So when browsing on a phone the mechanism to protect images from being copied breaks the copying of text while failing to protect images; the mechanism works as intended on a computer.

  14. Philip Taylor said,

    July 17, 2022 @ 1:37 am

    Understood, Keith. I do not use a mobile 'phone (even for making/receiving telephone calls, except when driving) so did not experience the problems that you did. As to the "You do not have permission …" message, I see that only if I click on an image and then press Ctrl+C — if I select "View image", or (for some) "View background image", the image becomes the browser content and can be saved in the normal way, so the "You do not have permission …" is informative (and presumably legally binding) but not enforced technologically.

  15. Andrea Di Castro said,

    July 17, 2022 @ 3:21 am

    Iskandar is also part of the name of the Albanian hero Scanderberg/Skanderberg, Iskandar Bey. He was known in Italian as Giorgio Castriota (in Rome there still is the "Palazzo Scanderberg).

    As for the Turkish / Central Asian Rum, it would be interesting to look into the 8th century Turki-Shahi ruler Phromo Khesaro and the possible connections with the Tibetan / Central Asian hero Gesar. See the good Wikipedia entry on the Epic of Gesar:

  16. Tom Dawkes said,

    July 17, 2022 @ 10:36 am

    For more on Pontic Greek, go to and enter "Pontic Greek".

  17. Terry K. said,

    July 17, 2022 @ 11:38 am

    On both my Windows 11 laptop and my Android phone if I try to copy text or image, either one, from anywhere on I get the message "You do not have permission to copy images on this page" followed by a copyright statement.

    I wasn't trying to, so I don't need a solution. Just adding some information to the discussion. This in the U.S., in case location makes a difference on permission.

  18. Terry K. said,

    July 17, 2022 @ 11:55 am

    Oh, the above goes for both Cntl-C and for right clicking.

    Screen saving works for saving an image.

    Also, the above was with Chrome. Using Edge on Windows, it brings up a menu when highlighting text, so while right clicking works the same as with Chrome, a menu allowing copying text shows up without need of right clicking. Though one has to be quick to catch the menu before it disappears.

    So I guess it depends on your browser.

  19. Francis Boyle said,

    July 17, 2022 @ 2:59 pm

    It's a bit of Javascript nonsense. Turning off Javascript will restore the context menu.

  20. Martin Schwartz said,

    July 17, 2022 @ 10:03 pm

    @Andrea di Castro: I beg to point out that the Albanian's name
    is Skanderbeg *which makes him sound less Scandinavian than
    Scanderberg vel sim.); the -beg is the archaic form of Turkish -bey,
    which in Ottoman script is written as beyg (yes, Prof. Golden?).
    As for the Phromo you mention, it is from Sogdian Frōm 'Byzantium,
    Rome', itself from Parthian Frōm, a hypercorrection of Hrōm
    (Middle Persian), from Greek Rhōmē. I think the Sogdian name
    is reflected in a Chinese word for 'Europe' (Prof. Mair?).
    And then we have reflexes of Byz. Kaîsar < Lat. Cæsar.
    Martin Schwartz

  21. martin schwartz said,

    July 17, 2022 @ 10:08 pm

    Oops, make that Ottoman word spelled bg = beG, with weak
    G, or so I think

  22. martin schwartz said,

    July 17, 2022 @ 11:35 pm

    @Andrea Di Castro
    Rather from Bactrian : fromo kēsaro (in Greek script).

  23. william holmes said,

    July 21, 2022 @ 11:12 am

    Sikandra is the location of Mogul emperor Akbar's tomb, outside Agra.

  24. Tom Dawkes said,

    August 3, 2022 @ 8:01 am

    See latest JIPA:
    Armostis, S., Voniati, L., Drosos, K., & Tafiadis, D. (2022). Trapezountian Pontic Greek in Etoloakarnania. Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 52(2), 328-340. doi:10.1017/S0025100320000201

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