Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Classical Dictionary. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 04 December 2022



  • Rosalind Thomas


Widespread bilingualism at some level was characteristic of the ancient world, whether we look for(a) bilingual communities, in which two languages are in use (e.g. official and popular languages, written and non-written, formal and informal), or(b) bilingual individuals who know two languages at some level. Perfect capacity in two languages, a modern ideal, was probably both rare and unnecessary, and, despite Herodotus 8. 144 on Greek (see greek language), the close modern identity of language and nation seems to have been relatively unimportant. But bilingualism implies language choice: according to context, the associations of each language, or social ambition. Latin and especially Greek were the languages of culture and education (in the Roman empire, Latin was the language of law and army), as well as power, so that while many other languages coexisted alongside Latin and Greek, neither Greeks nor Romans ever had to impose their language on others. Greek and Roman writers tended to be uninterested in other languages, or they were never written down, so our evidence (written) is slight and misleading (e.g. we learn about Getic in *Tomis from *Ovid's complaints (e.


  • Linguistics

You do not currently have access to this article


Please login to access the full content.


Access to the full content requires a subscription