Discover the Regions in Italy Where the People Descended from the Medieval or Ancient Greeks, and Still Speak Greek

All of us, across the world, know that Italy is shaped like a boot. But almost none of us know that, in the regions of Apulia and Calabria at the country’s “heel” and “toe,” live small communities who, among themselves, still speak not Italian but Greek. The word “still” applies because these peoples, known as Griko (or Grecanici), are thought to have descended from the much larger medieval or even ancient Greek communities that once existed there. Of course, it wouldn’t have been at all unusual back then for inhabitants of one part of what we now call Italy to speak a quite different language from the inhabitants of another.

John Kazaklis at Istoria writes that “the Italian language did not become the staple language until well into the end of the 19th Century during the process of Italian unification, or the Risorgimento,” which turned the Tuscan dialect into the national language. Yet “there exists today a tiny enclave of Greek-speaking people in the Aspromonte Mountain region of Reggio Calabria that seem to have survived millennia.”

Are they “descendants of the Ancient Greeks who colonized Southern Italy? Are they remnants of the Byzantine presence in Southern Italy? Did their ancestors come in the 15th-16th Centuries from the Greek communities in the Aegean fleeing Ottoman invasion?” Everyone who considers the origins of the Griko/Grecanici people (or their Griko/Grico/Greko languages) seems to come to a slightly different conclusion.

“I suspect they speak a dialect more closely related to the Koine Greek spoken at the time of the 11th century Byzantine Empire, the last and final time Southern Italy was still part of the Greek-speaking world,” writes Grecophone Youtuber Tom_Traveler, who visits the Griko-speaking villages of Gallicianò and Bova in the video above. “Or perhaps it was influenced by Greek refugees fleeing Constantinople upon its fall to the Turks in 1453.” However it developed, it’s long been a language on the decline: “the clearest estimate of remaining Greko speakers seems to be between 200-300,” Kazaklis wrote in 2017, “and numbers continue to decrease.” In the interest of preserving the language and the history reflected within it, now would be a good time for a few of those speakers to start up Youtube channels of their own.

via Messy Nessy

Related content:

How the Byzantine Empire Rose, Fell, and Created the Glorious Hagia Sophia: A History in Ten Animated Minutes

Mapping the Sounds of Greek Byzantine Churches: How Researchers Are Creating “Museums of Lost Sound”

Learn Ancient Greek in 64 Free Lessons: A Free Online Course from Brandeis & Harvard

Can Modern-Day Italians Understand Latin? A Youtuber Puts It to the Test on the Streets of Rome

Meet the Americans Who Speak with Elizabethan English Accents: An Introduction to the “Hoi Toiders” from Ocracoke, North Carolina

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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  • John says:

    Humans today spend billions on preservation of animal species. But as for human species, we take it for granted. There are dozens of human cultures, races, backgrounds that went instinct in the last half of millennium alone.

  • John says:

    As a south american i love italy but i love the italian language
    .sorry to say i find the italian language much more romantic than greek . The italian language is meant to be sung its close to my spanish.

  • Vasileios says:

    Το υπουργειο πολιτισμου της Ελλαδος εχει ξεχασει τελειως αυτούς τους Έλληνες. Ισως να μη γνωριζουν καν την υπαρξη τους. Αλλα και να τη γνώριζαν ειναι γνωστο οτι οι Έλληνες πολιτικοι μισούν τη χωρα τους.
    Η μεγαλη Ελλάδα ζει όμως και θα ανθισει μια μερα οταν ξεκουμπιστουν οι καρεκλοκενταυροι κ ελευθερωθουμε

  • Vasileios says:

    Modern greek language has been murdered the last 60 years by politicians and academia who established by force the modern greek as more simple greek language.
    Unfortunately you are right but if you listen to Cypriots and Cretans speak the oldest version you will hear a more sing alike flow in the language which is beautiful

  • Hermano says:

    It is not very accurate though, since Greek is chanted in Orthodox Churches regularly and hearing it chanted side by side with Spanish, Portuguese, and Latin, Greek holds it’s own as a beautiful musical language, especially paired with Byzantine chant. This is coming from a native English speaker, there are biases within native speakers. I find Latin, especially latergical Latin tends to be rough in keeping fluid with painting mental pictures and keeping rhythm in songs; Spanish, and other latin languages does a much better job. This tends to be a stumbling block for liturgics within the Roman Catholic Church, having one specific language for service, and failing to recognize the miss potential and beauty in native tongues.

  • Jean Banitsiotis says:

    I am a Macedonian born in Australia for parents of Florina Greece and speak the language of Macedonian but love Australia but also love where my parent were born NERET in Greece it is a beautiful village of Greece well known for there Strawberries

  • Arberesh says:

    Just in case you missed it:
    All ppl that you r talking about, r ethnic albanians knows as arberesh. They r located in Syqielli, Kalabri, Pula, Molize, Kampania,etc.
    Ps 1: Arberesh stand for arber or old medieval Albanians. 🥰🥰🥰🦅🦅🦅❤❤❤
    Ps 2: Joseph Dioguardi, Antonio Gramshi, Giusepe Garibaldi, Napoleon Kalemiri (good horse), PM Francesco Krispi, Silvester Stallone (albanian father),Monica Belushi, etc, r all ethnic Albanians with orthodox faith. Thank you!

  • Joseph says:

    I was born in Piana Degli Albanese in Sicily. Our small city was founded in 1488 by the Albanian’s who were trying to escape the Muslim invaders from Turkey. They still speak the original language from Albania & are trying to maintain the Arbresh language by teaching it to the younger generation. We are Orthodox Albanian and it is a beautiful and picturesque little town with wonderful traditions. Everyone should visit and get the best cannoli in the world!

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