Ancient Languages

It is hard to imagine that a whole national language spoken by millions of people can disappear into thin air, but history has proven it possible. The survival of a language in ancient days highly depended on how mighty the speakers were, but even the languages of the mightiest empires have disappeared. Language is one of the oldest tools of interaction for human beings; they define humanity. The loss of a language means the loss of a piece of humanity. Sad as it may sound, time is no friend of languages, as people die and new generations are born, new cultures come up and with that, new languages. This change in times has affected even the languages spoken by the greatest civilizations that have ever ruled the Earth including the Romans and the Greeks. Of the most spoken ancient languages, these are the ten most famous that have since been lost to time.

1. Ancient Greek

Alongside Latin, Ancient Greek is the second language that provided the roots to most European languages. The modern version was developed mostly from the Attic dialect of ancient Greek which was mostly spoken in Athens. The other dialects which have since been lost totally included ionic, Aeolic and Doric which were saved on clay tablets. Alexander the Great’s conquests helped spread the language all the way to Egypt as his armies needed to communicate in one language. Attic became the most popular dialect later combining with other languages to form Medieval Greek which later became modern Greek.

This was the first language in Europe that used an alphabet, a trick that amazed both Alexander the Great and even the Romans leading to the adoption of Greek plays and literature until 6th Century AD. The modern Alphabet actually borrows greatly from both Linear A and Linear B versions of this language. It is almost impossible to tell any part of history that would be alive today if not for Ancient Greek. This language enabled historians to connect different pieces throughout history running back to 2500 BCE. The language once spoken by people throughout Europe into parts of Africa has since disappeared entirely despite its contribution to almost every modern European language.[1][2]

2. Etruscan

The Etruscan Civilization was a powerful nation that occupied most of modern-day Italy until the 4th century when the Romans conquered them. At its peak, the civilization was so vast spanning from Milan to the Adriatic Sea. They actually ruled Capua and Pompeii at one point as well. Both Greek and Roman History contain evidence of Etruscan as a famous language. They had a powerful language that influenced Latin with some texts even appearing in modern languages, but the language was totally subdued by Latin.

Despite its popularity, very few people have been able to decode over 10,000 texts of the language excavated across Europe so far. The only substantial surviving writing in Etruscan was surprisingly found in Egypt wrapped on the mummified body of an Unidentified woman. The language was advanced with the text stating religious rites, dates, names of gods among other significant activities of the civilization. Linguists try to use known similarities in Latin and Greek to decode Etruscan texts, but the language seems gone for good.[3]

3. Egyptian

Attempts to revive this language has actually given it more speakers in the west than the Mediterranean where it had millions of native speakers. Hieroglyphs, the language of the gods, as many people call it was at one point the greatest language around the Mediterranean. Ancient Egypt is one of the greatest civilizations in history dating back to 3000 BC with advanced culture and language that still amaze people today. Writings on papyrus and stone tablets have since helped historians understand the culture of Egypt, but the language is not spoken anymore.

Ancient Egypt still has so many mysteries that are yet to be fully deciphered, and the greatest of them is their language. Unlike Greek and Latin which were forced onto conquered nations, the Egyptians don’t seem to have forcefully spread their language, but it was still spoken by millions of people both inside and outside the kingdom. When Alexander the Great invaded in 323BC, the culture died, and most of the written texts were buried under the dust. The Roman and Arabic invasions later forced the people into multilingualism, but they have since stuck with Arabic. The closest form to ancient Egyptian is Coptic which is spoken by just a few people mostly on religious occasions.[4]

4. Biblical Hebrew

The Original Hebrew language was closely related to Phoenician, but its current form known as the official language of Israel is different. Modern Hebrew is a hybrid of Greek, Arabic, and Aramaic among other languages. The original version of the language is believed to have existed between 13th and 9th century BC to 3rd century BC when most of the OLD testament was written. This language lost spoken popularity through many conquests of the Hebrew people who started speaking languages of the conquering nations.

The written versions were however maintained as confirmed by writings of Prophet Isaiah. Most of the writings done on leather and papyri scrolls were destroyed over the years. The language evolved into Medieval Hebrew and later modern Hebrew which was literally developed from scratch. The modern bible translated through the years is based on nearly 6000 ancient texts most of which were found in the dead sea. These texts were mostly written in Medieval Hebrew although some scholars say ancient Hebrew survived until the 8th century BC.[5][6]

5. Latin

Alongside Germanic languages and Greek, Latin is the other is the major Indo-European language that changed the world. It gained popularity with the expansion of the Roman empire. The Romans influenced every nation they conquered to speak Latin making it the most spoken language in the world for over 500 years. The language that named almost every body part, plant, animals and even legal documents has since lost popularity to very few speakers in less than a century. Despite its presence in many languages, this language Is not spoken nationally anywhere, not even in Italy where the Catholic Church kept it alive until 1965. Up until the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 AD, Latin was the most spoken language in the whole world. When the empire fell, the language broke down too many languages that formed the roots of other European languages. It still has some fluent speakers, but its relevance is fading fast as most of them die or lose interest.[7][8]

6. Hunnic

Huns were great Nomadic warriors who are mentioned throughout history as powerful fighters even mentioned by early Christians as the scary warriors from hell. The Hunnish tribes covered many parts of the Hungarian plains from where they spread terror to Constantinople and the Eastern Roman Empire from 370 AD to 450 AD. They are believed to have terrorized the Chinese empire earlier before descending on Rome, but their language has no trace in Asia either. They were the most formidable threat to the Roman civilization that forced a treaty with the empire for gold in exchange for peace. Despite their might and influence, No one really knows much about their language in Europe. They were mostly interested in gold and fertile fields for their animals than spreading their culture. They did not use much-written literature either which made it almost impossible to reconstruct their language. The only existing evidence is names and a few words saved by Roman and Greek historians. Most of the Huns were eventually assimilated into the Roman provinces, and the Germanic tribes and so was their language.[9][10]

7. Cushitic

This was the primary language of the ancient Nubian civilization that occupied modern Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia all the way to Northwestern Kenya. The kingdom was vast and powerful even conquering and ruling Egypt at one point for nearly a century. Initially, Egyptian was their primary language, but as the kingdom advanced, they developed their own literature becoming Africa’s first written language. Meroitic was the most widely spoken dialect throughout the region by both nobles and commoners.

They were mostly multilingual, but Meroitic survived until the 4th century. Existing records of the language were primarily found in Egypt and Greece believed to have been carried by travelers. They are mostly writing of religious and royal nature written from right to left. This national language was however lost because most written records which were on papyri were destroyed. Some versions of languages spoken by Cushite communities including Somali are firmly related to the mother language but not as famous.[12][13]

8. Old Norse

Old Norse is actually derived from the term Northmen which was the name given to the Vikings when they came to Europe. It became a very significant language in Medieval Europe as local communities were forced to learn it to communicate with the Vikings. Old Norse is actually the mother language of modern-day Icelandic, Norwegian and Faroese. It was widely spoken throughout Scandinavia making it the most famous Viking language that influenced some European languages as well.

It came to Europe through Viking invasions. The language structure is close to both ancient Norwegian and Icelandic leading to the interchangeable use, but the original old Norse is not even spoken in Scandinavia anymore. It was spoken widely through the 12th and the 14th century. Its influence died because of Roman invasions as more people were forced to speak Latin. A few people still speak the language in the remote Scottish Highlands where Roman influence did not spread as much.[14]

9. Hattic

There is a popular Indo-European language called Hittite, but this is not it. Hattic was spoken by the earlier inhabitants on the Anatolia plateau (Turkey) over 4000 years ago and later assimilated into Indo-European languages. Hattians, the original speakers, was a powerful community that Invaded the Akkadians and established one of the most powerful civilizations of the time. They formed a powerful fortified nation that is believed to have lasted until 1140 BCE when the Hittites finally conquered them.

This is one of the most mysterious languages in history that linguists don’t even know what the Hattians themselves called it. The Hattic name was settled on because of what the bible called the speakers of this language. It was so scantly documented that it has been impossible to determine precisely how widely it was spoken. It was however used in both Anatolia and Mesopotamia through the trade routes until 2700BC.[15]

10. Harappan

This was the language of the Indus Valley Civilization whom scholars believe spoke in many languages but wrote in one. The Indus Valley Civilization thought to have had over 5 million citizens is one of the most mysterious ancient civilizations. It occupied most parts of modern-day Pakistan although their artifacts have been found even further away. Unlike Egyptian which was deciphered with the help of the Rosetta stone, The Indus valley languages have never been deciphered. It is harder because no one actually knows the actual descendants of these great people. Over the years, many artifacts have been unearthed containing symbols and pictures of what is believed to have been this people’s language. There has been no way to link it to any existing languages although some scientists lately associated It to Sumerian, a finding still contested by many scholars.[16]


Get the latest top 10 lists delivered to your inbox.

You May Also Like

10 of the Greatest Emergency Landings in History

In the following list of the ten most impressive emergency landings in history, pilots have defied all odds and managed to avert looming catastrophic plane crashes.

10 Events That Nearly Ended The World

Throughout the history of humans, there have been a number of events that could have ended the world. In this list, we are bringing you 10 of such events.

10 of the Most Shocking Moments in History

From the great catastrophe to the Salem witch trials, the world has lived through several shocking events. However, some of the following ten shocking moments in history may have you second-guessing humanity.

Top 10 Saddest Christmases in History

Christmas celebration is a happy time for the whole world when the best of humanity is expressed and experienced. However, some bad days happened to be Christmases.

Top 10 of the Cruelest Rulers Ever in History

A glance at history for the cruelest rulers ever reveals cruelty isn’t a new trait in humanity. Across the world, many cruel rulers abound, but these are the cruelest of them all.