Remants Of The Ancient World: The Griko People Of Italy


Photo: Jebwalwhales (Wikipedia)

Like a lot of European countries, Italy is as much a collection of dialects as it is a unified people. Certainly by now, 152 years since unification, Florentine “Italian” is standardized and spoken everywhere in the country. But Italians are stubborn and continue to hang on to their many local dialects. As recently as 2006, 48.5% of Italians spoke their local dialects at least in conjunction with regular Italian in their domiciles; of that group, one third spoke only, or at least prevalently, dialects in lieu of Italian when at home!

It’s no surprise that variations of the language continue to exist, but what fascinates me is that mixed among these Latin-based Italic tongues there still exist pockets of Greek-based language. In a few comuni, there remain people who speak Griko, a corrupted form of the Greek language imported to the peninsula thousands of years ago.

Greeks first arrived in Italy around 750 B.C., and colonized mostly its coastal areas in much the same way Europeans would later colonize the Americas. “Magna Graecia” was Greece’s “New Land,” and Syracuse eventually became its most powerful city. The Romans of course eventually swept through, but pockets of Greek-speaking people survived the Latin wave. They were probably bolstered by Byzantine Greek immigrants up to and after the Siege of Constantinople (1453), but the Griki are nevertheless believed to be descendants of those ancient Greek immigrants.

Pockets of Griki can be found today in a handful of comuni in the Salento area of Apulia (Graecia Salentina), and in the Bovesia area of Calabria (Graecia Calabria). I plan to make the Bovesia area part of my next trip to Calabria so I can explore this fascinating culture in person. If anyone reading this has any insight or experience in Graecias Salentina or Calabria, I’d love to hear about it. In the meanwhile, here is a brief film on the Griko of Salento:

And for good measure, a music video in Griko, performed, naturally, on an Imperial Star Destroyer.


9 thoughts on “Remants Of The Ancient World: The Griko People Of Italy

  1. Ciao sono di Bari, espatriata a San Francisco. Sentire queste musiche e’ un tuffo nel mio passato, ormai veramente lontano, ma le mie radici sono fortemente attaccate alla mia terra di Puglia.

    • Ciao, and I am glad to hear this. I hope some day to hear this music in person in Puglia or Calabria. I’ve always wanted to visit Bari (I almost went this summer). Thank you for visiting.

      • Bari is an open city to the Adriatic, it has four Mediterranean winds, good food, good people and very chaotic! Most tourists don’t go that far down to Italy, unless are catching the ferry to Greece.

  2. Pingback: The Boot of Babel: Italy’s Many Languages | In Bruttium

  3. I think its fascinating that the Greek language or dialect of Greek withstood that many centuries!!its interesting that the language Griko is spoken in pockets of Mountainess Calabria or Puglia. why not in Campania or other parts of the south?

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