Greek Transliteration

Ancient and Modern Greek Romanization for Grove Music Online
A Report compiled by Nicoletta Demetriou

1. Introduction

In any attempt to romanize the Greek alphabet, two key facts need to be taken into consideration:

(a) that there is not one but several systems of romanizing the Greek alphabet with slight or major differences from each other; and (b) that a distinction is made between the romanization systems used for ancient and modern Greek.

Conventionally, the beginning of modern Greek is set at 1453, i.e. the year in which Constantinople fell to the Ottomans. What had come before 1453 is considered by philologists as ancient (or classical) Greek. In terms of chronology, the same differentation between ancient and modern Greek has been adopted here too. The only exceptions were entries on Byzantine ecclesiastical music. Even though many (if not most) refer to the period after 1453, since the language they use is the Alexandrine Koine (also known as ecclesiastical Greek), which is closer to ancient Greek, ancient Greek transliteration was used on those occasions too. (This is in accordance with the romanization system used by Byzantine musicologists – including those writing for this dictionary.) The bibliography that appears in such entries reflects the ancient Greek system of transliteration too, for reasons of consistency within single entries (e.g., in the bibliography for the ‘Chrysanthos of Madytos’ entry, there appears the title ‘Hē metarrythmisē tou 1814’, instead of [modern Greek transliteration] ‘I metarrythmisi tou 1814’). However, the authors’ names have been written in a way that reflects their current transliteration, so as to facilitate, inter alia, internet searches and, where known, so as to reflect the authors’ transliteration of their own names into English (e.g., Stathis instead of Stathēs).

The most important difference between ancient and modern Greek romanization for the average reader (in terms of how transliteration appears – visually – on the page) is that the transliteration of ancient Greek uses diacritics to denote long and short vowels, as opposed to modern Greek that uses diacritics only in exceptions (e.g., diphthongs whose letters need to be pronounced separately; e.g., laïko). Thus in transliterating ancient Greek, the letter ο (short) is transliterated as o, while the letter ω (long) is transliterated as ō. By contrast, both ο and ω are transliterated as o when dealing with texts taken from modern Greek. What is more, ancient Greek romanization transcribes some of the breathing signs into letters, while modern Greek does not; for instance, ὕμνος (ancient Greek) is transliterated as hymnos instead of (current) ymnos (ύμνος, modern Greek). Other conventions that are different between ancient and modern Greek (e.g., transliterating the letter β as b, instead of v; etc.) are outlined in Table B below.

The system followed here for modern Greek (see Table A below) has been adapted from the Hellenic Organization for Standardization (Ellinikos Organismos Typopoiisis; ELOT), which is also the system that has been used by the United Nations since 1987. A very similar system is also used by the Library of Congress. This has also been advised in the compilation of this report.

Regarding ancient Greek, the system followed here (see Table B below) was adapted from the one used by the Library of Congress. Regarding ancient Greek names in particular, and where this was deemed necessary for the reader, I have included (in square brackets) the names’ current transliteration in modern Greek (e.g., Alypius [Alypios]; Anacreon [Anakreon]; etc.). This was done primarily in order to preempt any internet searches that might be made using modern Greek transliteration rules.

The above system was not used in the following cases:

(a) For personal names where a different transliteration system is used/has been established; e.g., Hadjidakis and not Hatzidakis (Χατζιδάκις); Cacoyannis and not Kakogiannis (Κακογιάννης); Kalomiris and not Kalomoiris (Καλομοίρης); Yannis or Yiannis and not Giannis (Γιάννης); and similarly Giannis and not Yiannis/Yannis, where this is the biographee’s preferred transliteration, if known; etc.

BUT: Conventional transliteration was used, when both transliterating and translating in the same sentence, as in the case of Bibliography sections. E.g.: Ανοιχτές επιστολές στον Μάνο Χατζιδάκι (Hadjidakis entry) was transliterated and translated as follows: Anoichtes epistoles ston Mano Hatzidaki [Open letters to Manos Hadjidakis].

(b) For ancient Greek proper names known and found in relevant literature in a certain way; e.g., Aeschylus and not Aischylos (Αισχύλος); Danaus and not Danaos (Δαναός), etc.

(c) For nouns that already have established transliterations/translations in English; e.g., aulos and not avlos (αυλός); aulete and not aulētēs or avlitis (αυλητής), etc.

(d) For proper nouns (especially place names) already transliterated or translated and known/found in the literature in a certain way; e.g., Corfu and not Kerkyra (Κέρκυρα); Athens and not Athina (Αθήνα), etc.


A. Modern Greek

Αa [a] a
Ββ [v] v
Γγ [ɣ~ʝ] g
Δδ [ð] d
Εε [e] e
Ζζ [z] z
Ηη [i] i
Θθ [θ] th
Ιι [i], [j] i
Κκ [k~c] k
Λλ [l] l
Μμ [m] m
Νν [n] n
Ξξ [ks] x
Οο [o] o
Ππ [p] p
Ρρ [r] r
Σσ / ς (final) [s] s
Ττ [t] t
Υυ [i] y
Φφ [f] f
Χχ [x~ç] ch/c
Ψψ [ps] ps
Ωω [o] o


αι [e] ai
αϊ [ai] aï (except in proper names)
αυ [av], [af] av/af
ει [i] ei
εϊ [ei] eï (except in proper names)
ευ [ev], [ef] ev/ef
οι [i] oi
οϊ [oi] oï (except in proper names)
ου [ou] ou
υι [i] yi
γγ [ng] ng
γκ [ng] gk
γξ [nx] nx
γχ [nh] nch
μπ [mb] b/mp
ντ [nd] nt


B. Ancient Greek

Αa a
Ββ b
Γγ g (n before γ, κ, ξ, and χ)
Δδ d
Εε e
Ζζ z
Ηη ē
Θθ th
Ιι i
Κκ k
Λλ l
Μμ m
Νν n
Ξξ x
Οο o
Ππ p
Ρρ r
Σσ / ς (final) s
Ττ t
Φφ ph
Χχ ch
Υυ y (u in diphthongs αυ, ευ, ηυ, ου, υι, and ωυ)/u
Ψψ ps
Ωω ō



αι ai
αυ au
ει ei
ευ eu
ηυ ēu
οι oi
ου ou
υι ui
γγ ng
γκ ng
γξ nx
γχ nch

 3. Useful online resources

ELOT 743 A free online tool provided by the Greek passport authority for the romanization of modern Greek words.

Fifth United Nations Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names

International Standards Organization – Information and Documentation: Conversion of Greek Characters into Latin Characters

Romanization of Ancient Greek, Library of Congress (Table)

Romanization of Modern Greek, Library of Congress (Table) A free online tool provided by Logos Bible Software for the romanization of ancient Greek words.