Greek is the primary member of the Hellenic branch of the Indo-European language family. In ancient times, Greek had already come to exist in several dialects, one of which was Attic. The earliest attestations of Greek, dating from the 16th to 11th centuries BC, are written in Linear B, an archaic writing system used by the Mycenaean Greeks in writing their language; the distinction between Eastern and Western Greek is believed to have arisen by Mycenaean times or before. Mycenaean Greek represents an early form of Eastern Greek, the group to which Attic also belongs. Later Greek literature wrote about three main dialects: Aeolic, Doric, and Ionic; Attic was part of the Ionic dialect group. "Old Attic" is used in reference to the dialect of Thucydides (460-400 BC) and the dramatists of 5th-century Athens whereas "New Attic" is used for the language of later writers following conventionally the accession in 285 BC of Greek-speaking Ptolemy II to the throne of Egypt. Ruling from Alexandria, Ptolemy launched the Alexandrian period, during which the city of Alexandria and its expatriate Greek-medium scholars flourished.
The original range of the spoken Attic dialect included Attica and a number of the central Cyclades islands; the closely related Ionic was also spoken along the western and northwestern coasts of Asia Minor in modern Turkey, in Chalcidice, Thrace, Euboea, and in some colonies of Magna Graecia. Eventually, the texts of literary Attic were widely studied far beyond their homeland: first in the classical civilizations of the Mediterranean, including in Ancient Rome and the larger Hellenistic world, and later in the Muslim world, Europe, and other parts of the world touched by those civilizations.
The earliest Greek literature, which is attributed to Homer and is dated to the 8th or 7th centuries BC, is written in "Old Ionic" rather than Attic. Athens and its dialect remained relatively obscure until the establishment of its democracy following the reforms of Solon in the 6th century BC: so began the classical period, one of great Athenian influence both in Greece and throughout the Mediterranean.
The first extensive works of literature in Attic are the plays of the dramatists Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes dating from the 5th century BC. The military exploits of the Athenians led to some universally read and admired history, as found in the works of Thucydides and Xenophon. Slightly less known because they are more technical and legal are the orations by Antiphon, Demosthenes, Lysias, Isocrates, and many others. The Attic Greek of the philosophers Plato (427-347 BC) and his student Aristotle (384-322 BC) dates to the period of transition between Classical Attic and Koine.
Students who learn Ancient Greek usually begin with the Attic dialect and continue, depending upon their interests, either to the Koine of the New Testament and other early Christian writings, to the Homeric Greek of Homer and Hesiod or to the Ionic Greek of Herodotus and Hippocrates.