Most people are aware that the vast majority of everything that was written in ancient times has been lost. Some languages, however, have more surviving works than others. To give a somewhat extreme example, the Roman writer Pliny the Elder (lived c. 23 – 79 CE) records in his Natural History 18.5.22 that the city of Carthage contained libraries of scrolls written in the Punic language. In 146 BCE, however, the Romans utterly destroyed Carthage. They burned the entire city to the ground and killed or enslaved every single person who lived there.
The Romans dispersed whatever survived of the contents of the Carthaginian libraries among the various kings of North Africa—except, Pliny tells us, for a treatise on agriculture written in a set of twenty-eight scrolls by the Carthaginian writer Mago, which the Senate ordered be translated into Latin. The Latin translation of Mago’s treatise was later lost and is only known today from references in Greek and Roman sources. The Punic language itself went extinct sometime around the fifth century CE. As a result, not a single literary work that was originally written in the Punic language has survived to the present day complete; even the works that are known are known only in name, summary, or fragmentary quotation.
Ancient texts written in the Greek and Latin languages have been relatively fortunate in terms of their survival. Scholars often estimate off-the-cuff that around 1% of the known works written in Greek and Latin in ancient times has survived to the present day. This may not seem like a lot, but it is still far more writing than any individual can possibly hope to read, even in a lifetime, and it is a great deal more than what has survived in Punic. Given these circumstances, it is only natural that many people are curious which of these two languages has more surviving ancient texts: Greek or Latin? The answer, for reasons I will explain shortly, is almost unquestionably Greek.