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The Written Word


The development of the written word was a crucial invention for ancient history. Conventionally, ancient history starts when there was writing; archaeology covering what came before. There were many types of writing and materials on which the symbols were displayed. The uses of the written word varied, too, from the practical to the literary to the scientific and philosophical, from recording -- finances or military accomplishments -- by scraping letters out of durable materials, including clay, to medical recipes written with ink-using pens on reeds formed into paper.
  1. The Development of Early Writing
  2. Genres of Literature
  3. Literature
  4. Papyrus
  1. Monuments
  2. Latin Language
  3. Ancient Languages

The Development of Early Writing

Image from the Dresden Codex. Adapted from the 1880 edition by Förstermann.

Writing developed in different parts of the world using different systems. For most it is possible to see a connection between the writing and some kind of pictorial representation of objects. While there may have been contact between remote parts of Eurasia, that seems highly unlikely in connection with the New World variant.

Genres of Literature


Early writing was often associated with religious worship and frequently poetic. Over time changes in the performance of compositions, like the development of instruments to use as accompaniments, led to different styles of poetry. Dramatic performances matured and led to such things as tragedy, comedy, and even satire. Here are some of the main genres of literature from the ancient world.


Fragments from Homer's Iliad Book II.

Although much ancient literature has been lost, we have quite a sample of the material of the ancient world, especially that of the Greeks and Romans. Most of the literature, especially the early writing, is poetic in form.


The Frontispiece of the first volume of Oxyrhynchus Papyrus from Grenfell and Hunt 1898.

This reed whose name gave us the word paper was grown in Egypt and used there as a writing material. Scribes used a stylus and ink to record words that we can still see today thanks to arid conditions where the papyrus was disposed of.


Base of Cleopatra's Needle

Monuments made of some kind of enduring material that weathers the elements well -- like stone -- show what was significant. Today we have gravestones to honor our beloved family members. So did some of the ancients. Kings might have their accomplishments inscribed on pillars. Lawmakers might have their legislation inscribed, too, so there could be no dispute.

Latin Language

Vergilius Romanus - 5th Century Illuminated Manuscript of Aeneid, Georgics, and Some Eclogues.

Latin is only one of the many ancient languages, but it is particularly useful for studying ancient Mediterranean history and is commonly studied. Often references in ancient history makes more sense if you have a little Latin.

Ancient Languages

Cylinder seal showing moon god of Ur.

This is a very superficial look at the per-historic and early languages of especially the Mediterranean world and how they are thought to have spread.

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