How Did Ancient People Communicate?

The ancients revolutionized communication with various forms of writing based on spoken language established by their prehistoric ancestors. Written communication was transmitted by a variety of media, including stone, metal, wood, wax and pottery.

Stone inscriptions allowed ancient communicators to have their messages read by generations to come, which was beneficial for the development of culture. Such inscriptions were created with a hammer and chisel. One school of thought holds that the right-to-left direction of ancient Semitic languages (Hebrew and Arabic) can be attributed to the fact that the right-handed majority found it more natural to chisel that way.

Because of its cost, metal was rarely used for ancient communications. Nevertheless, inscriptions on gold and silver have been linked to royal palaces and temples, while in ancient Rome, bronze tablets were a common and more convenient alternative for storing information than stone.

Wooden tablets and boards are likely to have been widely used, although few have lasted for contemporary examination. It is known, however, that the ancient Romans re-used whitewashed wooden boards for announcements and advertising.

A more everyday medium for communication in the ancient world was beeswax contained within a wooden frame. Sometimes these would be bound together to form a codex and used for contracts, records or notes.

Pottery shards, particularly in Egypt, were another everyday medium for communication. People would inscribe tax receipts and other temporary information onto them.