The Greek alphabet’s roots are in Lebanon where the Phoenicians
invented a set of symbols that was borrowed by the Greeks in the 8th century
BCE. The Greeks then developed it into the alphabet (the name itself comes
from “alpha” and “beta”, the first two characters in it) which would
later be the basis for Latin and, through it, the alphabet used today by
English, French, German, Spanish and many other languages. This was due to
the simplicity which a definite set of 26 letters offered when compared to
the thousands of characters present in an ideographic script such as Chinese
(in which each character has a meaning or an idea associated with it.)
As with the rest of the western world the early Greeks used papyrus
for writing. Around 150 BCE, a Greek kingdom called Pergamum is credited
with having refined the technique of making parchment - animal skins
specially treated to be used as scrolls- and began the first parchment
industry. (Parchment from camel skin has been found to be dating back to the
7th century BCE).
The Greeks used pigeons to deliver messages from at least the 5th century
BCE. However, this method was borrowed from the Sumerians who developed it
around 2000 BCE.
In time of war, a quick and efficient means of communication was
required. Thus the Greeks developed a variety of telegraph systems, most of
which involved flashes of light across long distances. The earliest such
system is found in a play by ancient Greek tragedy playwright Aeschylus when
a beacon signalled victory overseas to the people at home.
Soon the need for transmitting complete messages rather than signalling
to confirm predetermined events became necessary, and this need led to the
invention of the first ever semaphore system, described by historian
Polybius (203-120 BCE).
The alphabet was divided into groups of five letters
and written on five tablets in a specific order. This set of tablets was
available to both parties. When a message was to be sent, the signalman
raised a torch one to five times on his left side to signal the tablet from
which the required alphabet would be obtained. He then signalled one to five
times on his right side to denote the position of the character on that
tablet. In this way, anybody with the set of tablets could read the message
by observing the pattern of raising of the torch.