Before people wrote letters to each other, they had to meet in person to communicate with each other, although kings and other rules could have heralds or soldiers travel to cities to communicate important information with the masses. These means of communication allowed for the most important information to be shared but had multiple flaws. First, it was very difficult to meet up with an individual in another town as one would never know where this person would be at any given point in time. Second, travel was dangerous as robbers lurked on roads waiting to prey on individuals travelling alone or in small family groups. One had to wait for a caravan to join before travelling to another town to attempt to get in touch with one or more individuals. Third, the lack of communication between ordinary people made it difficult for people to know what was going on in the world around them. They had to rely on word of mouth from travelling merchants to find out about other towns, cities, and countries.
When did Letter Writing Emerge?
Historians believe that letter writing emerged in the world’s earliest civilizations, including Ancient Egypt, Ancient India, and Sumer. These written communications could be passed to travelling merchants and subsequently shared not only with the original recipient but others as well. In 2,400 BCE, the world’s first postal system emerged in Ancient Egypt and was used by Pharaohs to send decrees throughout their territories. The Persian Empire and Han Dynasty in China likewise developed their own postal systems, which were primarily used by rules to administer taxes and stay abreast of happenings in the realm. The Greeks never developed their own postal system due to city-state political divisions, but the Romans formed an admirable postal system that allowed them to share information with the furthest provinces in the empire.
The Influence of Early Letters of Note on World History
The earliest letters of note date back to the Roman era. Cicero’s letters to his friend Atticus marked the introduction of refined letter writing to European culture; furthermore, as one scholar rightly noted, Cicero’s letters contain so much detail about leading individuals in that era that a historian wouldn’t need many other sources to learn about that period. Other letters of note from this period include the Epistles to the early Christian churches, which changed the way people viewed themselves, each other, and the world at large. These early Roman-era letters marked the start of individuals using written communications to share ideas, thoughts, and opinions that ran contrary to what was considered acceptable at the time.
The Roman postal system devolved after the demise of the Roman Empire; even so, new trends in letter-writing emerged during Medieval times. Religious orders, nobles, and kings developed their own private “postal systems” to send important communications to each other. Merchants and businesses started a correspondence system that enabled them to communicate both with each other and with customers. The postal system of ancient times later came back into being after the invention of the printing press. As literature became more readily available and easy to share, demand grew for the development of a way for ordinary people to share information with each other and nations began to once again create government-run postal systems for the good of the population. The letter writing from this period emboldened people to actively look for ways to communicate with people in other cities and even countries, thus bringing people closer together and spreading knowledge far faster than would have otherwise been possible.
Email, text, and social media have changed the way that people the world over communicate with each other; however, it can be argued that these modern means of communication are merely evolutionary extensions of traditional letter-writing. After all, they serve the same purpose – to communicate information, share opinions, document events and happenings, and provide a written record that can be accessed by future generations.