In its earliest days of being written, Mycenaean Greek was written using a syllabary. However, for nearly 2700 years, Greek has been written using an alphabet. As with other writing systems, over time, different writing styles developed. Similar to how modern English has many variations from cursive to script writing and uppercase to lowercase letters, Ancient Greek had different written variations as well.
Three important variations were the early Greek alphabet (uppercase), the Uncial script and the Greek minuscule script (lowercase).
Early Greek Alphabet – Writing with “Caps Lock” On
This is the easiest of the alphabets to learn. The most common place to use letters was to carve them into monuments. To facilitate the carving process, the letters tended to have few curves. They were also uniformly sized similar to what we call “uppercase” letters today. In fact, many of them are used as capital letters in the Latinic writing system that English is written in.
Here is an example of the early Greek monumental writing:
Α, Β, Γ, Δ, Ε, Ζ, Η, Θ, Ι, Κ, Λ, Μ, Ν, Ξ, Ο, Π, Ρ, Σ, Τ, Υ, Φ, Χ, Ψ, Ω
The early alphabet was written without any spaces or punctuation. The burden of differentiating between words and sentences would fall on the reader. A great example of this type of writing can be found on the Rosetta Stone.
Later Uncial Script – Uppercase with Some Style
The Uncial script appeared in the early part of the first millennium A.D. It was very similar to the monumental script. The letters were all uppercase and there were no spaces between words when it was written.
This script was often used for writing on parchment and vellum. This is a key script to study for those interested in Greek as a large volume of Greek works come from this period including early Christian writings.
Greek Minuscule Script – Good Things Come in Small Packages
Somewhere in the past two thousand years, Greek letters shrank. A writing style known as minuscule (similar to lowercase letters) developed. Some works were written entirely in minuscule. Others were a mix of the earlier uppercase (majuscule) and minuscule scripts. Where the two writing styles appeared together, the minuscule was always more prevalent. Just as with English, proper nouns and the first word of a paragraph would be capitalized. However, in ancient Greek, the first word of each sentence was not capitalized (unless it was a proper noun or the beginning of a paragraph as mentioned above).
Here is the alphabet in minuscule script:
α, β, γ, δ, ε, ζ, η, θ, ι, κ, λ, μ, ν, ξ, ο, π, ρ, σ, τ, υ, φ, χ, ψ, ω
Just as the monumental script has survived as the uppercase letters of Modern Greek, the minuscule script exists as the lowercase letters of Modern Greek. A student of Modern Greek would learn both the majuscule and minuscule scripts in order to be able to read and write the language.