History of Scripts in the World

As the mother of sciences and ancient inventions, scripts have always carried the weight of transferring human cultures through all the past centuries. Scripts have played an effective role in protecting and expanding various sciences. The history of scripts date runs across the history of the man on the earth. One can assert that the human civilization began when scripts emerged in the actual sense. As of the history of human writings, it might be claimed that the first art of the primitive man began with scripts as a geometric concept. The first simple lines drawn aimlessly by the early man on the tools, handmade vessels or walls of the residential caves became more perfect in the course of time, gained some meanings and contributed to registering human thoughts

The early man created some images of animals, plants and human beings on the walls of his shelters. This stage could be regarded as the first step in registering the events and the relationship of the man with his external world. With the development of the civilization, these images gradually set the stage for the emergence of the first scripts. The first scripts were invented by civilizations of the Sumerians and Elamites which date back to the 4th and 3rd millennia B.C. These scripts were mainly a collection of images and events in the form of the pictographs. There were some symbols in these images to express actions and emotions


Clay tablets were made in Mesopotamia. Sugarcanes were used to write on these clay tablets. To make carvings on the clays easier, a sharp wedge was later added to the end of sugarcanes. For applying these wedges, this type of writing is known as the wedge-shaped impression or script in the history of technology. The relief of Darius I in Bistun is one example of such a script. In other regions such as Egypt where papyrus was available, the writing was performed in another method

The emergence of alphabet could be considered as the pinnacle of the evolutionary trend of writing. Most of scholars believe that the invention of alphabet originates in the modern Middle East. It is estimated that the alphabet was invented in 3,000 B.C. The birthplace of the alphabet was the Sinai Peninsula from which the alphabet was taken to other territories by Phoenician merchants. The modern Persian and Arabic alphabets take their roots in the early alphabets of Phoenicians




Apparently Aryans who immigrated to Persia did not have any scripts. The history of the invention of cuneiform writing dates back to the period when Teispes (640-675 B.C.) and his successor, Ariaramnes, ruled ancient Persia


The Medes

Although numerous works have not remained from the time of the Medes, it is clear that they had their own scripts and writing which turned into the basis of the Achaemenides script in the later periods


The Achaemenides

Writing was common and prevailing during the Achaemenides. The clay tablets and stone inscriptions discovered indicate that scripts and writings were extensively used in the Achaemenides culture

Persians used two types of scripts during the Achaemenides namely the Phoenician script with its Sumerian origin and Aramaic alphabet adapted from the Phoenician. The Aramaic script had 22 alphabets. During the Achaemenides, the cuneiform writing was invented as the alphabetic writing rather than the audio script. The cuneiform writing was composed of 36 signs each representing a letter


Parthians and Sassanians periods

The Pahlavi script gained popularity during the reign of Parthians and Sassanians. The Pahlavi alphabet was composed of 14 letters. Most of these letters were used in Avestan script. The Pahlavi script was written in seven various forms

Islamic period

After the advent of Islam, the Pahlavi script was replaced by the Arabic script in Iran. The Arabic script is adapted from the Kufic script. The Kufic script is adapted from the Syriac script is rooted in the Aramaic script. The Aramaic script is adapted from the Phoenicians and the Phoenician script has taken roots in the hieroglyphic script

The Arabic script underwent some transformations and changes in Iran. For instance, the Taliq script (lit. suspending script) was invented in the 11th century A.D. and the Nastaliq script was invented in the 13th century A.D. The Shekasteh script (lit. the broken script) was invented in the 17th century. Finally, the Shekasteh Nastaliq was invented in the 19th century which is the script of the modern Persian script.

Different types of scripts

:Different types of scripts and their evolutionary paths have been explained by researchers in various stages as follows


:The pictographic script is divided into two main categories as follows

a)Cryptography: During this period, the man used pictures in a certain fashion to express his intentions, ideas and points. These pictures and signs are used even now by some indigenous people such as American Indians.

b)Pictograms: This script was invented by Egyptians to express their own ideas. They called it the hieroglyph or the sacred script. It was used in Egypt in 3,000 B.C. and then was used in Asia Minor. To make their messages understood, people drew pictures as the hieroglyph. Statements written in this manner were abundant and they created lots of problems. Consequently, some changes were made in this method of writing which led to the emergence of the ideogram of ideograph.


2-Ideogram or ideograph:

In this type of script, they made use of pictures whose drawing was sufficient to express brief ideas. At this stage, the word was turned into the basis of the script and for every word a picture was designated. The combination of these pictures resulted in sentences. This script experiences some transformations in the course of time and turned into the syllabic writing after some stages.


3-Syllabary or syllabic writing:

In the syllabic writing there is no relationship between syllables and the items they refer to. In some scripts such as the Elamite, Sumerian and Babylonian scripts, for every syllable a special sign was developed. However, due to the enormous number of syllables in every language, the easier way was developing a specific sign for every letter and sound so as that one could limit the number of signs, that is, to move from syllabic writing to non-syllabic writing.


4-Alphabetic writing (non-syllabic writing):

This stage is considered the last stage in the process of evolution of scripts. During this stage some great steps were taken forward in the field of art and for every sound, a specific phonetic sigh was set. The most famous non-syllabic scripts are the following ones:


a)Ugaritic writing system:

The Ugaritic script is so similar to the cuneiform writing in appearance and it is composed of 31 letters.


b)Proto-Sinaitic (Proto-Canaanite) script:

This script was used in 2000 to 1500 B.C. It was completely similar to the hieroglyphic script.


c)Phoenician script:

The Sinaitic script was the mother of the Phoenician script. Scores of Arabic and oriental scripts have emerged from the Phoenician script. Hence, one can assert that the script originates from the Phoenicians. Coptic and Aramaic people adapted the script from the Phoenicians and made some modifications therein. Later, the Pahlavi script and other scripts were invented based on the Aramaic script. The Phoenician script was composed of 22 letters written from the right to the left. It was invented in 1,500 B.C. by Phoenicians and gradually spread to other regions of the world in different forms. The Phoenician script was used for writing on the commercial and trade ledgers.


d)Sumerian script:

Sumerians invented and established the cuneiform script, astrology, medicine and astronomy. They invented some 600 wedge-shaped impressions at its script in 3,200 B.C. These symbols were initially in the form of pictures but they were simplified by Akkadians and later this script was adapted by Assyrians, Elamites, and Babylonians.  Consequently, this script spread to all Semitic-speaking groups and Semitic ethnicities in 1,800 B.C.


e)Semitic script:

The Semitic script emerged during the Bronze Age when governments of Egypt, Babylon, Assyrians and Abyssinians were in power. Concurrently, the Semitic tribes rose to power in Syria and Yemen and the Kingdom of Sheba took control of trade between the Far East and the White Sea. During this period, the alphabet underwent some transformations and changes from two directions. On the one hand, the alphabet of northern Semites or the Canaanites emerged from which the Hebrew, Aramaic and Minor Asian scripts were impacted. On the other hand, the alphabet of Semites in the southern parts of the Arabic Peninsula emerged. Local people in those areas made transformed the script invented by the Kingdom of Sheba.


The main basis and origin of the scripts in pre-Islamic period in Iran were the language of ancient Persia and that of the Middle Persian period. After the advent of Islam, the script was dramatically transformed in Iran and Kufic script gained popularity in an extraordinary fashion.


Cuneiform script

The Cuneiform script is made of wedge-shaped impressions. The script was used in the ancient inscriptions. It was developed in Mesopotamia by Sumerians and other civilizations in that region made use of it. The application of this script in Iran probably goes back to the era before the reign of Cyrus during the Achaemenides. However, it was extensively used as of the ruling period of Darius. In the Cuneiform script, every sign signifies a particular sound. There are 21 letters in this script.


Aramaic script

One of the most important and ancient scripts is the Aramaic one that could be regarded as the mother of all the alphabetic scripts. There were only 25 letters in the Aramaic script. It was of two types namely the Parthian and Sassanian scripts. The Aramaic people were businessmen and spoke a simple language. This simplicity led to the swift spread of their language in the Mesopotamia and quickly it turned into an international language. The Aramaic script was initially used for commercial purposes but then turned into a script used by everybody.


Pahlavi script

The Pahlavi script was adapted from the Aramaic script during the Sassanian era for writing then-Persian language, that is, the Middle Persian. The Pahlavi script was used up to three centuries after the advent of Islam in stone inscriptions, coins, documents, letters and transaction documents compiled in the Pahlavi or Parsik languages.


Avestan script

The Avestan alphabet is referred to as “the religion’s script” (dēn dibīrih in Middle Persian). The Avesta, the religious texts of Zoroastrianism, was written in the Avestan script. The Islamic authors have called it “the religion’s script” (dēn dibīrih in Middle Persian).


The Manichaean script

After the rise of Mani (215-277 A.D.) and his religion, the Manichaean script became popular in Persia and other territories whose people were followers of Mani’s teachings. Mani adapted his script from the Palmyrene alphabet. The Manichaean script was written from left to right and its letter were not connected while written. Some of the invaluable works in the Manichaean script have been discovered in China’s Turkistan written in an eligible and pretty manner on precious papers by using colorful inks.


Arabic alphabet and script

Before the advent of Islam, there were two scripts in the old civilization of the Arabic Peninsula namely the Naqis Kufic and Naqis Naskh scripts. They gained ever-increasing popularity and use as of the beginning of Islam and spread across different territories in tandem with the conquest of Muslims over new territories. It was the case until the 8th century A.D. during the rule of the Umayyads and the Abbasids when a man named Qotbeh extracted some other scripts in another different form. These scripts were popular among the people until the rule of Al-Ma’mun, one of the rulers of the Abbasid dynasty when various types of calligraphy and calligraphers emerged. With efforts of then-chief minister, Ibn Muqla, the art of calligraphy entered a new phase in late 11th century A.D. Concurrently, some new scripts such as Mohaqiq, Reyhan, Sols, Naskh, Tovqi, and Riqa were adapted from the Kufic script. These six styles of writing are known as hexa-scripts. Although the Kufic script was in use until the 5th and 6th centuries A.D., other new scripts such as Naskh became more popular. Ibn al-Bawwāb, the famous calligrapher, presented the scripts founded by Ibn Muqla in a more beautiful and more elegant manner and he created the Reyhan style of writing.

After Ibn al-Bawwāb other calligraphers rose to prominence in the 6th and 7th centuries A.D. and each of them contributed to the beauty and strength of Islamic scripts. Yaqut al-Musta’simi, a well-known calligrapher, stabilized and fortified the status of Islamic scripts in the Muslim territories. His works in the 15th century A.D. led the Naskh and Sols scripts to their pinnacle of elegance. His style remained popular until the late 15th century A.D. and he trained plethora of students.


Persian script

At the outset, the Kufic script was used for needs of the time, particularly the religious needs. It was written in its primitive style but Iranians made some efforts to create a systematic and pretty script out of this script which resulted in the emergence of calligraphy in Iran. Gradually, the Kufic script elevated in Iran and it was enriched by illuminations. However, Iranians had difficulty in reading and writing in the Kufic script and looked at as an alien script. In the early 10th century A.D. Iranians made some new innovations in the calligraphy and Muhammad ibn Ali Farsi, known as Ibn Muqla brought about a new life to the calligraphy and scripts used in Iran. He formulated the basic Naskh script. Together with his students, Ibn Muqla created six styles of writing, known as hexa-scripts that added diversity to the Islamic scripts and its calligraphy.




Taliq script

The Taliq script (lit. suspending script) was invented in the first half of the 10th century as the result of combining Naskh and Riqa scripts. It was one of the initiatives of Hasan ibn Hosein ibn Ali Farsi.

Initially, this script was used for formal correspondence and writing. Gradually, its formed changed to cursive writing and it was put in the spotlight of calligraphy and art due to its beautiful appearance and forms of letters. Some great maestros such as Darvish Abolah Soltani, Khaje Shahabodin, Abdolah Morvarid, Abdolhaq Astarabadi and Najmodin Masoud Savoji emerged who were excellent in calligraphic works in Taliq script. Since its rise, the Taliq script was as common as the six scripts invented by Yaqut al-Musta’simi. However, in the late 13th century the Nastaliq script was born that resulted in the decline of the prosperity of the Taliq script.


Nastaliq script

The Nastaliq style of calligraphy existed in its imperfect fashion for some years but it was modified and organized by Mir Ali Tabrizi. It is one of the most beautiful and elegant styles of writing but it is the most difficult one, as well. Therefore, it is so difficult to write in Nastaliq where all the 12 rules of calligraphy are observed. This style of calligraphy reached its apex and excellence as the result of works of Miremad Hasani Seifi Qazvinin.


Shekasteh script

Shekasteh style of writing is comprised of two types namely the Shekasteh Taliq and Shekasteh Nastaliq. The former has been abandoned due to its complexities and difficulties in reading it but the latter is used in routine daily administrative writings and ledger writings. This style of calligraphy was born in early years of the rule of the Safavid dynasty. It was invented by Morteza Golikhan Shamloo and Shafia. Then it attained its perfection as the result of works of Abdolmajid Taleqani.

On its early days of creation during the rule of the Safavid, the Shekasteh script was a simplified version of Nastaliq void of any intricacy. Darvish Abdolmakid led it towards its perfection and excellence.

Sols script

Students and followers of Yaqut in Iran used this style of calligraphy in writing Quran, scriptures, and inscription at mosques and schools. It was used during the Safavid rule. Some of the most perfect examples of Sols calligraphic hands could be found at Grand Mosque of Isfahan, Sheikh Lotfolah Mosque in Isfahan and other buildings. They were written by some renowned maestros such as Alireza Abasi, Alireza Emami, Mohamad Saleh, and Abdorahim Jazayeri whose works have remained up to now.


Riqa script

The Riqa script is one type of the Sols script. It could be regarded as the cursive form of the Sols script. In the Riqa style of writing, the words are more compact and it is mainly used in titles and annotations of scriptures.


Mohaqiq and Rehyan scripts

Mohaqiq script was used in writing the scriptures until the Safavid era. Then it was abandoned and its calligraphers were limited. The Mohaqiq style of writing is one of the main and old Islamic scripts whose letters are written in bold and in a visible manner. The Reyhan script is the more elegant and finer version of the Mohaqiq script.


Roqeh, Taliq and Diwani scripts

The Roqeh script is the cursive form of Naskh style of writing. In Roqeh script, the letters have become more simple with fewer curves and tilted movements to increase the speed of writing. This script is used mainly for drafts and commercial letters.

Based on Arabic letters, the Taliq script was created in an Iranian style. This script experienced lots of consecutive transformations and changes from its creation in the 11th and 12th centuries A.D. It was popular until the 8th century A.D. In the 13th and 14th centuries A.D. the Shekasteh Nastaliq was invented due to the great number of writings.


Diwani script is a calligraphic variety of Arabic script with a cursive style. It is of two types as follows:

  1. The Khafi Diwani (or the covert style) is devoid of any decorations whose dots in the letters are written in a certain manner.
  2. The Jeli Diwani (or overt style) is distinguished by the intertwining of its letters, movements, square dots and decorations with small dots.


Kufic script

The Kufic script was in use from the early days of Islam to the 11th and 12th centuries A.D. This script is sometimes used in inscriptions and titles.

The Kufic script has lots of varieties. Generally-speaking, it can be divided into four main categories namely the simple, moderate, decorative, and masonry. The Kufic script has potentiality for elaborate decorations and it is mostly seen together with decorations.

Siaq script

The Siaq script is a type of calculation script based on encrypted digits that made its way to some of Iranian written works as of the fourth century. It was used until the 1920’s. This script has 54 encrypted digits with no zero digit. The reason behind its encryption is that the authorities, secretaries, and people in charge did not like the codes to be revealed to the public. The documents written in the Siaq script are categorized into two main groups namely the public and commercial ones. Since the Siaq script was used in Islamic countries, its orientation was from the right to the left, like all other texts and writings.