In its early days of writing, Mycenaean Greek was written using a syllabary. However, for almost 2,700 years, Greek has been written using an alphabet. As with other writing systems, different writing styles developed over time. Similar to how modern English has many variations from italics to hyphenation and uppercase to lowercase letters, ancient Greek also had different written variations.
Three major variations were the early Greek alphabet (capital letters), the uncial script, and the Greek minuscule script (lower case).
Ancient Greek alphabet: writing with “Caps Lock” activated
This is the easiest alphabet to learn. The most common place to use letters was to carve them on monuments. To facilitate the carving process, the letters tended to have few curves. They were also uniform in size similar to what we now call “uppercase” letters. In fact, many of them are used as capital letters in the Latin writing system in which English is written.
Here is an example of 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 primitive alphabet was written without 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 at Rosetta Stone.
Post uncial writing: uppercase with some flair
Uncial writing appeared at the beginning of the first millennium AD It was very similar to monumental writing. The letters were all capitalized and there were no spaces between the words when it was written.
This script was often used to write 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.
Lowercase Greek Writing – Good Things Come in Small Packages
Somewhere in the last two thousand years, the Greek letters were shortened. A style of writing known as minuscule (similar to lowercase letters) developed. Some works were written entirely in lower case. Others were a mixture of uppercase (uppercase) and lowercase letters. Where the two styles of writing appeared together, the minuscule always prevailed more. As with English, proper names 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 lowercase alphabet:
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 monumental writing has survived as modern Greek capital letters, lowercase writing exists as modern Greek lowercase letters. A modern Greek student would learn both uppercase and lowercase writing in order to read and write the language.