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Once human beings had developed the idea of creating written
records, it was only a matter of time before they addressed the need
to courier those records from place to place to facilitate
The first recorded use of an established message delivery service
took place in Egypt around 2000 BC. The service was essentially a
function of the government, allowing Pharaohs to issue decrees
throughout the Egyptian state. Because literacy was a rare skill in
that era, messengers seldom carried news or materials for private
The idea of a formalized postal system continued to develop at
various points throughout the ancient world. The presence of records
dating as far back as 1700 BC serves as evidence that a postal
service was employed in Assyria as a means of gathering vital
information for the government, and later, as a means of formalizing
a system of taxation.
Around 1600 BC, the Shang Dynasty in China possessed a form of
horse courier service coupled with a fire-and-smoke beacon tower
message relay system employed by government and military officials.
This system persisted throughout the later Zhou and Qin Dynasties in
China from 770 to 207 BC. In 2002, archeologists exploring a well in
Hunan Province, China, discovered approximately 20,000 period
documents written on bamboo strips that revealed progressive
thinking among the Qin. Some of these missives were marked with a
special character meaning "Fast Post."
Later dynasties in China, such as the Han and Ming, would
continue to expand and improve upon the Qin postal system. Modern
China, in fact, boasts the distinction of having the world's oldest
continuously operating mail system, with many aspects of its
contemporary system still consistent with the one formalized during
the reign of the Qin Dynasty.
Through the years of 62 BC and AD 14, the Roman Empire during the
reign of Augustus Caesar developed a state mail system known as the
Cursus Publicus — a loose constellation of couriers that stretched
across the Empire. Over time, its post office evolved into an
efficient relay system of mounted messengers, carrier pigeons, and
runners. These services were available to those who had been issued
special government permits, complete with expiry dates.
The Romans also have the distinction of providing the world with
the word for post. The Latin name for mail, posta, is derived from
the word posata, referring to the "place of rest" where couriers
would stay at various points in their travels.
Despite their efficiency, the postal services of the ancient
world did not have the same character as those of today. For the
most part, they lacked a public element. With limited education
among the masses, members of the public had neither permission nor
need to send messages to one another through a postal system.
Progress on that front was slow, and prototypes for a public post
appeared only with increased literacy rates among the working
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Heritage Community Foundation and
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