The Old Italic alphabets developed from the west Greek alphabet, which came to Italy via the Greek colonies on Sicily and along the west coast of Italy. The Etruscans adapted the Greek alphabet to write Etruscan sometime during the 6th century BC, or possibly earlier. Most of the other alphabets used in Italy are thought to have derived from the Etruscan alphabet.
The earliest known inscriptions in the Latin alphabet date from the 6th century BC. It was adapted from the Etruscan alphabet during the 7th century BC. The letters Y and Z were taken from the Greek alphabet to write Greek loan words. Other letters were added from time to time as the Latin alphabet was adapted for other languages.
About 100 inscriptions have been found in the Faliscan alphabet dating from between 400 and 250 BC. Faliscan was closely related to Latin.
The Messapic alphabet is thought to have derived directly from the Greek alphabet, rather than developing from the Etruscan alphabet. The only known inscriptions in the Messapic alphabet date from the 2nd and 1st centuries BC. The Messapic language was not related to other languages of Italy, instead it is thought to have been a member of the extinct Illyrian family of languages.
Oscan is believed to have been spoken in Samnium, Campania, Lucania and Abruzzo in southern Italy. The Osci adapted the Etruscan alphabet to write their language sometime in the 7th century BC though the earlist known Oscan inscriptions appeared on coins dating from the 5th century BC. After the territory occupied by the Oscans was conquered by Rome in the first century AD, the Oscan language and culture disappeared.
Oscan was written from right to left in horizontal lines running from top to bottom. A dot was used to separate words.
A terracotta marker with an Oscan inscription and stamps showing a helmeted Athena and a boar. This marker was found in a tomb near Capua in Italy and dates from 300-250 BC. The inscription reads "VIRIIUM VESULLIA[IS] DEIVIN[AIS], 'of the Virrii family for the divine festival of the Vesulias'. Such stamps appear on currency, and may devote gifts of money by the Virri family.
Photo by Simon Ager, taken in the British Museum.
Seven bronze tablets, dating from between about 350 and 50 BC, are the only examples of the Umbrian alphabet that have been found.
Information about the languages of ancient Italy
A Grammar of Oscan and Umbrian
Information about the Oscan language - includes examples of Oscan inscriptions
Font including Old Italic alphabets
ALPHABETUM - a Unicode font specifically designed for ancient scripts, including classical & medieval Latin, ancient Greek, Etruscan, Oscan, Umbrian, Faliscan, Messapic, Picene, Iberian, Celtiberian, Gothic, Runic, Old & Middle English, Hebrew, Sanskrit, Old Nordic, Ogham, Kharosthi, Glagolitic, Old Cyrillic, Phoenician, Avestan, Ugaritic, Linear B, Anatolian scripts, Coptic, Cypriot, Brahmi, Old Persian cuneiform: http://guindo.pntic.mec.es/~jmag0042/alphabet.html