The oldest extant diaries come from Middle Eastern and East Asian cultures, although the even earlier work To Myself, written in Greek by the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius in the second half of the 2nd century AD, already displays many characteristics of a diary. Pillow books of Japanese court ladies and Asian travel journals offer some aspects of this genre of writing, although they rarely consist exclusively of diurnal records. The scholar Li Ao (9th century AD), for example, kept a diary of his journey through southern China.
In the medieval Near East, Arabic diaries were written from before the 10th century. The earliest surviving diary of this era which most resembles the modern diary was that of Ibn Banna in the 11th century. His diary is the earliest known to be arranged in order of date, very much like modern diaries.
The precursors of the diary in the modern sense include daily notes of medieval mystics, concerned mostly with inward emotions and outward events perceived as spiritually important .From the Renaissance on, some individuals wanted not only to record events, as in medieval chronicles and itineraries, but also to put down their own opinions and express their hopes and fears, without any intention to publish these notes.
One of the early preserved examples is the anonymous Journal d'un bourgeois de Paris that covers the years 1405-1449 giving subjective commentaries on the current events. Famous 14th- to 16th-century Renaissance examples, which appeared much later as books, were the diaries by the Florentines Buonaccorso Pitti and Gregorio Dati and the Venetian Marino Sanuto the Younger. Here we find records of even less important everyday occurrences together with much reflection, emotional experience and personal impressions. In 1908 the Smythson company created the first featherweight diary, enabling diaries to be carried about.