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Classical Antiquity: Paleography

Section 1: Overview — Cursives and Capitals


Roman Cursives: Two varieties of informal script were used in the Roman period: a majuscule script known as Older Roman Cursive (also called Ancient Roman Cursive), which was used at least from the first century BCE through the third century CE, and a minuscule script known to scholars as Later (or New Roman Cursive), which succeeded Older Roman Cursive as the script of Roman imperial administration.

Roman Capitals: Two formal, majuscule scripts are very widely attested in Roman inscriptions, but in books, they survive only for a comparatively small number of very high-grade books. These are Square Capitals and Rustic Capitals. Despite being rare in manuscript in antiquity, these scripts have a very long after-life and huge influence. Both were used as display scripts throughout the Middle Ages, and Square Capitals give us our modern upper-case alphabet.

Click the images below to explore and compare these scripts before we discuss them in detail.

Older Roman Cursive

© The British Library Board, Papyrus 229.

Later Roman Cursive

P.Mich.inv. 4295r. Zoomable image reproduced with the permission of the
Papyrology Collection, Graduate Library, University of Michigan

Square Capitals

St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 1394, p. 12.

Rustic Capitals

© Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. lat. 3225, f. XIVr.