Posted by Steph Holloway on 2014-08-07 04:36:56
In order to understand bicamerality - upper and lower case - in the Latin script, it is essential to understand the orthographic situation in Europe when Latin writing was developing.
It is helpful to bear in mind that scripts were not delineated along national borders as they are now, but that writing was dotted about in literate centres all over Europe, whose interaction did not depend on national borders but on the spread of monastic culture and the borrowing of books. This meant that, often, multiple scripts were being used simultaneously (including in locations which now use the Latin script exclusively), and also that these scripts often had a genetic affiliation with one another even though their usage overlapped.
The graphic below provides a (rough) overview of writing in Europe from the 9th century BC to the 19th century AD. For brevity, a number of smaller, regional styles are omitted both from this graphic and from the explanation that follows.
The earliest Latin inscriptions were written entirely in capitals, in a script known as Latin Majuscule. There were two ‘hands’ of this script - Square Capitals and Rustic Capitals. The straight lines and angular forms of Square Capitals lent themselves well to carving into stone with a chisel, but they were laborious to write on papyrus with a pen. Hence, between (primarily) the 3rd and 6th centuries, a more rounded hand was developed for this purpose, called Rustic Capitals.
At this time, much of Europe followed traditional pagan religions, and many of the extant examples of Latin Rustic Capitals script relate to pagan beliefs and secular topics. As Christianity spread through Europe, there was a reluctance to use the same script for Christian works as for pagan and secular ones, so a third majuscule (upper-case) script began to develop, called Uncial. The development of this script was also influenced by an increase in the use of parchment rather than papyrus, as a number of political and economic factors made the export of papyrus from Egypt to Europe increasingly difficult. The smooth surface of parchment lent itself even more readily to the use of rounded forms, and this is reflected in the shapes of the Uncial script. In addition, at the time it was being developed, Greek was the language of the church in Europe, so early forms of the Latin Uncial script are influenced by the Greek Uncial script, which was distinctly rounded in form. Uncial is seen as a transitional script, containing characteristics of both majuscule and minuscule writing, but without using clearly defined 'case' as we use it today.
However, there was still also a need for an informal, everyday script which could be easily written, for example to add marginal notes to manuscripts written in the Uncial script. To serve this function, a Half-Uncial script began to be used around the 5th century. It was a minuscule (lower case) script. Initially this was only used for informal purposes, but by the 6th century it had become so popular that it was being used as a book script. The Uncial and Half-Uncial scripts were widely used in Byzantine, African, Italian, French, Spanish and (what are now) British centres. As a result, there were many different styles, each with their own defining characteristics.
[Above] The Codex Sinaiticus, an uncial Greek Bible from between 330-360AD. Photo modified from Wikipedia
[Below] Half-Uncial writing by St Hilarius of Poitiers in 510 AD. Photo modified from Wikipedia
The next blog post will look at the role of Roman merchants and a Frankish Emperor in combining the features of majuscule and minuscule writing into the standardised, bicameral script we use today.