Posted by Steph Holloway on 2014-08-26 11:22:00
Part 1 of this blog post looked at the earliest forms of the Latin script - Latin Majuscule, Uncial and Half-Uncial. At the point that part 1 left off, both majuscule (upper-case) and minuscule (lower-case) characters were in existence, but they had not yet been combined into one standardised script. In order to understand this standardisation, it is useful first to understand how writing was developing in Rome.
At the same time that the Latin Majuscule script was developing, in Rome, the Old Roman Cursive hand was being used for everyday purposes such as keeping trade accounts, education, and writing letters. By the 3rd century AD this had developed into New Roman Cursive, a minuscule cursive script used for everyday administrative purposes. Because it often needed to be written rapidly, the script quickly developed time-saving features such as loops and ligatures, which came to be features of the modern lower-case Latin alphabet. It was also characterised by the prevalence of ascenders and descenders. New Roman Cursive was very important in the development of bicamerality - it heavily influenced a number of regional minuscule scripts as well as Carolingian Minuscule, the mother of modern handwriting - but there are few extant examples of it.
[Below] An excerpt from a letter of recommendation to the Phoenician governer Achilus around 320AD, using New Roman Cursive. Image source: Juan-José Marcos, 'Latin Paleography'. Used with permission.
Carolingian Minuscule is often attributed to Emperor Charlemagne, who was influential in bringing about a cultural renaissance in Europe in the 8th and 9th centuries. Although Charlemagne was only partly literate, he had a love of learning and valued education. He himself did not create the script (which developed out of Half-Uncial and New Roman Cursive), but encouraged its use and standardisation, recognising the value of literacy and a uniform script to the smooth running of his empire. At the time, a number of diverse regional hands were in use, having developed from New Roman Cursive. The adoption of a more standardised form of writing coincided with an increased production of written works and of their movement over greater expanses of territory.
Although stylistic variation in Carolingian Minuscule did still exist, and the script continued to change and develop over the 400 years it was in use, it was generally clear and legible, with rounded forms that would be recognisable to modern readers of the Latin script. Part of the campaign for a culturally unifying standardised form of writing across the Carolingian Empire was the introduction of punctuation, spaces between words, and the adoption of capital letters at the start of sentences. This had actually begun earlier, in the 7th and 8th centuries, to aid speakers who were reading aloud, particularly from the Bible. However it was not standardised until the development of Carolingian Minuscule. Capital letters in Carolingian Minuscule were based on Roman Majuscule and Uncial forms, and were used at the start of sentences and for headings.
[Below] From one of the Freising manuscripts, 10th century Slovene texts written in Carolingian Minuscule. Image source: Wikipedia.
The development of the Latin script did not end with Carolingian Minuscule - Blackletter and the Humanist faces were yet to come, but by the time they did, the use of an upper and a lower case were well established in the script, and have remained so ever since.
[Below] Development of the Latin letter A from Square Capitals to the modern lower case.
This 2-part blog post has drawn on a number of sources. One of these provides a particularly detailed discussion of Latin script development that is beyond the scope of this post; interested readers can read more at Latin Paleography by Juan-José Marcos.