is a form of handwriting
Handwriting is a person's particular & individual style of writing with pen or pencil, which contrasts with "Hand" which is an impersonal and formalised writing style in several historical varieties...
(or a script) used in ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....
and to some extent into the Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...
. It is customarily divided into old (or ancient) cursive, and new cursive.
Old Roman cursive
Old Roman cursive
Cursive, also known as joined-up writing, joint writing, or running writing, is any style of handwriting in which the symbols of the language are written in a simplified and/or flowing manner, generally for the purpose of making writing easier or faster...
, also called majuscule cursive and capitalis cursive, was the everyday form of handwriting used for writing letters, by merchants writing business accounts, by schoolchildren learning the Roman alphabet, and even emperors
The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman State during the imperial period . The Romans had no single term for the office although at any given time, a given title was associated with the emperor...
issuing commands. A more formal style of writing was based on Roman square capitals
Roman square capitals, also called capitalis monumentalis, inscriptional capitals, elegant capitals and quadrata, are an ancient Roman form of writing, and the basis for modern capital letters....
, but cursive was used for quicker, informal writing. It was most commonly used from about the 1st century BC to the 3rd century AD, but it probably existed earlier than that. In the early 2nd century BC, the comedian Plautus
Titus Maccius Plautus , commonly known as "Plautus", was a Roman playwright of the Old Latin period. His comedies are the earliest surviving intact works in Latin literature. He wrote Palliata comoedia, the genre devised by the innovator of Latin literature, Livius Andronicus...
, in Pseudolus
Pseudolus is a play by the ancient Roman playwright Titus Maccius Plautus. It is one of the earliest examples of Roman literature. The play begins with the shortest prologue of any of the known plays of Plautus, though it is not known whether Plautus wrote this prologue himself or if it was added...
, makes reference to the illegibility of cursive letters:
Calidorus: Cape has tabellas, tute hinc narrato tibi quae me miseria et cura contabefacit.
Pseudolus: Mos tibi geretur. Sed quid hoc, quaeso?
Calidorus: Quid est?
Pseudolus: Ut opinor, quaerunt litterae hae sibi liberos: alia aliam scandit.
Calidorus: Ludis iam ludo tuo?
Pseudolus: Has quidem pol credo nisi Sibylla legerit, interpretari alium posse neminem.
Calidorus: Cur inclementer dicis lepidis litteris lepidis tabellis lepida conscriptis manu?
Pseudolus: An, opsecro hercle, habent quas gallinae manus? Nam has quidem gallina scripsit.
Calidorus: Take these letters, then tell yourself what misery and concern are wasting me away.
Pseudolus: I will do this for you. But what is this, I ask?
Calidorus: What's wrong?
Pseudolus: In my opinion, these letters are seeking children for themselves: one mounts the other.
Calidorus: Are you mocking me with your teasing?
Pseudolus: Indeed, by Pollux I believe that unless the Sibyl
The word Sibyl comes from the Greek word σίβυλλα sibylla, meaning prophetess. The earliest oracular seeresses known as the sibyls of antiquity, "who admittedly are known only through legend" prophesied at certain holy sites, under the divine influence of a deity, originally— at Delphi and...
can read these letters, nobody else can understand them.
Calidorus: Why do you speak harshly about these charming letters and charming tablets, written by a charming hand?
Pseudolus: By Hercules I beg you, do even hens have hands like these? For indeed a hen wrote these letters.
Old Roman cursive is very difficult to read for modern people used to the current cursive forms of the 'Latin' script, which have evolved beyond recognition. The script uses many ligatures
In writing and typography, a ligature occurs where two or more graphemes are joined as a single glyph. Ligatures usually replace consecutive characters sharing common components and are part of a more general class of glyphs called "contextual forms", where the specific shape of a letter depends on...
, and some letters are unrecognizable – "a" looks like an uncial "a", but with the left stroke still straight, "b" and "d" are hard to distinguish, "e" spans the whole line, "p" and "t" are very similar, and "v" is written above the baseline, almost resembling a chevron.
New Roman cursive
New Roman cursive, also called minuscule cursive or later Roman cursive, developed from old Roman cursive. It was used from approximately the 3rd century to the 7th century, and uses letter forms that are more recognizable to modern eyes; "a", "b", "d", and "e" have taken a more familiar shape, and the other letters are proportionate to each other rather than varying wildly in size and placement on a line. This evolved into the medieval script known as Carolingian minuscule
Carolingian or Caroline minuscule is a script developed as a writing standard in Europe so that the Roman alphabet could be easily recognized by the literate class from one region to another. It was used in Charlemagne's empire between approximately 800 and 1200...
, which was used in 9th century France and Germany in the imperial chancery
Chancellor is the title of various official positions in the governments of many nations. The original chancellors were the Cancellarii of Roman courts of justice—ushers who sat at the cancelli or lattice work screens of a basilica or law court, which separated the judge and counsel from the...
, and whose revival in the Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...
forms the basis of our modern lowercase letters. The uncial
Uncial is a majuscule script commonly used from the 3rd to 8th centuries AD by Latin and Greek scribes. Uncial letters are written in either Greek, Latin, or Gothic.-Development:...
and half-uncial scripts also most likely developed from this script; "a", "g", "r", and "s" are particularly similar.
According to Jan-Olaf Tjäder, new Roman cursive influenced the development of not only uncial, but of all the other scripts used in the Middle Ages.