Roman cursive (or Latin cursive) is a form of handwriting (or a
script) used in ancient Rome and to some extent into the Middle Ages.
It is customarily divided into old (or ancient) cursive, and new
1 Old Roman cursive
2 New Roman cursive
3 See also
6 Further reading
Old Roman cursive
Old Roman cursive, 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 Latin alphabet, and even by emperors issuing commands. A
more formal style of writing was based on Roman square capitals, 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, in Pseudolus, makes reference to the illegibility of
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 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.
(Plautus, Pseudolus, 21–30)
Cursive handwriting from the reign of
Claudius (41 to 54 AD):
vobis · vidétur · p · c · décernám[us · ut · etiam]
prólátis · rebus iis · iúdicibus · n[ecessitas · iudicandi]
imponátur qui · intrá rerum [· agendárum · dies]
incoháta · iudicia · non · per[egerint · nec]
defuturas · ignoro · fraudes · m[onstrósa · agentibus]
multas · adversus · quas · exc[ogitáuimus]...
As the above extract shows, Old
Roman cursive was considered difficult
to read and roundly mocked even in its heyday, and is now considered
almost illegible; the current cursive form of the Latin script has
accordingly evolved beyond recognition. The script uses many
ligatures, 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" is a full height letter (like the "s"), "p"
and "t" are very similar, and "v" is written above the baseline,
resembling an inverted 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 readers; "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. These letter forms were in part the basis for the
medieval script known as Carolingian minuscule, which was developed at
Aachen and in Tours in the 9th century and propagated throughout
Charlemagne's empire in a deliberate attempt to unify handwriting, and
whose revival in the Renaissance, after it had evolved into the
relatively illegible blackletter and fallen out of use, forms the
basis of our modern lowercase letters. The uncial 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.
Gaelic type is an example of a later usage of
^ Oxford, Scripts at Vindolanda page 2 page 3
^ Oxford, Scripts at Vindolanda: Historical context.
^ Jan-Olaf Tjäder, (Lund, 1955).
^ Oxford, Vindolanda Tablets
Jan-Olaf Tjäder, Die nichtliterarischen lateinischen Papyri Italiens
aus der Zeit 445–700 (Lund, 1955).
Staff, Vindolanda Tablets on line, Centre for the Study of Ancient
Documents and the Academic Computing Development Team at Oxford
'Manual of Latin Palaeography' (A comprehensive PDF file containing 82
pages profusely illustrated, June 2014).
Staff, Latin cursive presented by the University of Michigan Papyrus
Staff, Vindolanda: Roman documents discovered, Current Archaeology, a
World Wide Web article, based on a fuller accounts in Current
Archaeology Nos. 116, 128. 132 and 153.
Types of handwritten European scripts