Medieval Writing
Square Capitals

Alternative name : capitalis quadrata

Script Type : majuscule

Date : Early Roman (1st century AD) in origin, used until around 6th century, revived in Carolingian era (9th century) as a heading script.

Location : Roman Empire

Function : Originally mainly for carved inscriptions but found rarely as a formal book hand; later found occasionally in manuscripts for display headings.

This example is from a fragment of Virgil's Georgica, probably from the 4th century (Rome, Biblioteca Vaticana 3256, f.1). (From Steffens 1929)
Pass cursor over letters to see examples taken from the photograph above.

Distinctive Letters : While it would be a big stretch of time to call this a medieval script, it has interest both for the development of medieval writing systems and the use of capitals in later scripts, as well as for the understanding of reading literacy.

The script is square capitals, but it is tending towards the less rigid forms of rustic capitals as the conventions of using the pen rather than a chisel, as used for monumental inscriptions, are becoming apparent. It is here being used for the body of a text, not as a heading. It is continuous script, with no word separation spaces and no punctuation.

The letter forms are essentially familiar to us from our modern conventions of Roman capitals, but it is interesting that the letters are not all exactly the same size, with F and L slightly taller than the others. There is no crossbar on A, while U and V have acquired a short tail below the baseline.

There is no distinction between I and J, nor between U and V, which both have the angular form. There are no examples of K, W or Z.

To get a quick fix on this, run the cursor slowly over the image. Word spacing has been inserted in the transcription for the preservation of sanity. Although this is not really medieval writing, there is a paleography exercise just so that you can try out the process of reading continuous script.

paleography exercise for this example

Requires at least the Flash 5 plugin

Script Index
What is Paleography?

If you are looking at this page without frames, there is more information about medieval writing to be found by going to the home page (framed) or the site map (no frames).
This site is created and maintained by Dr Dianne Tillotson, freelance researcher and compulsive multimedia and web author. Comments are welcome Material on this web site is copyright, but some parts more so than others. Please check here for copyright status and usage before you start making free with it. This page last modified 19/8/2011.