ROMAN DOCUMENT WRITING

Last updated: 10 August 2017

Official documents were at first rolled Papyri eventually giving way to individual pages bound together, codex style, within substantial covers (essentially in the manner of modern books). They were produced by scribes mostly using chisel edged nib writing instruments made from reeds or primary bird wing feathers (penna) with ink made from cuttlefish bladder fluid (sepia) or iron gall (encaustum) on dried, formed and pressed water sedge fiber (papyrus = paper) -- sometimes on specially prepared split sheepskin (parchment) or calfskin (vellum). Very few original documents -- or even fragments of them -- from this period have survived due to the fragility of the materials employed.

[Roman lettering exemplar]

On occasion, "square capital" lettering based on CAPITALIS MONUMENTALIS was employed for official document writing although its use was not widespread. The care required to render the formal letter forms, the width of the round letters and the generous spacing inherent in this hand made for slow writing and was particularly wasteful of scarce and valuable papyrus and/or parchment and vellum. This writing was probably reserved for use in producing especially important state documents and literary works.

[Roman lettering exemplar]

The Roman CAPITALIS RUSTICA writing hand -- somewhat informal compared to the "square capital" lettering based on CAPITALIS MONUMENTALIS -- was commonly used for rendering official documents from approximately the second until the fifth century AD. Its narrow letterforms, freely rendered, make it eminently suitable for producing lengthly documents and, in comparison with "square capital" writing, was efficient in making good use of scarce and valuable papyrus and/or parchment and vellum. Toward the end of this historical period, the more cursive UNCIAL writing with joined letterforms was introduced and used for document writing.

CAPITALIS RUSTICA writing hand exemplars:

[Roman lettering exemplar] [Roman lettering exemplar]


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