Latin Paleography From Antiquity to the Renaissance [by A. M. Piazzoni]


Regardless of hypotheses on the origin of the minuscule script, it is certain that in the 3rd century the process of the rise of Minuscule shifted: from everyday writing and book writing it moved into the realm of documentary and administrative writing, especially in the provinces.

New roman cursive (cursive minuscule)

The final result was CURSIVE MINUSCULE, also called NEW CURSIVE (because OLD CURSIVE is the CURSIVE CAPITAL SCRIPT). The letters correspond to those of the Old Minuscule used for books but are endowed with particular characteristics, due to three reasons:

  • the use of a calamus (or pen) with a hard tip, and consequently without chiaroscuro
  • the presence of very frequent ligatures between the letters;
  • changes in the shapes of many letters, due to ligatures, whereby either the parts of a letter are disjointed or the parts of different letters come together to form a ligature.
Alfabeto corsiva nuova.jpg
Alphabet of the New Cursive script (Pap. Vat. lat. 6)

The characteristics of Cursive Minuscule are:

  • a: written in a single stroke and open at the top; can be linked to the next letter;
  • b: with bow to the left or with bow to the right;
  • c: in two forms, high or low;
  • e: in various forms, but sometimes with the headstroke closed;
  • g: a kind of hook, an s with a headstroke;
  • n: in the form of Majuscule or Minuscule;
  • r, s: they are very similar and are distinguished only by the finish of the shaft;
  • u: resembles a, but is never joined to the following letter.

The numerous ligatures present in this script are also of interest, among which, for example:

egen- fru-perti.jpg
E.g. of ligatures from left to right: egen, fru, perti (Pap. Vat. lat. 6)

Slowly but steadily, New Cursive became the only cursive writing in the whole of the Roman world, both in the everyday context, and in the scholastic and administrative realm; it became a kind of writing that came especially from the world of the provinces. The script grew to have a taller and narrower form, and was inclined to the right. An interesting example is a papyrus that originated from Ravenna around the year 600: Pap. Vat. lat. 6.

Duration of cursive minuscule and its importance

The script, Cursive Minuscule, was especially used for documentary writing and also became the most common writing used for texts of a private or personal nature (for example, personal correspondence). In the 7th and 8th centuries it was also applied to book use. Its enormous circulation by means of administrative documents made it in general the common ground and foundation for many new early medieval book scripts. It was also used by the barbarian kings who considered themselves provincial officials within the empire after having settled in the Western Roman Empire.

A decision made by the chancery of the empire also contributed to its diffusion. In the provincial chanceries the new cursive script (thus a Minuscule) was used, but in the imperial chancery the old cursive script (that is, cursive capitals, a capital script) continued in use. In 367 the use of Old Cursive was prohibited in provincial chancelleries, which were then forced to use the new cursive script. The reasons for such a decision (made by the emperors Valentinian I and Valens) were considerations of a general and practical nature. In fact, writing had a symbolic meaning and was linked to the type of text for which it was used. In this case it was a matter of giving a special character to the documents that came from the highest authority, a form that also expressed the solemnity of power. The old cursive script was deliberately preserved in a static form, which was difficult to read and especially difficult to imitate, and this created a guarantee of its validity, while also making it difficult to forge the script. This old cursive capital script, however, remained unproductive as far as stimulating subsequent scripts, whereas the fruitfulness of future eras became linked to New Cursive Minuscule.