Some of the earliest material which has survived for the study of Roman Cursive writing is found among the wall-inscriptions of Pompeii. These inscriptions have been divided into two classes : (1) those traced with the brush, generally in formal and not cursive capitals, and consisting of advertisements, recommendations of candidates, announcements of public games, of lost articles, of houses to let, etc. ; and (2) scrawls and scribblings, sometimes in charcoal, chalk, etc., but more generally scratched with a point (the so-called graffiti ), and written in cursive letters, being quotations from poets, idle words, reckonings, salutations, love addresses, pasquinades, satirical remarks, etc. A few are of ancient date, but most of them range between A.D. .63 and the year of the destruction of the city, A.D. 79. Similar inscriptions have been found at Herculaneum, and in the excavations and catacombs of Rome. Most of them have been collected by Zangemeister in the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum of the Berlin Academy, vol. iv., which also contains a carefully compiled table of the forms of letters employed. Some of those found in Rome are represented in the Roma, subterranea Christiana of De Rossi.
Contemporary with these wall-inscriptions are the waxen tablets found in 1875 at Pompeii, in tbe house of L. Cæcilius Jucundus,inscribed with documents in cursive writing, and ranging in date chiefly from A.D. 53 to 62. Of similar character are the waxen tablets, some of which are dated between A.D. 131 and 167, found in the ancient mining works of Verespatak in Dacia, and published with a table of forms of letters in the Corpus Inscriptionun Latinarum, vol. iii. With these also must be grouped the tiles which have been found on various sites, scratched, before being baked, with alphabets, verses, or miscellaneous memoranda.
The examples of Roman cursive writing which have been enumerated above represent the ordinary writing of the people for about the first three centuries of the Christian era. The letters are nothing more than the old Roman letters written with speed, and thus undergoing certain modifications in their forms, which eventually developed into the minuscule hand. These same original Roman letters written carefully became, as we have seen, the formal capital alphabets in use in inscriptions under the Empire and in the sumptuous MSS. of the early centuries of our era. It is probable that the wall-scribblings of Pompeii essentially represent the style of writing which had been followed for some two or three centuries before their actual date ; for, in the other direction, the difference between the style of the Dacian tablets and that of the Pompeian period, although they are separated by a long interval, is not so marked as might have been expected.
If we turn to the Table of letters which are found in the graffiti of Pompeii and other Roman sites, we see how in the first century the original capital forms stand side by side with other modified forms which even at that date had began to tend towards minuscules. In A the cross stroke falls, so to say, out of its horizontal position and hangs as a short middle stroke or entirely disappears. The slurring of the bows of B, in quick writing, produces the form of the letter resembling a stilted a, the waved stroke representing the bows and the loop the original upright mainstroke. This is the most complete transformation of any letter in the alphabet. C and G exaggerate the length of the upper part of the curve. The letter D developes gradually the uncial form, which afterwards produced the minuscule, by lengthening the upper stroke of the bow, while the straight main-stroke, like that of the B, turns into a curve. The letter E is represented in two forms, the second being the double vertical-stroke letter used also in inscriptions and in the Faliscan alphabet. F in like manner takes the form of a long and a short stroke, both more or less vertical, the short stroke gradually degenerating into a curve. In the changes of H we see the origin of the minuscule in the shortening of the second main-stroke. Besides the normal capital form we have M represented by four vertical strokes, llll, the first being longer than the rest; and so, too, N appears in the form of three strokes, III. The hastily written O is no longer a circle, but is formed by two curves ; and, the natural tendency when writing with a hard point being to form concave rather than convex curves, the second curve of the letter also becomes concave. In the letter P we see the gradual wearing down of the bow into a mere oblique stroke; in R the slurring of the bows into a curved stroke ; and in S the straightening of the lower curve and the development of the upper one into an oblique stroke.
In the alphabets of the Dacian tablets many of these modifications are seen to be carried still farther, as for example iii the straightening of the exaggerated head-curve of C and G into the flat head which in the latter letter afterwards becomes so marked a feature. The similarity now existing between certain letters is also very striking, and it is obvious how easily one may be misread for another. A and R, B and D, C and O, C and P, C and Τ, Ε and U, bear, under various conditions, more or less resemblance to each other ; and, to add to the difficulties of decipherment, linking and combination of letters was carried in the cursive hand of this period almost to an extreme.
The two following facsimiles aie taken from the Pompeian graffiti, First we select the beginnings of four lines, two from Ovid (Amor. I. vi ii. 77) and two from Propertius (IV. v. 47), written in a style which we may call formal cursive, the normal shapes of the old letters being fairly maintained (Corp. Insc. Lat. iv. 18193, 1891, tab. XXV. 7).
|Surda sit oranti tua [ianua laxa ferenti] | audiat exclusi verba [receptus amans] | ianitor ad dantis vigilet [si pulsat inanis] | surdus in obductam so[mniet usque seram]|
Next is given a specimen of the more cursive style in which the normal shapes of the letters are considerably modified and the vertical·stroke forms of E and M are used. The shape of the O may also be noticed, being formed by two convex strokes as explained above. (Corp. Insc, Lat. iv. 1597, tab. vii. 1).
|communem nummum— | censio est nam noster— | magna habet pecuni[am]|
We now turn from the large hasty scrawls of the plaster-covered walls of Pompeii and take up the delicate specimens traced with the fine-pointed stilus on smooth waxen surfaces.
In the waxen tablets found at Pompeii we have two styles of writing : that of the deeds themselves, inscribed on the waxen pages with the stilus in the decidedly cursive character which may be compared with the facsimile of the Wall-inscription just given; and that of the endorsements and lists of witnesses written in ink upon the bare wood of the pages which were not coated with wax,
|Pompeian Waxen Tablet.—1st century.|
|—[S]aturni[no]— | —[Scipi]one— | iv idus Novernbr | —s Umbricae Antiochidis se[rvus] | — [ea]m accepisse ab L. Caec[ilio] | [Iucundo] sestertios nummos sescentos | [quadragi]nta quinque [ob au]ctionem I . . . . . . . . . | rebus
innisiticis v[enditis]— | ex qua summa—
The handwriting is very firm and distinct, and the letters are formed upon the same pattern as those of the last facsimile. Nor is the hand complicated by the linkings and monogrammatic arrangements of two or more letters, which will be presently shown in another example. Indeed, the letters are inscribed so distinctly that there is no difficulty in deciphering the text when once the forms are mastered.
Two facsimiles from the Dacian tablets of the second Century are now given. The first is taken from one of the pages of a tablet recording the dissolution of a burial club at Alburnus Major, or Verespatak, in the year 167. It is written clearly, and the letters generally stand distinct without much linking (Massmann, Lib. aur. tab. 2; Corp. Insc. Lat. iii. 926-7).
|Dacian Waxen Tablet.—A.D.167.|
|Descriptum et recognitum | factum ex libello qui propo | situs erat Alburno maiori ad statio | nem Resculi in quo scrip | tum erat id quot infra scriptum est | Artemidorus Apolloni magister | collegi Iovis Cerneni et Valerius | Niconis et Offas Menofili questo | res collegi eiusdem | posito hoc libello publice testantur | ex collegis supra scriptis ubi erant homines liiii | ex eis non plus remasisse Alburni quam quot homines xvii :|
The facsimile represents the beginning of the deed written, in duplicate, in the left-hand compartment of the fourth page of the tablet, as described above (p. 26); the right-hand compartment being reserved for the names of the witnesses.
The second example is taken from the very perfect remains of a triptych, to which the witnesses' seals still remain attached. The Contents refer to the purchase of a girl in the year 139 (Corp. Insc. Lat. iii. 936-7).
|Dacian Waxen Tablet.—A.D.139.|
|et alteram tantum dari fide rogavit | Maximus Batonis fide promisit Dasius | Verzonis Pirusta ex Kaviereti | Proque ea puella quae supra scripta est x̶ ducen | tos quinque accepisse et habere | se dixit Dasius Verzonis a Maximo Batonis|
The writing here is more complicated than that of the other example, and it will at once be seen that the difficulty is not caused by any deficiency in the character of the hand, which is on the contrary particularly bold well formed, but by the number of linked letters, or rather monograms, which occur. This system of linking dismembers the letters and leaves the initial stroke of a letter attached to its predecessor, while the rest stands quite separate, thus intensifying the natural disposition to write in disjointed strokes upon such a material as wax, and increasing the difficulty of reading. With such a condensed form of writing before us, we are tempted to speculate what would have been the cast of the handwriting, derived from the Roman, of the middle ages and modern times, had waxen surfaces been the only, or principal, material to receive it. We should certainly have had no loops to our cursive letters and curves would have disappeared.
To complete the illustration of the early Roman cursive hand we give a few lines inscribed on a tile found at Silchester, probably of the 1st or 2nd century. They seem to be the material for a writing lesson, the teacher apparently first writing certain words as examples of the formation of certain letters, and then dashing off the "conticuere omnes " of Virgil.
|Inscribed Roman Tile.—1st or 2nd century.|
|Pertacus Perfidus | Campester Lucilianus | Campanus conticuere omnes|
The alphabet employed is identical with that of the waxen tablets. It will be noticed that the initial C is marked with an extra dash at the top in continuation of the curve of the letter, and that the linked form of the letters ER occurs several times.
Examples of the Roman cursive hand now fail us for a period of some centuries. We have to wait till the fifth century to find its representative in Italian deeds of that period. But we must step aside to examine some interesting fragments of papyrus, in Paris and Leyden, inscribed in a character which is quite otherwise unknown ; a modification of the Roman cursive, cast in a mould which stamps it with a strong individuality. The documents contained in them are portions of two rescripts addressed to Egyptian officials ; and they are said to have been found at Philæ and Elephantine. The writing is the official cursiveof the Roman chancery, and is ascribed to the 5th century. Both documents are in the same hand. For a long time they remained mideciphered, and Champollion-Figeac, while publishing a facsimile (Chartes et MSS. sur papyrus, 1840, pl. 14), was obliged to admit his inability to read them. Massmann, however, after his experience of the writing of the waxen tablets, succeeded in reading the Leyden fragment (Libellus aurarius, p 147), and the whole of the fragments were subsequently published by De Wailly (Mém. de l'Institut, xv. 399). Mommsen and Jaffe (Jahrbuch des gem. deut. Rechts, vi. 898 ; see also Pal. Soc. ii. pl. 30) have discussed the text and given a table of the letters compared with those of the Dacian tablets. The following facsimile (Lib. aur.) gives portions of a few lines on a reduced scale.
|Imperial Rescript.—5th century.|
|portionem ipsi debitam resarcire | nec ullum precatorem ex instrumento— | pro memorata narrationo per vim con[fecto]— | sed hoc viribus vacuato|
The writing is large, the body of the letters being above three-quarters of an inch high. A comparison of the letters, as set out in the Table, with those of the alphabet of the waxen tablets leaves no room to question tbeir connection, but at the same time shows the changes effected by the flourished style of the later hand. and also by its more cursive formation with pen and ink upon papyrus, the natural slope of the writing inclining, under the altered conditions, to the right, instead of inclining rather to the left, or at least being upright, as in the waxen tablets. It is interesting to note the change in the shape of B, to suit the system of connecting letters practised in the more cursive style, from the stilted a-form of the tablets with closed bow, to an open-bowed letter somewhat resembling a reversed modern cursive b. The tall letters have developed loops ; O and v-shaped U are small and written high in the line. The shapes of E, M, and N are peculiar ; but the first is evidently only a quick formation, in a loop, of the old double-stroke E (II), and the other two, although they have been compared with the Greek minuscule mu and nu, as if derived from those letters, appear to be nothing more than cursive shapes of the Latin capitals M and N.
This official hand, however, as already stated, is quite exceptional, and we turn to the documents on papyrus from Ravenna, Naples, and other places in Italy, dating from the fifth century, for examples of the less trammelled development of the Roman cursive into a bold straggling hand, which, however, is not wanting in effectiveness. The largest number are brought together by Marini (I Papiri Diplomatici ), and other examples will be found in the works of Mabillou (De Re Diplomatica ), Champollion-Figeac (Chartes et MSS. stir papyrus ), Massmann (Urkunden in Neapal und Arezzo ), Gloria (Paleografia ) ; in the Facsimiles of Ancient Charters in the British Museum, iv. nos. 45, 46 ; and in Pal. Soc. i. pl. 2, 28, ii. pl. 51-53. The following faesimile is taken from a deed of sale of property in Rimini, now in the British Museum, drawn up at Ravenna in the year 572 (Pal. Soc. i. pl. 2): The papyrus roll on which it is inscribed is of great length, measuring as much as 8 ft. 6 in., and is a foot wide. The writing, not only of the deed itself, but also of the attestations, is on a large scale, which has been reduced to nearly half-size in the facsimile.
|Deed of Sale.—A.D.572.|
|quantum supra scripto emptori interfuerit— | mancipalionique rei supra scriptae dol[um]— | que esse vi metu et circumscrip[tione]— | unciis superius designatis sibi supra scriptus|
As compared with the alphabet of the waxen tablets the letters have here undergone a great alteration, which must be chiefly atlributed to the variations arising out of the system of connecting the letters together currente calamo. Most of the letters, indeed, have now assumed the shapes from which the minuscules of the literary hand of the Carlovingian period were directly derived. The letter a has no longer any trace of the capital in its composition ; it is now the open u-shaped minuscule, derived no doubt through an open uncial form from the parent capital; it is sometimes written in a small form high in the line ; and it is to be noticed that it is always connected with the next following letter, and on this account may be distinguished from the letter u, which is never thus connected. This link of the a no doubt has its origin in the sweeping main-stroke of the early cursive letter as seen in the waxen tablets. The letter b has thrown away the bow on the left, as seen in the chancery hand of the fifth century, and has developed one on the right, and appears in the form familiar in modern writing. The letter e, derived from the ordinary capital, not from the two-stroke cursive letter, varies in form in accordance with the conditions of its connection with other letters, and affords a good illustration of the influence of linking-strokes in determining alterations of shape. Among the other letters the fully formed minuscule m and n are seen; long r is easily derived from the cursively-written letter of the waxen tablets; and s, having developed the initial down-stroke or tag, has taken the shape , which it keeps long after.
The general application of the Roman cursive hand to the purposes of literature would hardly be expected ; but a few surviving instances of its employment for annotations and even for entire texts are found in the notes written probably in the fifth century by tlte Arian bishop Maximin in the margins of a MS. at Paris containing the Acts of the Council of Aquileia ; in a short Græco-Latin vocabulary on papyrus (the Greek words being vvritten in Roman letters), perhaps of the 5th or 6th century (Not. et Extr. des MSS. xviii. pl. 18); in the grammatical treatise of the 6th century in the palimpsest MS. of Licinianus in the British Museum (Cat. Anc. MSS. ii. pl. 1,2); and in the texts of the Homilies of St. Avitus at Paris, perhaps of the 6th century (Pal. Soc. i. pl. 68), the Ambrosian Josephus on papyrus, ascribed to the 7th century (Pal. Soc. i. pl. 59), and the Homilies of St. Maximus of Turin, also in the Ambrosian Library of Milan, of about the same period (Pal. Soc. ii. pl. 32) ; and in other MSS. From the survival of comparatively so many literary remains in this style of writing, it may be inferred that it was used as a quick and convenient means of writing texts intended probably for ordinary use and not for the market. As an example, we give a few lines from the MS. of St. Maximus.
|Homilies of St. Maximus.—7th century.|
|[pa]trem specialiter exsuperantium— | [mi]nister in sacerdotio comes in ma[rtyrio] — | [labo]re in cuius vultibus sanctum quoque — | [cre]dimus et quasi in quodam speculo — | [imagi]nem contuemur facile enim cogn[oscimus]|
For our present purpose we need not follow in this place the further course of Roman cursive writing. It was still used in the legal documents of Italy for some centuries, ever becoming more and more corrupt and complicated and illegible. Facsimiles of documents of the eighth and ninth centuries are given by Fumagalli (Delle Istituzioni diplomatiche ), by Sickel (Monumenta Graphica ), in the Codex Diplomaticus Cavensis, vol. i., in the Paleografia artistica di Montecassino, tav. xxxiv., XXXV., and by Silvestre (Palæography, i. pl. 137). The illegible scrawl into which it finally degenerated in notarial instruments of southern Italy was at length suppressed by order of Frederic II. in the year 1220.