Rome2 081_inscriptnWriting guest posts, emails and tweets about INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO and AURELIA, I’ve been asked why I write the titles in capitals. Some bloggers and respondees have written the book names with title case, e.g. Inceptio, Perfiditas and I’ve gently pointed out that it’s not quite correct.

So here’s the reason…I’m not SHOUTING, but following classical Roman usage. You may have noticed inscriptions on Roman tombs, arches and buildings are always in capitals. So are inscriptions on coins.

Majorian_457-461The Romans used just 23 letters to write Latin. There were no lower case letters at first, and K, Y and Z used only for writing words of Greek origin. The letters J, U and W were added to the alphabet at a later stage to write languages other than Latin. J is a variant of I, U is a variant of V, and W was introduced as a ‘double-v’ to make a distinction between the sounds we know as ‘v’ and ‘w’ which was unnecessary in Latin.

Lowercase letters developed from cursive versions of the uppercase letters:
Old Roman cursive was the everyday form of handwriting used for writing letters (including love letters and dinner invitations), by merchants writing business accounts, by schoolchildren learning the Latin alphabet, and even emperors issuing commands.


Top row Old Roman cursive, bottom row New Roman cursive

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, but it probably existed earlier than that.

New Roman cursive script was in use from the 3rd century to the 7th century, and uses letter forms that are more recognisable to modern eyes; a,b,d and e had taken a more familiar shape, and the other letters were proportionate to each other.

The Vindolanda tablets give specific examples of rare, preserved letters and other documents. Notes on the form of Latin used here and search the documents database here.

Oh, and as my Roma Novans are very proud of their Roman roots, they still follow classical practice of CAPITALS, so it seemed rude not to follow it for my book titles.


Updated 2022: Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO, CARINA (novella), PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA, NEXUS (novella), INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO,  and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. Double Identity, a contemporary conspiracy, starts a new series of thrillers. JULIA PRIMA, a new Roma Nova story set in the late 4th century, will be out on 23 August 2022.

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4 comments to Roman CAPITALS

  • David Gladwin

    Excellent description, Alison. We had this taught to us during the war; our Headmaster was a Latin scholar. He also drew parallels with the runic alphabet, them moving on to Greek. And we were only 11/12! He had some sympathy for Mussolini who was trying to restore an Italy long gone with a too debased population, and told us only to ever trust the Northern men; having sailed in and out of Naples I know exactly what he meant.

  • Alison

    We’re so used to the public records which always show the official face of Rome. Hanwritten notes came to the public’s notice after the Vindolanda tablets were found and fascinating they are, too!

  • I had a Latin teacher who always wrote Latin in capitals for this very reason. I know it was correct, but it was harder for us modern-day people to read!

    • Alison

      I’m not sure I’d like to have deciphered the Roman cursive, though! I remember when I was learning Russian and thought I had got the hang of the printed capitals and lower case and then we progressed to written, i.e. cursive. Oh, that wasn’t easy!