This article is the continuation of the Previous Article in which I shared about the evolution of letters. In this article, I’ll specifically discuss the Roman Square Capitals, how they’re formed and how the Romans has influenced the World of Typography Today.

The Capitalis Monumentalis

Roman Square Capitals, also called Capitalis Monumentalis, Inscriptional Capitals, Elegant Capitals and Capitalis Quadrata, are an ancient Roman form of writing, and the basis for today’s modern capital letters.

Sometime around the First Century BC, Roman lapidary (from Latin lapis “stone”) dramatically changed from a flat and monoline inscription to a much more elegant geometrically based letter with terminal serifs. And exactly how or why this change occurred is still the subject of some debate, but it most likely has to do with Roman calligraphy. The letterforms, however, represent perhaps the most elegant, and certainly the most celebrated example of the Roman letter.

Carving by Eric Gill of the "Trajan" capitals
A drawing and photographed carving by Eric Gill of the “Trajan” capitals on the Column of Trajan | Source: Wikipedia

Square Capitals were used to write inscriptions and were used less for everyday handwriting. For everyday writing, the Romans used a current cursive hand known as Latin cursive.

Square Capitals are characterized by Sharp, Straight Lines, Supple Curves, Thick and Thin Strokes, Angled Stressing and Incised Serifs. These Roman capitals are also called majuscules, as equivalent to minuscule letters such as Merovingian and Carolingian. Notable examples of square capitals used for inscriptions are found on the Roman Pantheon, Trajan’s Column, and the Arch of Titus, All are situated in Rome.

Details from The Trajan Column (top)
Detail from The Trajan Column (top) and the entire inscription from a cast | Source: codex99
Roman Pantheon | Source: Wikipedia

Square capitals were greatly respected by artisans of the Renaissance such as Geoffroy Tory and Felice Feliciano. A few centuries later, they were also a major inspiration for artisans of the Arts and Crafts movement such as Edward Johnston and Eric Gill.

Fr. Edward Catich is known for the complete development of the thesis that the inscribed Roman square capitals owed their form, including the serifs, wholly to the use of the flat brush, rather than to the urgent need of the chisel or other stone cutting tools. Catich made a complete study and proposed a convincing ductus by which the forms were created, using a flat brush and then chisel. He communicated his views in two works, Letters Redrawn from the Trajan Inscription in Rome and The Origin of the Serif: Brush Writing and Roman Letters.

Catich teaching at St. Ambrose University circa 1970
Edward Catich | Source: Wikipedia

In his seminal studies, Catich made the case that the letters were quickly drawn using a flat chisel-shaped brush (at about a 35° angle), creating the modulation of stroke widths as well as the serifs, then cut with a hammer and chisel into a V-shape, creating the illusion of form through shadow.

Roman Square Capitals
Individual brushstrokes (left), shown combined (center), and compared to the inscription | Source: codex99

He extensively studied the individual letters and found that the vertical strokes were about twice as thick as the horizontal ones, and the height of the letters is about nine times the width of the vertical strokes ― proportions that he considered nearly ideal. Perkins, further analyzing Catich’s drawings, found that the letters closely followed the classic geometries of the square, the golden rectangle and the similar root five rectangle.

Basic Geometry of the Letter ‘A’ | Source: codex99

So, it’s pretty clear that the inscription is the first inscription which is drawn geometrically and is also calligraphic. According to Catich, the inscription is “the best roman letter designed in the Western world, and the one which most nearly approaches an alphabetic ideal,” or, even stated even more emphatically by White: “No single designer, nor the aggregate influence of all the generations since, has been able to alter the form, add to the legibility, or improve the proportion of any single letter therein.”

During the early era of the movable type printing press, Roman square capitals became the primary inspiration for the capital letters in early serif typefaces. The 1989 digital typeface Trajan from Adobe is a direct, all-capital adaptation of the Roman square capitals on Trajan’s column.

USE TRAJAN FONT FROM ADOBE


David Lance Goines is an American Artist, Calligrapher, Typographer, Printing Entrepreneur, and Author. In 1982, he published his calligraphic classic book A Constructed Roman Alphabet. The classic shows a detailed step by step process of designing Roman Square Capitals from scratch using geometry.

Click here to access the Electronic Version of the book which I found on codex99.com to design the Roman Type with your hands.

Typeface Designing book
A Constructed Roman Alphabet by David Lance Goines | Source: codex99.com

Here’s one screenshot from the Book

Construction of Roman Letter 'Q' from the Book
Construction of Roman Letter ‘Q’ | Source: codex99

Source: Wikipedia, codex99