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     Rome took great pride in its imperial accomplishments and conquests, and created monumental letterforms for architectural inscriptions celebrating the generals and victories, known as "capitalis monumentalis" or capitalis elegans. They were designed for great beauty and permanence. Those original letters were drawn on stone or wood with a brush then carved into it. The simple geometric lines were drawn in thick and thin strokes, with organically unified straight and curved lines formed with a pen nib (or flat brush) held horizontally or at a slight angle.
Each letterform was designed to become one form rather than merely the sum of its parts. Careful attention was given to the shapes of spaces inside the letters and between the letters. In fact, a Roman inscription became a sequence of linear geometric forms adapted from the square, triangle, and circle. Much debate has centered on the elegant Roman serifs, which are small lines extending from the ends of the major strokes of a letterform.
     The equivalent book hand letters known as "Quadrata" or "square capitals', due to their square forms. These were written on parchment, papyrus and wax tablets by poets and thinkers (Virgil) , which were widely used from the second century B.C. until the fifth century. Written carefully and slowly with a flat pen, square capitals had stately proportions and outstanding legibility. The space between lines and letters was generous, but there was no space left between words. The letters were written between two horizontal baselines. Serifs were added with the pen and strengthened the ends of the strokes.
     In fact, writing those letters was a slow process therefore these were only used in very important works. They were also used in special pages or as headings.
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Carved inscription from the base of Trajan's column, c. A.D. 114
Located in Trajan's forum in Rome
Capitalis quadrata (square capitals) from a manuscript, Vergil, c. A.D. 400
© 2004 Natalia Rifai