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Indices : Uncial

Uncial letters, as well as Half Uncial, evolved from Greco-Roman handwriting. during the mid to late Antique period.

Uncial letters are often classified as being thoroughly Irish, but this is misleading at best, and inaccurate at worst.

Like almost all Roman things, there were western (Latin) and eastern (Greek) styles and variants. These would continuously influence each other.

St. Patrick and other Catholic Missionaries most likely brought Uncials to Ireland in the fifth century. Over the next four hundred years, Irish monks would copy (and re copy) virtually all of classical literature, bringing it back to an (ungrateful) continent during the 700s–800s.

While the Irish monks were busy writing out old Greek and Latin books, they also wrote their own national legends down as well—in the same handwriting style, of course, and in Gaelic (or whatever exactly the were speaking at the time). Unlike the religious texts, these stayed at home when the missionaries went to Europe to go a-preaching.

Around this time, Charlemange commissioned his Carolingian Minuscule, which are decidedly less decorative than uncial letterforms, yet still influenced by them. Charlemagne’s court would have had a slew of Irish manuscripts at hand, but also books written in the (by now very different) Iberian uncials, Byzantine uncials, as well as any number of current Italian hands.

The Viking raids may have ended the glory days of Irish monasteries and book illumination, but they did not pull uncials (or Gaelic) away from Ireland. Gaelic text remain written in uncial styles in Ireland to this very day, including street signs.