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Carolingian Minuscule

Indices : History : Carolingian Miniscule

Sometimes called Caroline.

Around 800, Charlemagne—king of the Franks and the first emperor of the Holy Roman Empire—decided that all his lands should write out their Latin texts with the same handwriting style (even though he himself was illiterate). His court scholars developed a hand, which was loosely inspired by a variety of Uncial styles. This has been called Carolingian Minuscule by historians, and it looks almost identical to our current lowercase Latin alphabet.

During the Renaissance (c.1465), two German printers, Conrad Sweynheym and Arnold Pannartz, were hired by a monastery in Subiaco, Italy. Seeking to find a more Italian alphabet for their new employers (as opposed to the Teutonic blackletter type of their homeland), the two sought to research classical Roman literature. However they unknowingly were reading ninth-century transcriptions in Carolingian Minuscule and falsely assumed that this was actually an Ancient Roman invention, just like “capital” monumental letters. The two combined the two alphabet forms in text—upper and Lowercase—just like we do today (actually, we only do it because they started it…). The first italian “Roman” typefaces (like Nicholas Jenson’s work in Venice), borrowed this two-case innovation from the scribes.