Uncial Script

From Wikipedia again,

Uncial is a majuscule script (written entirely in capital letters) commonly used from the 3rd to 8th centuries AD by Latin and Greek scribes. . .

In general, there are some common features of uncial script:

  • m, n, and u are relatively broad; m is formed with curved strokes (although a straight first stroke may indicate an early script), and n is written as N to distinguish it from r and s.
  • f, i, p, s, t are relatively narrow.
  • e is formed with a curved stroke, and its arm (or hasta) does not connect with the top curve; the height of the arm can also indicate the age of the script (written in a high position, the script is probably early, while an arm written closer to the middle of the curve may indicate a later script).
  • l has a small base, not extending to the right to connect with the next letter.
  • r has a long, curved shoulder, often connecting with the next letter.
  • s resembles (and is the ancestor of) the “long s”; in uncial it looks more like r than f.

In later uncial scripts, the letters are sometimes drawn haphazardly; for example, double-l runs together at the baseline, bows (for example in b, p, r) do not entirely curve in to touch their stems, and the script is generally not written as cleanly as previously.

Uncials were used manly as a book hand, that is a style of the alphabet used to copy out books (usually monks would use uncial for the bible) and other texts. The book of Kells is a good example of a book written in the uncial hand. It is actually written in half-uncials a style of uncial that has slightly different letter forms that normal uncial,

Some general forms of half-uncial letters are:

  • a is usually round, sometimes with a slightly open top
  • b and d have vertical stems, identical to the modern letters
  • g has a flat top, no bow, and a curved descender (somewhat resembling the number 5)
  • t has a curved shaft
  • n, r, and s are similar to their uncial counterparts (with the same differences compared to modern letters)

Half-uncial was brought to Ireland in the 5th century, and was then carried to England. There, it was used up to the 8th century, and developed into the insular script after the 8th century. (Again from Wikipedia)

This is an example of half-uncials as a book hand, from the Book of Kells Matthew 23:12–15. Folio 99, verso.

I learned uncials from a book by Susan Hufton titled Step-by-step Calligraphy. I had heard that uncial was a somewhat difficult hand to learn, but I found it fairly easygoing. Here is some of my practice:

This is my very first time writing in the uncial hand

Here is a little more practice, and a peek at what is to come…

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