roman capitals

Of course writing didn't start with the Roman alphabet, but for all practical purposes, Roman capitals are the beginning of our modern alphabet.
Some significant predecessors were:

Egyptian Hieratic
Egyptian lettering 3,000 BC
Phoenician Phoenician lettering 1,000 BC
Greek Greek lettering 600 BC

uncial lettering

Roman had been perfected around 100 AD. Its influence continued to spread around the Mediterranean and into Europe. A number of national lowercase styles were emerging. Notable among these were Uncials (unchels) used in Ireland around 500 AD.

Carolingian lettering

Charlemagne decreed that a standardized lowercase be developed. This style known as Carolingian (care-o-lin-je-in) minuscule became the official lettering style of the Holy Roman Empire in 768 AD. It was very clear and simple to read and write and was used to rewrite many ancient manuscripts.

Gothic lettering

Gothic or Blackletter was created and used by Germanic peoples around 1200 AD. It continued to be used until shortly after the movable type printing press was invented in 1457.


Bookhand lettering

Bookhand or the Humanist style was created in Italy shortly after the introduction of printing. It very closely resembles our modern lowercase.

Italic lettering

In the 1600's Aldus Manutius created the "Italic" typeface. It became a very popular typeface as well as a written script. The Italic script remains fundamental to calligraphy to this day.

Copperplate script

In the 1700's a metal quill tip replaced the feather quill. The writing style became known as "Copperplate" because it was the same style that was used in a new type of printing where the letterforms are engraved into copper plates.

This is a very brief and subjective view of the history of writing. I have picked what I consider to be the major historical lettering styles. Of course there are many more styles and variations of styles that I have omitted. I left out entirely any of the commercial lettering of the 20th century. This would include Pointed Brush Script whose letterfoms do draw from the historical letterforms of western civilization but the instrument used to make the forms (the pointed brush) has its origins in eastern civilizations who use the brush to make characters - not letters.

For a much more objective and comprehensive study of the history of writing I recommend reading the books:
The 26 Letters by Oscar Ogg and
The Story of Writing by Donald Jackson.

An Abbreviated History of Writing