Last updated: 20 December 2019


My first Calligraphy teacher was a firm believer in his students learning to render Roman Capital letterforms correctly before using other writing hands. We therefor devoted a considerable amount of time to studying their structure; rendering them on paper using pencils; and finally cutting them in linoleum blocks and printing them.

Following is an exemplar rendered by me of the CAPITALIS MONUMENTALIS letterforms employed by stone cutters for edifices, monuments, tombstones, etc. A particularly fine extant example is found on Trajan's column in Rome and the essential constructs of these letterforms are the models for all Majuscule (Capital) alphabets used in the western world. Stone cutters in particular still employ their distinctive proportions and terminating serifs. It should be noted that only twenty letters were normally used in the ancient Roman alphabet : A B C D E F G H I L M N O P Q R S T V X. Our modern J and U were not used, their equivalents being I and V respectively. Thus, our modern JULIUS was written IVLIVS. The letter K was seldom used and then only before A. The letters Y and Z were only used when reproducing Greek words. W was not part of the ancient Roman alphabet at all. It was Medieval scribes who eventually formalized the construction models for the letters J K U W Y Z. Capitalis Monumentalis lettering is at the apex of the "Hierarchy of Scripts" for Calligraphers and is often used by them for headers or versals in pen and ink renditions.

[Roman lettering exemplar]

[Roman lettering exemplar]

There are numerous excellent photographs of actual CAPITALIS MONUMENTALIS lettering (including that on Trajan's column) mostly accompanied by location information, translations and analyses, at Bill Thayer's Latin Inscriptions section of his LacusCurtius web site

RIC Vol. II, TRAJAN, SESTERTIUS, Rome, No. 534, 98-117AD, (35mm, 22.6gm)
Obverse depiction: Trajan, head facing right, wearing aegis
Reverse depiction: Trajan galloping on horseback spearing a fallen Dacian soldier
Inscription: SPQR OPTIMO PRINCIPI - in exergue S C

In general I follow the classic CAPITALIS MONUMENTALIS letterforms except as follows: I modify them to produce closer spacing and this, together with a compaction of the wide letters C O Q and M results in more uniform and "square" lettering. I often do not apply serifs in order to enhance speed in rendering.

[Roman lettering exemplar]

I think the inscriptional lettering found on Roman Imperial coins provides excellent models for Calligraphers. Although the letterforms employed by the coin die engravers, particularly those of the early Empire, closely follow CAPITALIS MONUMENTALIS letterforms there are some subtle differences, mostly resulting from the limited space available on coins for inscriptional lettering (a problem often encountered by Calligraphers during pen on paper renditions). Most notably, they were modified to produce closer spacing and a compaction of the wide letters C O Q and M resulting in more uniform and "square" lettering. The essential letterform constructs were closely followed for coins of the early to mid Empire who's inscriptions are generally stately and elegant.

[Roman lettering exemplar]

Examples of early Roman Empire coin lettering

[Julio-Claudian coin photo] [Julio-Claudian coin photo][Julio-Claudian coin photo] [Julio-Claudian coin photo] [Julio-Claudian coin photo] [Julio-Claudian coin photo]


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