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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Uncial Letters

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so called as being an inch (Lat. uncia) long-characters of a large and round form used in some ancient MSS. The earliest form of an alphabet is its capitals, and the oldest Greek and Latin MSS. are written entirely in capitals. Uncial letters, which began to take the place of capitals in the middle of the 5th century, differ from them ill being composed of rounded and not straight lines, and exhibiting a tendency towards greater expedition in style. Uncial writing arose as writing on papyrus or vellum became common, the necessity for more rapid execution leading to the practice of curving the lines. Its being more easily learned than the cursive style was probably the cause of its becoming the favorite mode of writing books of importance among the monkish scribes; while legal instruments, which required greater dispatch, were executed by professional scribes in a corrupted form of the Roman cursive hand. Uncial writing prevailed from the 6th to the 8th, or even 10th, century. The following specimens of uncial Greek and Latin writing are from a MS. of the four gospels and Acts of the Apostles in both languages, written early in the 6th century, and presented to the University of Cambridge by Theodore Beza in 1581. The passage is from John 21:19, "signifying by what death he should glorify God." During the 6th and 7th centuries a transitional style of writing prevailed in Italy, and to some extent elsewhere in which the letters approximated more nearly to the Roman cursive hand: this passed by a gradual transition into the minuscule manner, or small hand, which, from the beginning of the 10th century, became usual in MSS. See Silvestre, Universal Paleography (transl. and edit. by Sir F. Madden, Lond. 1850); Traite de Diplomatique, par deux Religieux Benddictins de la Congregation de St. Maur (Paris, 1755). (See MANUSCRIPTS).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Uncial Letters'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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