Laputan Logic
Thursday, April 24, 2003
  Fortunata means "lucky"

Receipt of sale:

"Vegetus, assistant slave of Montanus the slave of the August Emperor, has bought the girl Fortunata, by nationality a Diablintian (from near Jublains in France), for 600 denarii1. She is warranted healthy and not liable to run away ..."


Here we have a slave of a slave buying himself a slave in first century2 Roman Britain.

This receipt for the purchase, discovered in London in 1996, was originally written on a wax writing tablet using a stylus. The wax has long since vanished but because the scribe had been so heavy handed, the text has been preserved scratched into the wooden backing board.

1 - 600 dinarii at the time was the equivalent of two years wages for a Roman soldier or in today's money, according to the Torygraph, enough to buy a rilly cool little sports car!

2 - But we could tell that already just from a quick glance at the script, right, Readers? After all, we're all expert paleographers now.  

Tuesday, April 22, 2003
  The Evolution of Writing (well, Western writing anyway)

Having trouble reading those Vindolanda tablets? That might be because they are written in Old Roman Cursive, a kind of a scrawl developed around the 1st century AD to serve a literate population's everyday need for quickly writing things down without too much bother. Whereas the more familiar Roman capitals which had evolved from Phoenician (via Etruscan and Greek) were designed for carving into stone for public display, cursive styles were for personal correspondence and tuned to rapid writing with a pointed stylus on papyrus, wax or wood.

Old Roman Cursive differs from later handwriting styles in that most of the letterforms still resemble the squarish capitals but are connected occasionally with ligatures. Words are often abbreviated and word divisions are not always shown, sometimes being denoted by a space while at others by a dot. Numerals are usually distinguished from ordinary letters by the use of a superscript bar or leading and trailing dots.

1st century AD Majuscule-Cursive

2nd century AD Majuscule-Cursive (as in Vindolanda)

3rd century AD Minuscule-Cursive

By the 4th century things were really starting to go a little pear-shaped. Fortunately, Rome fell not long after and order was restored in the 8th century with the standardisation of the Carolingian Minuscule & Majuscule under the learned despotism of Charlemagne (although we should not fail to mention at this point that cute Irish script that you still see today adorning theme pubs from Boston to Bangalore).

Alas, the barbaric Gothic hoards could not be held at bay for long and even the Franks themselves eventual succumbed to their inner Germanity thus ushering in a Dark Age of condensed and nasty pointy black letters.

It took the cultural renaissance of Italy to finally reject the Northern Gothic style and to reassert the earlier rounder letter shapes. The Humanists took the Carolingian writing as its model (largely in the mistaken belief that it was the style of the ancient Romans). In concert with the contemporary revolution brought by the invention of the printing press, this Humanist style eventually supplanted the Gothic1 style throughout the whole of Europe and went on to become the basis for the typefaces that we still use today and it's cursive form the basis of our handwriting style.

Of course there's a lot more to it than this. Be sure to read the whole ripping yarn over at the wonderful Textism.

1 - Of course it was with the Gothic Fraktur typeface that Gutenberg typeset the first ever printed book and this font continued to be used in Germany for books and newspapers right up until the 20th century. When the Nazis came to power, the Humanist typefaces where declared "un-Aryan" and only Gothic and Fraktur typefaces were deemed suitable for use by Third Reich. However, in 1941 in a surprising reversal, the Führer suddenly decided that Fraktur was too "Jewish" and banned its use. The Humanist Antiqua type was then made the standard in it's stead. One explanation for this curious decision was a very practical one, with all of the conquered territories that were under German occupation at the time, hardly any of its subject peoples were able to read the Gothic script.  
  Experimental layout

This is my first attempt at a stylesheet based layout. Please report any weirdness or sluggishness.  

Fanciful. Preposterous. Absurd.

October 06, 2002 / October 13, 2002 / October 20, 2002 / October 27, 2002 / November 03, 2002 / November 10, 2002 / November 17, 2002 / November 24, 2002 / December 01, 2002 / December 08, 2002 / December 15, 2002 / December 22, 2002 / December 29, 2002 / January 05, 2003 / January 12, 2003 / January 19, 2003 / January 26, 2003 / February 02, 2003 / February 09, 2003 / February 16, 2003 / March 02, 2003 / March 09, 2003 / March 16, 2003 / March 23, 2003 / March 30, 2003 / April 13, 2003 / April 20, 2003 / April 27, 2003 / May 04, 2003 / May 11, 2003 / May 18, 2003 / May 25, 2003 / June 01, 2003 / June 08, 2003 / June 15, 2003 / June 22, 2003 / June 29, 2003 / July 06, 2003 / July 13, 2003 / July 20, 2003 / July 27, 2003 / August 03, 2003 / August 31, 2003 / September 07, 2003 / September 21, 2003 / September 28, 2003 / October 05, 2003 / October 19, 2003 /

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