Most of us are familiar with Roman “print” — or engraving, really — which became the basis for Times New Roman and other modern fonts, but what did Roman cursive look like?
Old Roman cursive, also called majuscule cursive and capitalis cursive, was the everyday form of handwriting used for writing letters, by merchants writing business accounts, by schoolchildren learning the Roman alphabet, and even emperors issuing commands. A more formal style of writing was based on Roman square capitals, but cursive was used for quicker, informal writing. It was most commonly used from about the 1st century BC to the 3rd century AD, but it probably existed earlier than that.
New Roman cursive, also called minuscule cursive or later Roman cursive, developed from old Roman cursive. It was used from approximately the 3rd century to the 7th century, and uses letter forms that are more recognizable to modern eyes; “a”, “b”, “d”, and “e” have taken a more familiar shape, and the other letters are proportionate to each other rather than varying wildly in size and placement on a line. This evolved into the medieval script known as Carolingian minuscule, which was used in 9th century France and Germany in the imperial chancery, and whose revival in the Renaissance forms the basis of our modern lowercase letters.