The Wikipedia article on letter case says this without citing any references:

Both majuscule and minuscule letters existed, but the difference between the two variants was initially stylistic rather than orthographic and the writing system was still basically unicameral: a given handwritten document could use either one style or the other but these were not mixed. European languages, except for Ancient Greek and Latin, did not make the case distinction before about 1300.

When was the first bicameral script developed, in the sense of using different cases to mark important words or the beginning of sentences (and not just a stylistic choice for the whole document)? And is it true that after bicameral scripts were developed for Greek and Latin, it was only from 1300 that bicameral writing became common for other languages?

2 Answers 2


Specifically bicameral scripts are actually limited only to a few around the world:

  • Roman
  • Greek
  • Cyrillic
  • Armenian
  • Coptic
  • Adlam
  • Warang Citi
  • Cherokee
  • Osage

The rules of having specifically two cases seem to have first been codified in the Carolingian miniscule, from c. 800 CE. See this answer on the Latin StackExchange.


I read a lot about writing systems and typography in the last month or three. While I don't have any sources off the top of my head right now, my summary takeaway is this: Latin originally used the letters we now know as capitals exclusively. Over time, in order to write faster, scribes developed other styles, one of which eventually became known as the Carolingian minuscule, and spread due to the expansion of the Carolingian empire and its successors. Capital letters were not used in this script, except in highly decorated form at the start of paragraphs or pages. This way of using capitals eventually spread to the beginning of sentences, then to the beginning of certain words or word classes (such as the capitalization of all nouns in German), along with a decrease in decoration.

As to how much of similar developments in Greek and Cyrillic scripts was parallel to the development in Latin scripts, modelled upon it, or perhaps adapted when printing spread from central/nothern Europe eastwards, I don't know for sure at this point.

To my knowledge, almost no other script has a similar distinction between capital and small letters. However, scripts such as Arabic have different letter shapes depending on where in a word a letter occurs (Arabic in particular has word-initial, mid-word, word-final, and isolated shapes for most letters).

  • Got any dates? That's what I'm really asking about.
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 16, 2019 at 9:25
  • 1
    Hebrew has five letters that have a different form if they are the last letter in the word, but no capital letters at all. Jan 20, 2019 at 12:44

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