Ancient Roman Geometric Sans.

Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,128
edited December 2022 in History of Typography

The Temple of Saturn in the Roman Forum.
It looks like there were letters, likely of precious metal, fitted into the stone, held in place by pegs, the holes for which remain.
The vacant letter shapes have a very slight glyphic quality, but are otherwise remarkably monoline and “geometric”.
I doubt the metal letters would have imitated the v-shaped concavity of the usual incised method, as that would have weakened the pegs’ attachment. Would the finish have been flush? Who knows, it may even have been raised and bevelled.


  • Paul Show probably knows. I sent a message with his email address.
  • Interesting upside-down S design! Maybe with the upward viewing angle in mind?
  • its only a guess – the letters were made of cast bronze and gilded, with a flat surface even with the architrave. There must be some archeological studies about it, somewhere.
  • Not in the same script and qualification but, (I think) a similar application may be found in a 19th C. epigraphical publication: - Städte Pamphyliens und Pisidiens. Unter Mitwirkung von G. Niemann und E. Petersen hrsg. von Karl Grafen Lanckoronski, pp.155–156 (In German). Of course, it is not possible to feel the ‘Greek bronze letters’ here — for that, the following links may be more useful:

    Some of these letters are in the Ashmolean museum today, but their presentation of the artifacts is somehow poor:

    A more ‘approachable’ hi-res image in Wikimedia Commons page:,_son_of_Trajan,_gilded_bronze_letter_from_the_gate_of_Hadrian_at_Antalya,_Turkey,_AD_130,_Ashmolean_Museum_(8400700357).jpg

  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,128
    From Paul Shaw:

    The letters would have been filled with metal, probably bronze or lead but possibly gilded (certainly not a precious metal). And I doubt the metal letters would have been raised or beveled. I wrote about Roman metal letters back in c.2004 but cannot remember everything. It was for Typography Papers and was about a fragment discovered near Trajan’s Column which had a single bit of metal (gilded) surviving—the punctus! I surmised that the Romans used patterns to trace out the letters on the stone before carving them and that the patterns were then used to sand cast the metal letters. This would explain the upside-down S. Holes in the sand would have been made so that the sand cast letters had metal prongs to fit into the holes carved in the stone. No pegs.

    Typography Papers 5 (2003) Paul Shaw: A recent discovery in Trajan’s Forum: some implications for understanding bronze inscriptional letters
  • See also Alan May, "Roman bronze inscriptional lettering: a note on methods of production" in Typography papers 1, which was pointed out to me by @Dan Reynolds in this Twitter thread.
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