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Capital letters, also called majuscule or uppercase are derived from inscriptional forms of the alphabet which the Romans adopted from the Etruscans. One distinguishing featue of capital letters is that they are of uniform height; the absence of ascenders or descenders (generally) is another feature of the upper case. These inscriptional forms of the alphabet were also the basis for several writing hands that followed, including square capitals and uncial lettering.
Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capital_letters