Medieval Writing
Italian Legal Cursive

Script Type : minuscule cursive

Date : 14th century

Location : Italy

Function : document hand for legal recording

This is a short segment from an Italian court roll of the later 14th century. As can be seen from the right of the image, it is a damaged fragment. It probably appears slightly enlarged on your screen, but if it was made smaller it would be even harder to read. From a private collection.  
Pass cursor over letters to see enlarged examples taken from the page illustrated above.  

Distinctive letters: This is another of those rather scruffy examples of the kinds of things that you do not tend to find in paleography books. I promised more of these. This little segment comes from a damaged fragment of a court roll from Ticino, Italy. It records a case involving repayment of a debt. The script is a small rounded hand, neat but cursive, and very tightly packed, with numerous abbreviations, in order to make the document as dense and compact as possible. It is a simplified, utilitarian script compared to the more mannered styles one might find in a charter. The roll has not been ruled up neatly like a book, and the lines of text are not straight. The language is Latin.

The letter a has a simple single closed loop. The letter g has an open curly descender. Long s is tall and tapering, made from two lines, while the short and curly final s has two closed loops. The letter r is very open, does not extend below the line, and could be confused with u or v, while the simplified r that occurs after o is present. If you are of the English school of paleography that defines all 14th century cursives in terms of their relationship to the English cursiva anglicana or the French Secretary, then these forms are more typical of the Secretary type, but I am not sure that all those old Italian scribes would like that form of classification. Perhaps they invented it.

Apart from that, the ascenders of letters like b, d and l are closed and loopy. The letters u and v are identical, and both have a different form when they appear at the beginning of a word. Likewise i and j are identical, or as I have argued elsewhere, j does not really exist in Latin, but they both have an extended capitalised form when they occur at the beginning of a word. The letter x has the fully cursive form of a single loop with a long curly descender.

Letters composed of minims are very cursive and angular, so that it can be very hard to distinguish combinations of i, n, m, u and v.

The letter c is flat topped, but it is distinguishable from t as the letter, while short, does poke slightly above the crossbar.

There are no examples of k, w, y or z.

Pass the cursor slowly over the image to pick out some words. I selected this section because it has the names of the participants in the court case in it, as well as the amount of money involved. A full paleography exercise will materialise after I have put up a whole bunch of new scripts.


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This site is created and maintained by Dr Dianne Tillotson, freelance researcher and compulsive multimedia and web author. Comments are welcome. Material on this web site is copyright, but some parts more so than others. Please check here for copyright status and usage before you start making free with it. This page last modified 3/5/2007.