Medieval Writing

Script Type : majuscule

Date : Late Roman, developed by the 4th century; in use until around the 8th century and continuing later for display headings. This example is from the 8th century.

Location : Christian western Europe, this example from England

Function : Formal book hand, originally for text of body of work, later for headings.

This sample comes a famous 8th century English psalter, the Vespasian Psalter (British Library, Cotton Vespasian A 1, f.53r), by permission of the British Library. Reproduction of these images is permitted under Creative Commons licence.
Pass cursor over letters to see enlarged examples taken from the page illustrated above.

Distinctive letters : This example is of a very formally produced uncial script, as used in a prestigious psalter produced in England. This is a very formal, square and angular form of the script. Being a majuscule script, the letters have a capitalised form and generally are all of the same size, but as usual in the chaotic world of paleography, there are some exceptions. F, P, Q and X all have descenders that extend below the baseline, while L and H extend above the other letters.

The letters have a mixture of angular and rounded forms, the rounded M with angular N being almost diagnostic for this script. Most letter forms are familiar to us as capitals, but A has a curly loop rather than an angular shape with a crossbar. The letters G and E are differently formed to those found in the earlier 6th century example of uncial script shown in these script examples, being closer to the capital forms with which we are familiar.

The letters I and J, as well as U and V, are identical, as is generally the case in medieval Latin.

There are no examples of K, W, Y or Z.

In between the lines of Latin text, there are words in Old English, written in a pointed insular minuscule. These are presented in a separate example, as it is necessary to magnify the image to read them.

Despite the formality of the script, word spacing is a trifle eccentric and there are some untidy corrections. It all leads to some points to ponder on the nature of literacy in the 8th century. For this and other details of this fascinating manuscript, proceed to the paleography exercise.

The complete text of this work can be found in Kuhn, S.M. (ed.) 1965 The Vespasian Psalter Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

This manuscript is digitised in full on the British Library's website here.

Insular script in this example

Paleography exercises for this example using Flash

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Script Index

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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 16/2/2014.