Medieval Writing
Post-Roman Scripts (2)
Scribes in Spain, from the late 7th century until the 12th, used Visigothic minuscule, although it also retained a range of the Roman scripts for some time. Visigothic minuscule was used not only in the Christian ruled areas of northern Spain, but also by Mozarabic communities, or Christian groups living under Arab rule in Islamic southern Spain.
This map shows tha National Hands and other related specialised scripts in the 7th-8th centuries.
Visigothic script incorporated a number of half uncial forms and the uncial G into a base of New Roman cursive. Ascenders are strongly wedged. Ligatures are common. The script is calligraphic but quite legible.
Visigothic script
A fragment of Visigothic minuscule from a 10th century book of Mozarabic liturgy (British Library, add ms 30844, f.41), by permission of the British Library.
The other long lived and highly distinctive script was the Beneventan minuscule of southern Italy. It survived from the late 8th century to the 13th. Based around the monastery of Monte Cassino, several local variants developed and it spread also to Dalmatia. It is rounded and regular in letter form, with hooked shafts to all the letters. Ligatures are common. The script is highly formal and calligraphic, but legibility can be a problem.
exultet roll A distinctive use of the Beneventan script was for exultet rolls, used for reading the lessons at Easter. The pictures are inverted with respect to the text so that they could be seen by the congregation as the roll hung over the edge of the lectern. (See Wurfbain 1976)
Segment of an exultet roll of the 12th century (British Library, add ms 30337), by permission of the British Library. The writing is upside down on the image at left. Below is a detail of the script.
Beneventan minuscule

The Merovingian, Lombardic and Germanic scripts each encompassed multiple variants, as a range of local scripts based on New Roman cursive was developed. The terminology and classification is confused as script styles interacted and hybridised. For example the assortment classified as Merovingian minuscule ranges from highly mannered and localised variants through to what was to become the more standardised script of later times, quite legible to us today. Paleographers have disputed the definition of Lombardic. While, historically, it ought to represent northern Italian scripts, the term has been confined by some writers to the predecessors of Beneventan minuscule in southern Italy. Some early scripts from northern Italy seem to defy classification under this model. The geographical or stylistic differentiation of Merovingian and Germanic seems to be inconsistent between different writers. The definitions of script styles are not strictly geographic anyway, as early medieval monks were the inventors of academic study leave. The presence of Irish and Anglo-Saxon monks in certain centres on the continent of Europe meant that monasteries in these centres produced works in insular minuscule.


Lombardic minuscule A sample originally identified as Lombardic minuscule, later corrected to Corbie a-b, of the 8th century, part of a Life and Homilies of St Caesarius (Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale MS 9850-52). (From New Palaeographical Society 1904) This example has also been identified as Merovingian. (See Steffens 1929)
Merovingian book script from an 8th century Evangelary (Autun, Bibliothèque du Grand Séminaire, 3). (From Steffens 1929)
script from Bobbio Sample of 8th century script from Bobbio, an Italian monastery of Irish foundation, of a work of St Augustine (Vienna Library, Cod. lat.16, f.30). (From Steffens 1929)
The script in the example immediately above is described as a mixture of old Italian and Irish book script, which is really stressing the whole concept of National Hands.
Columbia University Library illustrates some early minuscule scripts from Flanders (Early 9th century, Eugippius, excerpts of works of St Augustine - Plimpton MS 48, f.3), from northern Italy (Turn of 9th century, Gregory the Great, Homilies on Exechiel - Plimpton MS 53,, from Germany (9th century, Pseudo Jerome, Brevarium in psalmos - Plimpton MS 49A frag. recto) and from France (Early 9th century, Homiliary - Plimpton MS 55, f.2).
In this somewhat confused situation as regards classification, there were certain monastic centres which were associated with the production of minuscule book hands with particular features. Luxeuil minuscule developed at the abbey of Luxeuil in France, originally an Irish foundation, during the 7th and 8th centuries. The abbey was destroyed by the Saracens in 732, causing the demise of the script, although the abbey was later rebuilt. The script has a mixture of rounded and angular forms and exaggerated ascenders and descenders. Uncial and half uncial forms were introduced and there was frequent use of ligatures. It evidently owes much to Merovingian chancery script. It could be regarded as a specialised form of Merovingian minuscule, and is identified as such in some older paleographical reference books.
Luxeuil Minuscule Small sample of Luxeuil minuscule from a 7th century lectionary (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, fonds latin 9427, f.143). (From Steffens 1929)
Corbie ab script is generally associated with the daughter foundation of Luxeuil at Corbie. It is named after the distinctive form of the letters a and b and was, in fact, a royal chancery script adapted as a book hand. It was not the only script in use at Corbie, nor was it only associated with that place. It also made extensive use of ligatures, which gives the script the most distinctive aspect of its appearance. It has also been identified as a form of Merovingian minuscule.
Corbie ab
Sample of Corbie ab from a manuscript of c.800 (Imperial Library of St Petersburg, F. XIV,1). (From Steffens 1929)
New Roman cursive was also ancestral to various administrative and business hands and certain chanceries developed very elaborate and stylised versions. The script of the papal curia up to the 10th century, curialis or littera Romana, and the related Ravenna chancery script were highly exaggerated calligraphic scripts with long ascenders and descenders, loops and ligatures; very impressive but not highly legible. Merovingian chancery script was employed in the writing office of the early Frankish kings. Stylised, elongated and spidery, it could also be extremely illegible.
Merovingian chancery script Merovingian chancery script in a diploma of Charlemagne from AD 781 (State Archives, Marburg). (From Steffens 1929).
The spidery appearance of papal curialis, from a privilage of John VIII on papyrus, of 876 (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, (From Steffens 1929)
The interaction between the various forms of cursive, the borrowings back from the formal New Roman scripts such as uncial and half uncial, the development of localised calligraphic flourishes and the mutual interactions which led to developments of script are difficult to trace in detail. The erratic survival of 8th century manuscripts plays a large part in this. However, it is fair to say that the development of handwriting in western Europe was in a phase of diversification.
In the court of Charlemagne, among burgeoning interest in literary and classical culture, a script was developing which would eventually standardise handwriting across much of western Europe. Its origins were in the book hands derived from cursive, but it was very formal, regular and legible. This was Caroline minuscule. But first, let us take a slightly different viewpoint on this earlier era.


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History of Scripts
What is Paleography?

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