Medieval abbreviations (III). Visigothic script style

Knowing from where the medieval abbreviation system comes from, its Roman origin and adaptation throughout the Middle Ages, it is easier to recognize and understand the different methods used to contract words in Visigothic script manuscripts and the more efficient approach to classify and decipher their abbreviations.

While each versed scribe displays his or her own distinctive alphabet which varies in its general aspect, allographs, serifs, ligatures and bitings, the shortenings used by all Visigothic script amanuensis were the same according to the structure: those lacking a nasal, those made by special signs, Tironian notes, notae iuris, and those made by contraction and suspension. Some techniques and peculiar styles were preferred in specific centers just as some methods were not exactly the same in all typological variants, but, in general, a model and its evolution from the 8th to the 14th century can be defined.

Therefore, what follows is a brief summary of all the abbreviations utilized in manuscripts written in Visigothic script divided by the main typological variants cursive and minusculeplus some notes about the perceptible changes on transitional scripts. I am following the methodology explained in the last post and have added some considerations as for the evolution of each method of abbreviation, useful for dating and locate manuscripts from the northwestern Iberian Peninsula.

General sign

In Visigothic cursive (and cursive in transition to Caroline minuscule), the common sign for stating an abbreviation adopted very different shapes, often using the same scribe two or more designs in a same manuscript [see FIG. 1]. In the oldest examples the most frequent macron used was that similar to a knot or loop, while in the most recent ones the favorite design was the regular macron, particularly employed in those letters with an ascender.

FIG. 1. General sign for abbreviation. Cursive Visigothic script

FIG. 1. General sign for abbreviation. Cursive Visigothic script

The usual horizontal macron was preferred as general sign by those scribes versed in Visigothic minuscule (and minuscule in transition to Caroline minuscule).

Lack of nasals

Those scribes writing in cursive Visigothic script did not use the same flourished design of stroke above the letters for indicating the lack of nasals than just for pointing an abbreviation. In fact, the nasals m or n were not even elided in the earlier examples (before the 11th c.). In manuscripts from the 11th century onwards, from the shapes shown in FIG. 1, those resembling a knot, loop or spiral were not employed for this purpose but only the roughly horizontal line, on occasion adding a dot or another parallel line to it.

As for the general sign to indicate lack of nasals in the minuscule variant, the design of the sign recurrently employed was the regular macron for n, usually adding a dot for m.

Special signs

Writing in Visigothic script, both cursive and minuscule, the scribes developed different signs to shorten the endings us, -um, -is, and que, per and qui.

FIG. 2. Ending -us cursive variant

FIG. 2. Ending –us cursive variant

The main sign employed to signify the ending -us in the cursive variant was the one similar to a G-clef after b, d, I, m/n, p, r or t [see FIG. 2, first image]. From the mid-11th century onwards, although less frequently, scribes using the cursive variant also utilized a small wavy stroke similar to an uppercase s drawn superscripted after b, d, I, m and p [FIG. 2, second image]. This latter sign with the same meaning was also the one used in the minuscule variant after b, I, m/n, p and t. In some unusual examples in cursive script from the last decades of the 11th century on, a wavy stroke cutting the ascender of b, d and I can be found too [FIG. 2, last image].

FIG. 3. Ending -us transitional variants

FIG. 3. Ending -us transitional variants

In minuscule in transition to Carolingian script, besides using profusely the sign similar to an s to indicate -us, a superscripted semicircle after b, d, i/I, m/n, r, s and t started to be favored [FIG. 3, last two pics].

FIG. 4. Ending -um cursive variant

FIG. 4. Ending -um cursive variant

For representing –um, the scribes using the cursive variant employed the same “G-clef like” sign as for -us now after n, r and t [FIG. 4, first image]. From the mid-11th century on, this ending was also noted by an oblique line cutting the final stroke of the letters n an r [FIG. 4, last two pics], sign that will be the characteristic one of the minuscule variant being employed only after r cuadrata (also after m/n and t in transitional script, for which it was the only one used for -um).

FIG. 5. Ending -is

FIG. 5. Ending -is

Another of the characteristic signs in cursive and minuscule Visigothic script was that used for the ending –is [FIG. 5]; a wavy or spiral stroke under b, m/n and t, which progressively became more elegant.

FIG. 6. Ending -ue cursive variant

FIG. 6. Ending -ue cursive variant

In isolated cases in the cursive variant and frequently in the minuscule one, que was abbreviated by a q plus the same sign as for -us similar to an uppercase s, although not before the mid-11th century (cursive) [FIG. 6].

FIG. 7. Ending -ue transitional variant

FIG. 7. Ending -ue transitional variant

In transitional scripts que was abbreviated by a q plus a semicircle or semicolon [FIG. 7].

FIG. 8. Per cursive variant

FIG. 8. Per cursive variant

FIG. 9. Qui cursive variant

FIG. 9. Qui cursive variant

To end with, for per and qui two different signs were used in cursive and minuscule; per was frequently condensed in all cursive examples [FIG. 8], while shortened qui tends to become rare around the mid-11th c. [FIG. 9]. In transitional variants, the most frequent form for per was the so-called “continental per” (a p with a horizontal stroke cutting the descender of p) [FIG. 10, first image].

FIG. 10. Transitional scripts

FIG. 10. Transitional scripts

In transitional variants some more signs were added [FIG. 10]: (i) the sign for pre drawn with a p plus a macron; (ii) for er/-er- by a t plus macron; (iii) forur by means of a t plus an angular macron; (iv) unt by an r plus macron; and (v) -en- by m plus macron.

General abbreviations

There is a long list of abbreviations by contraction and suspension used both in cursive (especially) and minuscule Visigothic script manuscripts. I made a list of the most frequent ones here, where you can also find the year of the manuscript (charter) in which I found each form.

By and large, the reductions used in the cursive variant tend to be a bit more intricate since the scribes did not usually follow the easiest contraction, maintaining unnecessary letters (each scribe his choice). Some examples: apstls for apostolus, epcs for episcopus or prsbtr for presbiter. Aum for autem, ppls for populus, pptr for propter, scdm for secundum, or sct for sicut and the possessives noster/uester with s (nso/uso) and not with theme in r (nro/uso) are also notably representative.

The influence of Caroline minuscule was first shown in Visigothic script manuscripts in the abbreviation system and can be easily recognized: besides the profuse use of abbreviations by superscripted vowel (for cri, igitur, mihi, modo, nihil, pra/pri/pro, qua/qui/quo, quomodo, tibi, tri/tro, uero) and the more frequent Tironian notes (for et and con) and notae iuris (est, sunt), another Carolingian examples are au for autem, ap for apud, ep theme for episcopus, nb/ub for nobis/uobis, pbr for presbiter, qm for quoniam, qd for quod, sct for sicut, tpre for tempore and ul for uel. Note that, in the first manuscripts preserved written in Visigothic script, some abbreviations that will be more frequent in the Carolingian writing system like ep for episcopus, nne for nomine, the Tironian note for con (ɔ) or the “continental percan be found; that does not necessarily mean there was an early influence of Caroline minuscule but a prevalence of traditional writing practices, since these forms were already in use in the first steps of the abbreviation system.

– by Ainoa Castro

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “Medieval abbreviations (III). Visigothic script style″. Littera Visigothica (December 2014), (ISSN 2386-6330).

Medieval abbreviations (II). Medieval period

In the last post I wrote about the origin of the medieval abbreviation system explaining briefly the techniques used by the Romans classified as abbreviations by singula litterae, suspension and contraction, Tironian notes, notae iuris, and nomina sacrafor shortening words. In this post I will focus my attention on summarizing how these methods were adapted throughout the medieval period, giving some tips on how to study them effectively.

With the beginning of the Middle Ages, for each one of the national writing systems that preceded the expansion of Caroline minuscule Visigothic and also Merovingian, Beneventan and Insular scripts, the traditional Roman methods to shorten words started to be interpreted in a different manner corresponding to the evolution of writing techniques and different cultural contexts. Although the basis was preserved, the active use of abbreviations made some fall into oblivion (ex. most of the Tironian notes; the notae iuris were preserved although not recognizing their origin and being just used as abbreviations by suspension or contraction), while others were not only in vogue but also served as foundation for the development of almost all the medieval system (nomina sacra). Therefore, departing from the same methods, a new whole system for shortening words began to be used to the point that not only each writing system but even some specific production centers or scriptoria employed their own distinctive set of abbreviations [on the image above, an example; in green lack of nasals, in red by special signs, and in blue by contraction and/or suspension – Add. 11695, f.221v © The British Library].

Visigothic script has their own system of abbreviating words, one for the cursive variant, another for the minuscule variant, and another one too for the transitional typological variants of the script combining Visigothic and Caroline abbreviations. Studying the ones handled by the scribes for each variant, their construction and evolution, entails practice and can be a bit chaotic bearing in mind the amount of constructions used especially from the 11th century on, but also such uniqueness as for the myriad of options at their disposal provides very useful information to date and place manuscript sources as well as to deepen the cultural context of scribes and written testimonies.

The methodology I always use for analyzing Visigothic script abbreviations entails 4 major points that gather all possible techniques for shortening words during the period (8th – 14th centuries). It is based on the different types or systems for condensing words used in medieval writing systems essentially classified into two groups, by suspension and by contraction, but modified aiming to study the application of each method (how the scribe drawn and used the abbrev.) and its evolution instead of the type of technique itself. Following this model it is easy to obtain a graphic profile of each hand’s abbreviation system, what allows then to make comparisons, find out the more probable school or center for the scribe, the manuscripts he more likely read (since several abbreviations can be found only in some specific genres), the external cultural influence he was surrounded for, and also his or her chronological period. Once having a corpus of a couple of hundreds, just by analyzing the abbreviations, sources can be placed in context with a small margin of error.

General sign

FIG. 2 Example of macron

FIG. 1 Example of macron

First, I always check the design employed to draw the general sign of abbreviation, also called macron [FIG. 1]. This sign comes from the Roman period and was spread in parchment thanks to its widespread use in the nomina sacra, as we have seen, and is the most basic element that needs to be analyzed. Although it was first just a more or less horizontal line above the letters left behind for condensing the word, it can also present numerous styles since it evolves with the writing system itself; a different type of stroke equals to a different type of macron.

Lack of nasals

FIG. 3 Example of macron used to indicate lack of nasal

FIG. 2 Example of macron used to indicate lack of nasal

Besides its general use for noting that there is a shortened word in the text, which can correspond to any type of the common set of abbreviations of each writing system (see below), the macron was used during the middle ages to mark a very simple an specific abbreviation: the lack of nasals, m and n [FIG. 2]. These nasals can be absent from the middle of the word (for example in omnia abbreviated as oia) or, more likely, at the end (as in the example formam). The general sign was exactly the same for both uses, and for both nasals, for long in the last centuries of Visigothic script a point was added over the line, which means that it does not necessarily present a graphic difference, so one needs to recognize when the abbreviation is only eliding a nasal or indicates an entirely different word.

Special signs

 FIG. 4 Abbreviations by special signs: cuius, genus, qui, que, nobis.

FIG. 3 Abbreviations by special signs: cuius, genus, qui, que, nobis

The third point entails the analysis of the abbreviations that tend to change the most between typological variants of Visigothic script: abbreviations by special signs [FIG. 3]. This type is formed basically by some letters of the reduced word followed by a sign which, depending on its shape, indicates a specific set of letters usually from the last part of the word (ex. us, um, is). The design of the special signs employed tends to show first exogenous influence (from Caroline minuscule).

FIG. 5 General abbreviations by contraction and suspension

FIG. 4 General abbreviations by contraction and suspension: frater, quod, uel, episcopus, sancti, propter, nostris

General abbreviations

Finally, the last group gathers all the abbreviations made with some letters plus the general sign [FIG. 4] and those Tironian notes and notae iuris that were remnant during the medieval period for the regular ecclesiastical texts and legal charters. Therefore, within the first group, nomina sacra, abbreviations by suspension (including singula littera) and abbreviations by contraction, that changed over time.

All Visigothic script scribes had this very complete method for signifying abbreviations, and all these options were used from the 8th to the 14th century, although not with the same intensity. In general, in the earliest written examples their use was frequent but not profuse, especially in ecclesiastical texts, while from the 12th century on some scribes abbreviated almost every single word in a sentence.

In the next post I will go through these four points of analysis summarizing the designs of the general sign, the macron, the special signs and some of the general abbreviations (contraction and suspension, Tironian notes and notae iuris) found in Visigothic script manuscripts (cursive, minuscule, and transitional variants) and their evolution.

– by Ainoa Castro

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “Medieval abbreviations (II). Medieval period″. Littera Visigothica (December 2014), (ISSN 2386-6330).

[Read part III: Visigothic script style]

Medieval abbreviations (I). Origin

It is time to write about one of my favorite topics on working with medieval manuscripts: the abbreviations (the other the medieval punctuation system; I will write about it soon). Each writing system has their own abbreviations. They evolved by being used as well as for external influence of coeval writing systems. Scribes and copyists used them extensively, and they were a real nightmare for the first paleographers who, during the Enlightenment, tried to solve them as well as even for medieval amanuensis. It is entertaining to try to solve them, to think in how scribes learnt to use and recognize abbreviations, almost as it is to see how, in some cases, even they got confused in their meaning, particularly among writing systems; those learnt in Caroline minuscule felt very stressed when reading Visigothic script manuscripts, and not only for the script!

The practice of abbreviating words was active since the beginning of written culture as it continues now in our digital communications (msg and so), and, as today, one of the two clearly identified reasons of its existence was to speed up the process of writing. It is not the same to write each one of the letters of, let’s say confirmat, that just to write cf. for each one of the tens of witnesses of a charter. But besides that, medieval abbreviations were also used to get the most out of the writing material, parchment, pretty expensive by the time. Using the less space possible seems to have been one powerful reason. Conventionally thus, only these two reasons have been discussed. However, in my point of view, yet another maybe more important argument needs to be fully explored: tradition. If shorthand techniques were initially used to speed up and cheapen writing, during the middle ages tradition I think was the main reason for using abbreviations, moreover bearing in mind that some of the methods employed are more complex and laborious to write than the word itself. To me, this becomes clear when working with charters were it can be seen an evident tendency to apply, for example, those abbreviations classified under the type nomina sacra. But let’s start from the beginning.

01_alphabet tironian notes

FIG. 1 Alphabet. Tironian notes.

The origin of the abbreviation system used in medieval manuscripts lays in the methods of abbreviation already used by the Romans, obviously a bit more elaborated and disorganized as medieval rules applied for writing tend to be giving the diverse cultural background of the scribes. More precisely, in Roman acronyms and in the shorthand notes, called Tironian notes, used for official business and especially legal jargon. [see FIG. 1].

In the Roman Empire, names and legal formulae, among other terms, used in inscriptions and other written testimonies were shortened by using only the initial letter, sometimes duplicated to express the plural (ex. C for Caius, K for kalendas or SPQR for Senatvs Popvlvsqve Romanvs). These are the first and simplest abbreviations in which only that part of the word, the initial, is preserved, and are called singula litterae or litterae singulares.

Following the same principle, and also over the same period, another system started to be used, built again preserving the first letter but also some of the initial ones of the word (ex. CLA for Claudius or PR for praetor). These are called abbreviations by suspension. Suspension is the most spontaneous mechanism, but it is also the least precise one as it is difficult to solve and requires familiarity with the text itself. Luckily, in the first century AD the grammarian M. Valerius Probus collected and explained some of these abbreviations (De litteris singularibus fragmentum). It has two basic types: one preserving only some of the first letters, and other preserving only the consonants, called syllabic suspension (although I have only seen and used the former, referring to the syllabic suspension as contraction).

From the 2nd and 3rd centuries on, the practice of condensing words writing nothing else but the initial letters was progressively developed including the initial letter of each of the syllables of the word, or at least the first and last letters, what is now called abbreviations by contraction. In the rare cases where the initial part of the word is omitted, we call these abbreviations aphaeresis.

FIG. 3 Most frequent Tironian notes in medieval manuscripts.

FIG. 2 Most frequent Tironian notes in medieval manuscripts.

The Tironian notes, attributed to Marcus Tullius Tiro (last century BC), are a tachygraphic system based in the use of some specific signs for the theme or prefix of each word plus auxiliary signs for the endings.  The most frequent signs for the medieval period are those of et, enim, sunt, esse and con [see FIG. 2]. If you want to know more about Tironian notes, there is a website on the topic (in German).

The constant and extensive use of the Tironian notes in the Roman world, and particularly in administrative context, resulted in the development of another abbreviation technique known by the name of notae iuris or notae antiquae since it expanded also into non-legal texts, developed between the 2nd and 5th centuries, which heavily influenced the medieval abbreviation system. FIG. 3 lists some examples of this type.

FIG. 4 Notae iuris.

FIG. 3 Notae iuris.

FIG. 5 Nomina sacra.

FIG. 4 Nomina sacra.

From the 4th century on, with the expansion of Christianity, new abbreviations were used to refer to terms central to Christian worship like Deus, Iesus, Christus, sanctus or ecclesia; the nomina sacra. As can be seen in FIG. 4, they receive their name for the cultural context to which they refer to and not for the mechanism used to form them, mixing thus abbreviations by contraction and suspension. The nomina sacra, besides those abbreviations made by means of signs or superscripted letters that will be discussed in the next post, became the most characteristic ones in the middle ages to the point that it is difficult to find a text without one. Furthermore, being easy to remember and widely understood, they served as starting point for developing the next generation of (medieval) abbreviations, and provided one of the graphic aspects that these shortened words will, thereafter, always include: the small horizontal line on the top of the letters called “general sign of abbreviation”, macron or tilde.

All these methods of shortening words were preserved and expanded during the medieval period, mostly by Irish monks, incorporating some others that, although having their origin in the same fundamental techniques, are classified differently.

Some useful references:

  • Bains, D. A supplement to “Notae latinae” (Abbreviations in Latin manuscripts of 850 to 1050 A.D.. Cambridge, 1936.
  • Boge, H. Grïechische Tachygraphie und Tironische noten: Eind Handbuch der schnell der Antike und des Mittelalters. Berlin, 1973.
  • Brown, S. “Concerning the origin of the Nomina Sacra”. Studia papyrologica 9 (1970): 7-19.
  • Bryson, W.H. Dictionary of Sigla and Abbreviations to and in Law Books before 1607. Charllotesville, 1975.
  • Capelli, A. Lexicon abbreviaturarum. Dizionario di abbreviature latine ed italiane usate nelle carte e codici specialmente del Medioevo. Milano, 1899.
  • Cencetti, G. Lineamenti di storia della scritura Latina. Bolonia, 1956, 353-475.
  • Costamagna, G. Tachigrafia notarile e scritture secreti medioevali in Italia. Roma, 1968.
  • Costamagna, G. Il sistema tachigrafico sillabico usato dai notai medioevali italiani (secolo VIII-XI). Regole fundamentali. Genova, 1953.
  • Lindsay, W. M. “Notae latinae”. An account of abbreviations in Latin manuscripts of the Early Minuscule period (700-850). Cambridge, 1915.
  • Mentz, A. (1939 i 1942), “Die Tironischen Noten: Eine Geschichte der römischen
  • Kurzschrift”. Archiv für Urkundenforschung, 16 (1939) and 17 (1942): 384 and 155-303.
  • O’Callaghan, J. “Problemática sobre los Nomina Sacra”. In Las abreviaturas en la enseñanza medieval y la transmisión del saber. Barcelona 1990, 21-36.
  • Parkes, M.B. “Tachygraphy in the Middle Ages: Writing Techniques Employed for Reportationes of Lectures and Sermons”. In Scribes, Scripts and Readers. London and Rio Grande, 1991, 19-33.
  • Schiaparelli, L. Avviamento allo studio delle abbreviature latine nel medioevo. Firenze, 1926.
  • Schiaparelli, L. “Le Notae Iuris e il sistema delle abbreviature medievali”. Archivio Storico Italiano, 73 (1915): 275-322.
  • Schiaparelli, L. “Note paleografiche. Segni tachigrafici nelle Notae Iuris”. Archivio Storico Italiano, 72 (1914) and 73 (1915): 241-254 and 245-275.
  • Traube, L. “Nomina Sacra”. Versuch einer Geschichte der christlichen Kürzung. München, 1907.
  • Turner, C.H. “The Nomina Sacra in early Latin Christian Manuscripts”. In A Miscellanea F. Ehrle: Scritti di Storia e Paleografia, IV. Roma, 1924, 62-74.
  • Online resources: Abbreviationes™


[Read part II: Medieval period]


– by Ainoa Castro

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “Medieval abbreviations (I). Origin″. Littera Visigothica (December 2014), (ISSN 2386-6330).

Codex of the month (II): British Library, Add. Ms. 11695 (2) The codex

London, British Library, Additional Ms. 11695, Beatus of Liébana, Commentary on the Apocalypse

Dated late 11th c. / early 12th c. (1091-1109) [w/ antiphonarium 10th-11th c.]

* This post has two parts:

(1) The ‘Beatos’ as an introduction to the genre [click here], and

(2) The Codex, with the description of the manuscript British Library 11695 *

The Silos copy of Beatus’ work is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful of all those that have survived. Furthermore, it gives the impression that it left its creators’ hands barely a moment ago, for nine hundred years of history have left virtually no mark upon it (just three folios are missing from the entire manuscript).

(Miguel C. Vivancos, Silos Beatus facsimile)

Why is the Silos Apocalypse important? Its beauty and excellent state of preservation would alone make this an important manuscript. But it also contains one of the oldest Christian maps of the world, reflecting the Roman view of things. East is at the top, and beyond the Red Sea is a hint of an undiscovered fourth continent that some ancient thinkers suggested must exist to balance Europe, Asia and Africa.

[See the figure above: The Beatus world map, with Adam, Eve and the Serpent in the Garden of Eden at the top. The Mediterranean is represented as a blue line in the centre, the River Nile as its continuation bending to the right, and the Red Sea as a vertical red line. Two rectangular islands at the bottom left are marked Britain and Scotland. Add. 11695, ff.39v-40r © The British Library]

(British Library, Online Gallery Sacred Texts).



Antiphonarium. Add. 11695, f.1r © The British Library

FIG. 2 Antiphonarium. Add. 11695, f.1r © The British Library

Fols. 1r-4v: Antiphonarium mozarabicum (10th-11th c.) [FIG. 2]. Flyleaves added to the main codex coming from an antiphonary. The musical notation seems to have been drawn by the same copyist who wrote the text. Fols. 1r-v, the end of the mass of St Roman and the beginning of the first feria of Advent. The miniature of Hell added in folio 2r, originally left blank, was added by the same illuminator than that of the Beatus. The two crosses of Oviedo in fols. 2v and 3v belong to the original antiphonary. The anagram in fol. 4r, VPR (Vespertinum) corresponds to the first chant of Mozarabic antiphonaries being thus its first page. The anagram LUX in fol. 4v belongs to the first chant for the eve of the feast of St Acisclus (17 November), first day of the Mozarabic liturgical year.

Incipit. Add. 11695, f.6v © The British Library

FIG. 3 Incipit. Add. 11695, f.6v © The British Library

Fols. 5v-217v: Beatus, In Apocalypsin in 12 books (family IIa). Fol. 6v/8r Incipit liber reuelationis ipsius domini nostri Ihesu Christi… [FIG. 3]

Fols. 218r-219v: Isidore, Etymologiae (excerpts).

Fols. 220r-266r: Jerome, Commentary on Daniel [FIG. 4]. Fol. 265v Explicit explanatio Danielis propheta, XII kalendas maias, hora VI, die V feria, sub era Tª Cª XXVIIIIª, regnante rex Adefonso in sedis Toleto et Kastella, Legio adque Gallecia… (1091).

The siege of Jerusalem. Add. 11695, f.222v © The British Library

FIG. 4 The siege of Jerusalem. Add. 11695, f.222v © The British Library

Fol. 267r: charter Caroline minuscule (letter of abbot Petrus relating to a distribution of the monastery’s income): Facta carta VIIII kalendas agusti, noto die Vª feria, era Mª Cª LXXXXª VIª, regnante rege Sancio in Castella, rege Fernando in Gallecia… (July 24th, 1158).

Fols. 268r-279v: Miscellaneous texts; Fol. 275v: Colophon: In nomine Domini hic liber Apocalipsis abuit inicium iussu Fortunii abbatis; sed, morte eius interueniente, minima pars ex eo facta fuit. Eodemque modo contigit in tempore Nunni abbatis. Ad ultimum uero, tempore Iohannis abbatis, domnus Petrus prior, consanguineous Nunni abbatis, compleuit et conplendo ab integro illuminabit. Explicitusque est in ipsis kalendis iulii mensis quando obit gloriosus Adefonsus, totius Yspanie imperator, era Tma CXLVIIª (July 1st, 1109);

Labyrinth. Add. 11695, f.276r © The British Library

FIG. 5 Labyrinth. Add. 11695, f.276r © The British Library

Fol. 276r: Labyrinth: Ob onorem Sancti Sebastiani martiri abba Fortunio librum. Munio presbiter titulauit hoc [FIG. 5]; Fol. 277v: … Ego Dominico presbiter et consanguinei mei Nunnio presbiter exigui libri huius prescribere solerter cepimus opus, erumnose uite huius peracto hoc gestum Siliensis cenobii… Perfectus est igitur hic liuer, explanationem in se mirificam continent Apocalipsis Iohannis, Christi iubante dextera, diemque temporis XIIII kalendas maii, hora VI, die V feria, sub era TCXXVIIIIª, regnante rex Adefonso… (April 18th or 19th, 1091); Fol. 278r: … explicitus est liuer reuelationis ipsius dominis nostril Ihesu Christi, editus et firmatus ab his auctoribus, id est, Iheronimo, Augustino, Ambrosio, Fulgentio, Gregorio, Ticonio, Hireneo, Abringio et Isidoro… Labor scribentis refectio est legentis. Hic deficit corpore, ille proficit mente. Quisquis ergo in hoc proficis opera, operarii lauorantis non dedignemini meminisse, ut Dominus inuocatus inmemor sit iniquitatibus tuis, amen, et pro uocem tue orationis mercedem recipias in tempore iudicii, quando Dominus sanctis suis retribuere iusscrit retributionem. Quia, qui nescit scribere laborem nullum existimat esse. Nam si uelis scire singulatim, nuntio tibi quam grabe est scripture pondus. Oculis caliginem facit, dorsum incurbat, costas et uentrem frangit, renibus dolorem inmittit, et omne corpus fastidium nutrit. Ideo tu, lector, lente folias versa, longe a literis digitos tene; quia sicut grande fecunditatem telluris tollit, sic lector inutilis scripturam et librum euertit. Nam, quam suabis est nauigantibus portum extremum, ita et scriptoris nouissimus uersus. Explicit. Deo gratias semper.


This miniature of two men dancing, one with a violin-type instrument and the other holding a bird and brandishing a curved knife, represents “la dansa del gall”, a traditional dance from the Pyrenees. Add. 11695, f.86r © The British Library

FIG. 6 This miniature of two men dancing, one with a violin-type instrument and the other holding a bird and brandishing a curved knife, represents “la dansa del gall”, a traditional dance from the Pyrenees. Add. 11695, f.86r © The British Library

Support: well-preserved parchment.

No. of leaves & layout: Antiphonary 4 fols. (text in fol. 1r-v; one 15-line single column); Beatus 279 fols. (395 x 245 mm); two columns-36 lines; quaternions; ruled in dry point; 37 quires; catchwords.

Copyist/s: The Codex was copied by Dominicus and Munio, likely commissioned by abbot Fortunio, who finished it at the sixth hour on Thursday, April 18th 1091.

Illuminator/s: Dominicus and Munio must have passed the still unbound work on to the illuminators. The program of illuminations was started by an unknown expert and, after him, continued by prior Petrus (see fol. 6v), who finished it on June 30th or July 1st, 1109, being Iohannes the abbot of Silos. Colophons fols. 275v, 277v.

Numerous full or half-page miniatures in colors and embellished with gold and silver leaf with inscriptions explaining their contents. Small unframed miniatures or figures in the margins [FIG. 6]; 2 decorated tables (ff. 160v, 161v); full borders (ff. 6v, 7r). Major initials in colors with zoomorphic, foliate, and/or interlace decoration, with display script at the beginning of books and prologues. Initials in red. (See the archival file for a complete list of topics.)

Script: minuscule Visigothic script (some influence from Caroline minuscule).


Origin: It is not known where the Antiphonary was written. The Beatus was produced in the Monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos (Burgos).

Provenance: Being finished in 1109, the codex was still in Silos in the 14th century since the same hand annotated several manuscripts from this monastery’s library. The codex left Silos in an unknown date. In the 18th century, the Silos Apocalypse belonged to Cardinal Antonio of Aragon (b. 1618, d. 1650), who apparently donated it to the San Bartolomé School in Salamanca. When the School was abolished  dissolution of the Salamancan “colegios mayores” by Charles IV (1804-1808) , the codex was taken to the Biblioteca Real in Madrid [The codex is listed in the index of the manuscripts incorporated into the royal collection by Antonio Tavira y Almazán, bishop of Salamanca, between 1799 and 1801 (inscription ‘No. 98’ (f. 1r) relates to its number in the index)]. It may be supposed that this is from where José Bonaparte (b. 1768, d. 1844) picked it up when king of Spain (1808-1813). He subsequently sold it to the British Museum on May 9th 1840 [List of Additions to the Manuscripts in the British Museum in the Years 1836-1840 (London: British Museum, 1843), p. 4].

Context: [See Adoptionism quarrel and first part of this post] It has been argued that, since the Mozarabic liturgy faded by the end of the 11th century, around 1061 and 1085 in Silos, the incorporation of these pages at the beginning of the Beatus served as commemoration or preservation of the Hispanic tradition.

IV. Personal comments and appendix:

Last June I had the privilege of briefly take a look to the collection of manuscripts in Visigothic script kept at the British Library (16 between codices and fragments; see the list here). The visit was exceptionally interesting; almost all the information published to date about these codices seemed, after a first approach, not particularly accurate (or not accurate enough for me), especially regarding the attribution of origin (and, therefore, date) and hands involved in their copy. The discoveries for this codex were the most striking for useful, moreover having perfectly identified authors and dates. Although both scribes, Dominicus and Munio wrote in the same script, minuscule Visigothic script, their writing can be easily individualized by an advanced paleographer having one of them clear influence from the abbreviation system of Caroline minuscule. Analyzing their intervention in the codex, it can be perfectly seen how they both worked together, simultaneously, dividing quires. Now that the volume is bound, the last pages of some quires face the first page of the next one highlighting the graphic differences. It will be really fascinating to carry out a detailed paleographic analysis to see who copied each quire to reconstruct how the codex was done.

Other exemplars of Beatus copied in Visigothic script:

  • Beato Magio o The Morgan Beatus, dated c. 926 (New York, The Pierpont Morgan Library, MS 644) [here].
  • Beato de San Millán de la Cogolla, dated c. 950/955 (El Escorial, Biblioteca del Monasterio, &.II.5) [here].
  • Beato Emilianense, dated mid-10th c. (Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, Vitr. 14-1) [here].
  • Beato de la Rioja o de la Seu d’Urgell, dated 10th (La Seu d’Urgell, Biblioteca de la Catedral, Ms. 26) [here].
  • Beato de Tábara, dated c. 970 (Madrid, Archivo Histórico Nacional, cód. 1097B) [here].
  • Beato de Valcavado o de Valladolid, dated c. 970 (Valladolid, Biblioteca de la Universidad, Ms 433) [here].
  • Beato de Girona, dated c. 975 (Girona, Arxiu de la Catedral, Ms. 7) [here].
  • Beato de San Millán de la Cogolla, dated late 10th c., 11th c. for illuminations (Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, ms. 33) [here].
  • Beato de Facundo o de Fernando I, dated c. 1047 (Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, Vitr. 14-2) [here].
  • Beato del Burgo de Osma, dated c. 1086 (Burgo de Osma, Catedral, Cód. 1) [here].

V. Bibliography & online resources:

The BL MS 11695 is available online at the BL Digitised Mss catalogue.

A detailed archival file is available here.

The ‘Silos Apocalypse’ is part of the exceptional online exhibition about Sacred Texts and has also been cited in several posts published in the British Library’s Medieval manuscripts blog (eg. here, here, and here).

There is a facsimile edition of the codex by Moleiro, which includes comments about some historical and codicological aspects of the Silos Beatus (by Miguel Vivancos) and its illustration (by Ángela Franco).

Díaz y Díaz, M. C. 1983. Códices visigóticos de la monarquía leonesa. León: Centro de Estudios e Investigación San Isidoro – CSIC, pp. 312-313, nº 19 and 399-400, nº 115 (antiphonary).

Millares Carlo, A. 1999. Corpus de códices visigóticos (ed. by M. C. Díaz y Díaz, A. M. Mundo Marcet, J. M. Ruiz Asencio, B. Casado Quintanilla, and E. Lecuona Ribot). Las Palmas de Gran Canaria: UNED, nº 106.

– by Ainoa Castro

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “Codex of the month (II): London, BL, Add. Ms. 11695 (2) The codex″. Littera Visigothica (November 2014), (ISSN 2386-6330).

Codex of the month (II): British Library, Add. Ms. 11695 (1) The ‘Beatos’

London, British Library, Additional Ms. 11695, Beatus of Liébana, Commentary on the Apocalypse

Dated late 11th c. / early 12th c. (1091-1109) [w/ antiphonarium 10th-11th c.]

* This post has two parts:

(1) The ‘Beatos’ as an introduction to the genre, and

(2) The Codex, with the description of the manuscript British Library 11695 [click here] *


The MS. 11695 kept at the British Library and so-called Silos Apocalypse belongs to one of the most authentic manuscript traditions of the medieval Iberian Peninsula. It is one exemplar of the 32 preserved, copied from the late 8th to the 14th century, widely known as “Beatos”. Each one of these Beatos transmits a thorough, passionate and lavishly illuminated commentary on the Apocalypse of St John of Patmos as well as other texts like the treatise De adfinitatibus et gradibus (a chapter from St Isidore’s Etymologies) and the Commentary on Daniel by Jerome, that were added to the volume as early as the 10th century.

Beato de Liébana

The name “Beatos” used to refer to all these codices comes from the supposed[1] author of the first exemplar, Beato de Liébana, a monk from southern Iberian Peninsula who settled in the sheltered mountains of Cantabria, in the north, after the Muslim arrival. Both Beato, the monk, and the Beatos, the codices, have been extensively discussed from a wide variety of disciplines, from neurology to art history, besides paleography or codicography, reaching each scholar very different while erudite conclusions.

The easiest approach to author and work would be that Beatus, the monk, frightened by the upcoming Apocalypse that should had happened in the year 800 but solaced by his profound religiosity, decided to compile all the previous works on the topic he knew about like those of Ticonio, Abringio or Primasio, in a unique volume to feel more at ease. But then again, as usually happens, that is not all the truth behind the Beatos and Beato. To begin with, Beato was not only a regular although well-read monk living in Liébana, but one of the most influential intellectuals of early medieval Iberian Peninsula, connected to his cultural past as well as with his coeval most selected colleagues. The task Beato did in the convulse period he lived in was not only contemplative but energetic; he was one of the two parts involved fighting against the Adoptionism quarrel, right alongside Alcuin and Charlemagne [you can read more about this here]. Irate letters to the Toletan archbishop Elipando condensed in his Apologeticum or Adversum Elipandum libri duo make his social status palpable and give a deeper approach to his summa or exegetical treatise. Nonetheless, the Beatus, his Commentary on the Apocalypse, was a result of the monk’s agitated religious context, a summary of medieval doctrine and theological symbolism and a good example of the methods of education of that time. In my opinion, the Beatos are in fact an open window to the 8th century Iberian Peninsula regardless of the perspective from which one wants to address them.

The context

The bringers of death with the dead below. Add. 11695, f.136v © The British Library

The bringers of death with the dead below. Add. 11695, f.136v © The British Library

First of all, Beato’s urge for working on the Apocalypse was not (only) a product of his piety, but of his time. The IV Council of Toledo (633) required the continuous reading and explanation of the Apocalypse from Easter to Pentecost under penalty of excommunication. Thus, it can be understood that the provision favored the extensive use of the Beatos within the Hispanic liturgy, helping to make these codices well known and highly appreciated as works of a special eschatological spirituality. Besides that, the Adoptionism heresy against which Beatus fought is also represented in his Beatus, being the Antichrist identified with those false prophets, meaning Elipando and his followers, who turned away from the true doctrine of Christianity. Even for those not so concerned about these heretics (if that was possible) the Muslims were a good opponent. And, of course, there was the date, 800, and the supposed end of the world by that year according to the calculations of the Christian tradition (6000 years after Adam and Eve).

Book of Revelation chapter 1, 1-6. Christ giving a book to an angel; below, the angel giving the book and speaking to St. John. Add. 11695, f.18v © The British Library

Christ giving a book to an angel; below, the angel giving the book and speaking to St. John. Add. 11695, f.18v © The British Library

The perfect fit between the Beatus’ content and the religious and historical context was not the only reason for its success. Although the Beatos were considered spiritual books and not purely liturgical ones as the Psalter, the Liber Ordinum, Antiphonaries, Comicus and Manuals, they surpassed their initial purpose and were used for practical and transcendent purposes alike. As the Bible, being books intended to promote a higher intellectual religious discussion among cultured Benedictine monks, they were considered sacred and as such treasures of knowledge. But they were not as the regular spiritual books. The importance of the message transmitted within their context favored the development of a symbolic language profusely illustrated in the Beatos’ program of illuminations. The concept of the book as receptacle of knowledge, transmitted from God to men through the angels, is extensively present in this type of books. And there is much more behind the Beatos; not only is the symbolism important but how it was conveyed.

The Beatos

Explanatio supra scripte storie. Add. 11695, f.5v © The British Library

Explanatio supra scripte storie. Add. 11695, f.5v © The British Library

Books as the Beatos, given their message, were intended not only to be read, seen and admired, but to be memorized by heart as it happened with the more valuable texts. For that purpose, the work was conceived as a compendium of exegetical knowledge; a unique volume in which everything that needed to be kept in memory was easily exposed and organized.

The book was thus conscientiously and thoughtfully divided, after prologue (1) and preface (2), in 12 sections known as storiae (3). These storiae were the text of St John; narrations of events intended to make their literal meaning understood opening the path to their figuratively and mystical full comprehension. The explanatio (4) of each storia, Beatus’ comments, follows, allowing the threefold inmost meditation of each passage with the helpful program of illuminations. Images that stay in memory, can be easily remembered and sumptuously complement the text [see a collection of images here]. To these four basic parts other elements were added depending on the tradition followed in the copy (Beato did several revisions of his text – at least two in 776 and 786) and the context; biblical genealogies, explicit with the definition of terms as codex, liber, volume…, the treatise De adfinitatibus and the Commentary on Daniel by Jerome. As can be seen in the picture below, three families have been distinguished (being the BL 11695 from the family IIa).

Beatos' stemma.

Beatos’ stemma.

The world did not end in the year 800 as did not the appreciation for the Beatos. They were not only books for preparing a Christian soul for the Apocalypse but intended for the transcendental comprehension of medieval Christian thought. Being the first exemplar written around the 800, they continued to be best-sellers throughout the Middle Ages, and even today, greatly esteemed for their doctrinal contents and impressive artistic value. Reading or looking at their pages it is impossible not to react, not to think about the medieval peasants, monks, erudites and kings that stared at a Beatus finding a place in their spiritual and physical world.


[1] There is no direct reference to the author of the Beatos in any of the codices or in other texts, although it is accepted that he could have been Beato de Liébana since this work perfectly fits with what is known about his life and his other works.

[Read the 2nd part of this post, The Codex, with the description of the manuscript British Library 11695]


– by Ainoa Castro

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “Codex of the month (II): London, BL, Add. Ms. 11695 (1) The ‘Beatos’″. Littera Visigothica (November 2014), ‎(ISSN 2386-6330).

About the process of writing charters

In the last posts I wrote about the technical process of making a codex, briefly explaining the selection and preparation of the writing material, the arrangement of the bifolia to make booklets and quires, the methods for ruling the parchment depending on the layout of the page, and the resources upon which the copyists relied to make the collaborative task of writing a codex easier. All of that highlighting the differences depending on if the codex was made in a northern or southern scriptorium, always considering the examples preserved.

To copy a codex vs. to write a charter

The elaboration of a new codex was a very expensive and time consuming task that involved several specialists working together under the guidance of a magister scribe and, usually, and abbot [FIG. 1 above. Scribes at work! Detail from the Beato of Tábara fol. 341 © Madrid, Archivo Histórico Nacional, Cód. 1097B]. Codices were mainly done to answer to the teaching and pastoral needs of each ecclesiastical community. Thus, once decided which work needed to be copied, and having acquired one exemplar of it via medieval interlibrary loan (archetype), the same institution defrayed the expenses. But there was another option too, even in the early middle ages: to seek for external financial support. The higher social classes, noblemen and kings, besides contributing to the constant increment of ecclesiastical institutions’ wealthy by granting them with lands and other properties, also saw in gifting books a way of earning heaven (and political support when needed). In many charters we have notes about lords donating books to monasteries, especially in the time when these institutions were profusely founded everywhere. Those books mentioned could have been already written or not, being understood in the second case that the donor would give to the institution the necessary amount of money to copy the chosen work, and, in the first case, very uncommon until the late middle ages apart from certain exceptions as can be when dealing with bishops, that those books switching home were part of the benefactors own library. Once having the money, the task of making a book could start. And once having the archetype, the copyist “just” needed to duplicate the text – and I am quoting “just” not to diminish the tremendous work copyists did but to emphasize that it was not always a creative process. But, how about the process of making charters?

The scribe and copyist Vigila at work (© El Escorial, Biblioteca del Monasterio, d.I.2).

FIG. 2 The scribe and copyist Vigila (© El Escorial, Biblioteca del Monasterio, d.I.2).

For each one of the thousands of charters written in Visigothic script preserved from the Iberian Peninsula, both what is now Spain and Portugal, there was a specific process too. And one that required much more from the scribe, and gives us, at the same time, much more information about him. While copyists only needed to copy, what was required from early and high medieval peninsular scribes was to listen to what the author of the charter needed, condense it in order to elaborate a draft, have enough knowledge of law and Latin so they could understand and use models and adapt them, and finally to have good enough writing skills as to be able to present a decent written testimony of the transaction.

In some cases, copyists of codices also wrote charters [FIG. 2], what allow us to follow their professional careers and, by comparison, analyzing the graphic differences between testimonies, to know more about how they understood writing practices. Looking at a charter, following the process in reverse, it can be thus obtained plenty of substantial data about the cultural level of the scribe and the scriptorium in which he worked and was trained to reconstruct both the process of writing charters itself and the context.

Actio and conscriptio

Briefly and bearing in mind that I am writing about Visigothic script scribes, and thus more or less prior to the 12th century when the script started to be finally substituted for Caroline minuscule, the main steps distinguished in charter’s genesis are two: actio and conscriptio. The first term alludes to the discussion the author of the charter and the addressee had pondering the legal action they wanted to do and to have written. Whether they wanted, for example, to exchange a land or the author of the document to sell a portion of property to the addressee, they first needed to agree. Once achieved a consensus, the conscriptio or the process of recording the action in writing started. Several steps can be distinguished here too, the main ones the iussio, dictatio, recognitio, and validatio.

The iussio, also called rogatio, refers to the formal request made to a scribe for writing the document. Who the scribe was depends on who the author and the addressee were. If we think about a small landowner from a rural area, the scribe would have more likely been a priest from the nearest parish or monastery. If the addressee was one of his neighbors, they both would have agreed to find him. If the author was a king and the addressee a monastery which will receive the grant, the scribe would have been one from the beneficiary’s contact list, also a monk (that before the royal chancellery was organized, what happened in the first half of the 12th century) but a skilled one.

The dictatio recalls the necessary draft that combined notes about the transaction and models that will end in the charter as we see it today. Well-trained scribes from the main institutions, used to write charters, might have not needed to make drafts, knowing the structures by heart. In those cases, they could have just jotted some notes (names, description of the land sold, etc.) in the outer margins of the parchment, that will be cut once written, or in the verso. Regular scribes would have need to find the structure. Visigothic script scribes relied on previous charters recording, more or less, what they needed to write, changing names and other necessary data, and on the Formulae Wisigothicae, a collection of around 45 formulas to which the specific information was added. No draft has been preserved since the writing support mostly used for them were wax tablets, but it is known of their existence since in some charters it can be deduced that the text was copied from a previous draft (the scribe duplicated words), or that the main data of the text, for example the names of author and beneficiary, were written filling blank spaces left [FIG. 3].

Filling the blanks... Detail from Lugo, Archivo de la Catedral, nº 15 (top) and nº 11 (bottom).

FIG. 3 Filling the blanks… Detail from Lugo, Archivo de la Catedral, nº 15 (top) and nº 11 (bottom).

Also, and although not in the first centuries of the middle ages, the scribe who elaborated the draft, could have not been the same as the one who finally wrote it; for those cases the charter usually inform us about who the dictator/notary and the scribe were.

Detail from the verso of Madrid, Archivo Histórico Nacional, carp. 1238, nº 1.

FIG. 4 Detail from the verso of Madrid, Archivo Histórico Nacional, carp. 1238, nº 1.

Whatever the case, once the text was decided the charter was written. The parchment for writing a charter was, more likely, prepared in the same institution in which the scribe was working. The final product did not required to be as perfect as if it was being made for a codex and thus only the flesh-side was scratched. The size depended on the text since the parchment was not cut before being written but after. The scribes of charters worked from the entire piece of parchment (you can see in FIG. 4 the original form of the skin and a zoom of the hair side); they started to write out each text neatly, maximizing the surface, and then proceed to cut them. It can be seen in FIG. 5 how they cut the ascenders of the first line of the document. Thus, sometimes charters were copied in left over parchment what gives them their irregular size. In some cases, especially when the scribe was also a copyist of codices, the parchment was ruled, but, in general, the text was directly written on the parchment.

Detail from Lugo, Archivo de la Catedral, nº 6.

FIG. 5 See the last word plaguit. Detail from Lugo, Archivo de la Catedral, nº 6.

The next step, recognitio, alludes to the checking done between text requested and text written. Some words or paragraphs could be erased and amended although that was not frequent.

And finally the validatio, meaning the addition of all resources medieval scribes had to validate the text, aka subscriptions of witnesses and signatures, although Visigothic script scribes more likely added them at once with the text, given the examples preserved and bearing in mind how they proceeded cutting the parchment.

In the late twelfth century and throughout the thirteenth, changes in the organization of the chanceries and the establishment of public notaries will lead to variations in the process of making charters. But to write about this is outside the Visigothic script chronological context.

Further readings:

Ruiz Asencio, J. M. “Notas sobre el trabajo de los notarios leoneses en los siglos X-XII”. In Orígenes de las lenguas romances en el Reino de León. Siglos IX-XII. León, 2004, pp. 87-117.

Fernández Flórez, J. A. La elaboración de los documentos en los reinos hispánicos occidentales (ss. VI-XIII). Burgos, 2002.

Some useful resources:

Cárcel Ortí, Mª M. Vocabulaire international de la diplomatique. Valéncia, 1997

École des chartes » THELEME » Bibliographies. Diplomatique, archivistique médiévale


– by Ainoa Castro

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “About the process of writing charters”. Littera Visigothica (November 2014), ‎(ISSN 2386-6330).

More on Codicology. Visigothic script codices: North vs. South

I had a great time last week reading about codicology and writing the post on the techniques applied in Visigothic script codices for pricking and ruling the pages, both different from that used on coeval continental codices. I do not usually read many works on the topic, although I know I should, especially not one as useful as that published by E. Rodríguez (available online) in which the codicological (and cultural) differences between codices made in the northern and the southern Iberian Peninsula are so well explained.  Part of my research focuses on accurate geographical and chronological placement of the manuscript sources I am finding as well as those already gathered in the Online Catalog. For conducting that task, I usually build my research upon paleographical analysis, reviewing what has been said about the evidence. However, dealing mostly with codices as I have been doing lately, the codicological information they provide must be taken into account too since it has proven to be a fundamental resource.

Therefore, while in the last post I briefly wrote about two aspects of the “architecture” of Visigothic script codices, adding a few notes about their European counterparts, it is my purpose now to expand that information a bit, summarizing the remaining features as well and thus writing a sort of small guide for later use to contextualize these books. I will leave illumination and bindings to a specialist.

Codicological characteristics of the codices written in Visigothic script and made by the Christian communities living under Muslim territory


that of those made in northern Iberian Peninsula

(1) Writing support:

In general, the parchment used as writing support in the South seems to be of better quality than that used in the North. In the South it tends to have been more heavily worked, being prepared for writing, as can be seen by comparing the different tone of the two sides of the skin, hair (darker) and flesh (clearer) [FIG. 1]. Also, bearing in mind that the layout of the page preferred in the South contained three columns, as will be explained, the skins and, in general, the codices, tend to be bigger.

As for the raw material, although no DNA analysis of the skins has yet been made, it seems that besides cows, calves, sheep, and goats, deer and gazelle were also used in the South as a primary source for obtaining parchment.

Codicology © Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, Cód. 80. [available online ]

FIG. 1 Hair side vs. flesh side © Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, Cód. 80.
[available online ]

One might consider whether the skills of the people who prepare the parchment for writing in both cultural contexts were or not really different, or rather if the larger number of production centers in the North, with great differences from one another, leads to a misconception in relation to the technical training. To reduce costs, secondary centers would use parchment of lower quality for their codices and since more of these might have been preserved the statistics might also vary for this reason. It would be interesting to study, quantitatively, this aspect for further research on “the culture of writing” on Arabic and Christian soil. Moreover, the raw materials and the process for manufacturing inks seems different according to recipe books on the subject too. From my perspective, digging deeper into these aspects, materials and techniques of preparation, could be revealing and helpful not only to attribute the codices to their context, but to analyse the influence between centers.

(2) Making quires:

Medieval codices were organized by quires, that is, groups of folded pieces of parchment called booklets or gatherings [FIG. 2].

Codicology © Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, Cod. 52. 11th century. Detail of binding/quires.

FIG. 2 © Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, Cod. 52. 11th century. Detail of binding/quires.

There are different ways of folding the parchment, depending on the text the copyists wanted to copy and the size required for doing it. In both northern and southern Visigothic script codices, as in many other areas, the type of quire preferred was that formed by four bifolia grouped together, making what is called a ‘quaternion’ [FIG. 3]. This method will be the one used in the Iberian Peninsula until the first decades of the 13th century.

Codicology Binion, Ternion, quaternion and quinion

FIG. 3 Binion, ternion, quaternion and quinion. © Blog Crítica textual para Dummies
[ ]

The order of placement of the bifolia to make those quires followed Gregory’s rule, as usual: hair side faced hair and flesh side faced flesh. This system is not as elaborate as one might think: “No se trata de que los escribas se preocuparan de esta ordenación de los materiales. El que queden enfrentados pelo con pelo y carne con carne se debe a que al plegar la piel en cuatro para formar un cuaderno es inevitable que queden enfrentadas unas a las otras” (Blog Crítica textual para Dummies).

(3) Page layout:

In southern Visigothic script codices the text is usually distributed within the page in 3 columns [FIG. 6], while in Leonese codices this layout was mostly used during the 9th to 11th centuries only. There were also codices with the text divided in 2, 4 and single columns.

Codicology © Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, Cod. 80, 9th c. Cordobese area [ online at ]

FIG. 6 © Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, Cod. 80, 9th c. Cordobese area.
[ online at ]

(4) Pricking:

Pricking in the intercolumn space for ruling the page horizontally is one of the most obvious differences between codices made in the Iberian Peninsula in Visigothic script and those made abroad or in other scripts. If there were three columns, then the pricking was made near the third column (between the second and third columns). When the layout of the page was designed for presenting the text in two columns, the pricks were made in the space left between the columns. Only if the text was not divided into columns would the pricks be in the outer margins of the single column as was done from the 5th century on.

This characteristic technique is especially seen in southern Iberian examples, while the Visigothic script codices made in northern scriptoria, although sometimes following the same system – particularly in the earliest examples– tend to show the continental one, meaning, the holes made in the outer left and right margins [FIG. 7].

 Codicology © León, Archivo de la Catedral, ms. 8. Detail of pricking and ruling, continental way. [available online ]

FIG. 7 © León, Archivo de la Catedral, ms. 8. Detail of pricking and ruling, continental way.
[available online ]

Pricks were also made at the top and bottom margins to mark the vertical lines framing the text; double vertical lines in the left and right margins and a single one between the columns [FIG. 8]. Although this method of double lines can already be seen in codices from the 4th and 5th centuries, to use double vertical lines in the outer margins and single ones within the columns does not appear until the early Middle Ages, being thus a characteristic of the early medieval period.

Codicology © El Escorial, Biblioteca del Monasterio, d.I.1. Collectio Canonum Hispana, started c. 994. Detail of double vertical lines.

FIG. 8 © El Escorial, Biblioteca del Monasterio, d.I.1. Collectio Canonum Hispana, started c. 994. Detail of double vertical lines.

(5) Ruling:

Visigothic script scribes from the south followed the “Iberian or Spanish system” which consists of making the ruling with dry point, as usual, only in the odd pages of the quire once folded; the pressure made ruling the recto of the first folio ruling the second etc. This technique is slow and laborious since it requires repeating the same procedure four times, one for each of the four bifolia that make up the quaternion. It was not a Visigothic script invention as some Late Roman codices were also ruled following this technique.

In the northern Iberian Peninsula, on the other hand, this system was only frequent in the 10th century and used at the same time as the continental method of ruling before folding. In the 11th and 12th centuries it was preserved in traditional areas such as Toledo, Galicia and Portugal, where the script was also in use longer.

(6) Before writing…

As can be seen also in coeval medieval manuscripts, the first page of Visigothic script codices was intentionally left blank. Therefore, the book started with the verso of the first page.

(7) Organizing the quires:

Several quires were grouped to make a codex. Once they were written, in order to ensure that the quires were not arranged in the wrong way, they were organized by adding signatures in the last page of each quire [FIG. 4] following the Late Roman tradition. This technique was used in southern and northern codices alike, although in the latter a new technique was also used: the catchword [FIG. 5]. As with signatures, catchwords were used to indicate which quire should follow next by repeating the word/phrase at the start of the next folio.

Codicology © Barcelona, Archivo de la Corona de Aragón, colecciones, mss., Ripoll, 49. Liber sentenciarum Sancti Gregorii. 10th century. Detail of signatures.

FIG. 4 © Barcelona, Archivo de la Corona de Aragón, colecciones, mss., Ripoll, 49. Liber sentenciarum Sancti Gregorii. 10th century. Detail of signatures.

Codicology © Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, Cod. 22. Detail of catchword. [available online ]

FIG. 5 © Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, Cod. 22. 11th century. Detail of catchword.
[available online ]

Further comments:

It seems that both traditions, South and North, did not merge; if a Mozarabic scribe moved North and started working in a northern scriptoria, his habits would fade among those of his local colleagues. Scribes and copyists working in the South were not influenced by their Muslim neighbors either [see the codex in the Islamic world].


So, in general, if the codex has its text organized in 3 columns, with the pricking done between the columns, the bifolia ruled after being folded, and the quires arranged with the help of signatures, it will more likely be a codex made in the South; while if the page layout shows 2 columns, with the pricking in the outer margins, the pages ruled before being folded, and the quires organized by catchwords, it will more likely be a 11th-12th century northern codex.

Some useful resources:

Brown, M. Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts: A Guide to Technical Terms. Malibu-London, 1994. Online.

Fradejas Rueda, J. M. – Blog “Crítica textual para Dummies” (Codicology)

Muzerelle, D. Vocabulaire codicologique : répertoire méthodique des termes français relatifs aux manuscrits. Paris, 1985. Online version in French, English, Spanish and Italian.



– by Ainoa Castro

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “More on Codicology. Visigothic script codices: North vs. South”. Littera Visigothica (November 2014), ‎(ISSN 2386-6330).

Pricking, Visigothic script style

We had, a couple of weeks ago, another great resource to add to the collection of websites dealing with medieval manuscripts: Quill. Books before print. As the authors of this new –and gorgeous– site state Quill “gives you a tour through the making of the medieval manuscripts”, explaining in a very clear and straightforward manner how codices were made and used: the process of choosing the writing support, organizing the pages, preparing them for writing, of copying and correcting the text, adding the elaborated initials or illuminations we all love from medieval manuscripts, a binding, and, finally, some notes about using these books. Having this information well organized and explained, left me thinking about my Visigothic script codices. The process of making was the same for the almost 400 hundred codices gathered in the catalog, but, was also the same the way of executing it? Do this type of codices have anything distinctive that allow us to recognize them not only for the script in which they were written or for the Mozarabic style illuminations they tend to include? In fact, they have. The preparation of the page was not exactly the same for Visigothic script codices than for Carolingian ones. Moreover, it was not even the same in all areas of the Iberian Peninsula.

On Quill we can read “A medieval page consisted of both horizontal and vertical ruling. To add these guiding lines to the blank page, the scribe would prick tiny holes in the outer margins, as well as in the upper and lower ones. Lines were then drawn between these holes, usually with the help of a ruler… Until the early twelfth century the ruling was done by pressing down on the parchment with a sharp object, producing a “gutter” that would guide the scribe’s pen (called ‘dry point’). This type of ruling was replaced by drawing lines with a pencil or pen, which left more visible traces on the surface of the page (called ‘plummet’).” There are two techniques alluded here that were not executed in the same way in Visigothic script codices than in any other medieval manuscripts:

Codicology © Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, Cód. 80. Detail of pricking between the columns.

© Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, Cód. 80. Detail of pricking between the columns. [available online ]

First, the pricking. In Visigothic script manuscripts, especially in those made and written in the Mozarabic communities of the south, the pricking for the horizontal lines was not always made in the outer margins. Actually, it was made right in the middle of the page!  When the layout of the page was designed for presenting the text in two columns, the holes were made in the space left between the columns. If there were three columns, which was the preferred distribution for southern codices, then the pricking would be made near the third column (in the second space left in between). Only if the text was not divided in columns, the pricks would be in the outer margins; this was the “continental style”. In northern Visigothic script codices, the layout that was frequently used was also that of three columns, but only until the 11th century, and the pricking could be made as in the southern examples or, more often, following the “continental style” by French influence.

Codicology © Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, Cód. 80. Detail of double vertical lines.

© Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, Cód. 80. Detail of double vertical lines.

The vertical guides were also different. They were made in the margins too, but they tend to be double vertical lines on the left and right margins and single ones between the columns.

Second, once having the guides, the ruling was indeed done with a dry point –until the 12th c. at least; Visigothic script likes being traditional–, however, the system was not the same as the usual at the time: the ruling was made after folding the bifolia and having the quires done. Medieval codices were organized by quires, that is, groups of folded pieces of parchment. On Visigothic script codices, as well as on some of the continental ones, four folded bifolia were grouped together to make a quire (‘quaternion’). The order of placement of the bifolia to make a quire was not random, but followed a standard known as Gregory’s rule: hair side faced hair and flesh side faced flesh. For ruling these folia, the copyists followed what is known as the “Iberian or Spanish system” which consists on making the ruling after having the quire, and only on the odd pages; ruling the recto of the first folio with a dry point, the pressure made will rule the second folio too, etc. As it happens with the pricking, this way of ruling the pages was frequent for Mozarabic codices made in southern Iberian Peninsula, while in northern “Spain” was only used around the 10th century. In areas such as Galicia-Portugal and Toledo, the “Iberian system” was preserved, as it was the script, for long. In fact, while all Europe was ruling with color instead of with dry point, these areas were still using it.

Codicology © Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, Cód. 80. Detail of the hair side.

© Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, Cód. 80. Detail of the hair side.

So, the question is, why in Visigothic script codices we can find this in-the-middle pricking and fold-it-first ruling of the quires? The composition of quires by grouping four bifolia, the layout in columns, the pricking within the text box for horizontal lines (the vertical lines seem to be a medieval creation), and the ruling by dry point after folding, were all codicological techniques used in Late Roman codices. Once the Visigoths settled in the Iberian Peninsula in the early 5th century, they kept and continued the traditional Roman writing practices as the Visigothic script amanuensis did. However, whilst in northern Iberian Peninsula the Christian scribes were not preserving their heritage so eagerly against continental influence, and so they sometimes chose to make their work easier, the Christian communities in Al-Andalus really continued the tradition. For these scribes and copyists, the specific techniques they followed were their identity.

Further readings:

  • Díaz y Díaz, M. C. Manuscritos visigóticos del Sur de la península: ensayo de distribución regional. Sevilla, 1995.
  • Keller, A. “Le système espagnol de réglure dans les manuscrits visigothiques”. In Actas del VIII Coloquio del Comité Internacional de Paleografía Latina. Madrid, 1990, 107-114.
  • Ostos Salcedo, P. “Producción libraría altomedieval y códices isidorianos. Aproximación codicológica”. In San Isidoro. Doctor de las Españas. Sevilla, 2003, 271-307.
  • Rodríguez Díaz, E. “Los manuscritos mozárabes: una encrucijada de culturas”. In Die Mozaraber. Perspektiven und Definitionem der Forschung. Munich, 2011, 75-103 [online here].
  • Vezin, J. “La réalisation materielle des manuscrtis latins pendant le Hauy Moyen Âge”, Codicologica 2 (1978), 15-51.
  • Vezin, J. “Les cahiers dans les manuscrits latins”. In Recherches de codicologie comparée. La composition du codex au Moyen Âge, en Orient et en Occident. Paris, 1998, 99-104.


– by Ainoa Castro

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “Pricking, Visigothic script style”. Littera Visigothica (October 2014), ‎(ISSN 2386-6330).

Studying Visigothic script during the Enlightenment

The Enlightenment was a revolutionary cultural movement, started in the late 17th century and quickly spread throughout Europe, in which the main traditional ideas were questioned by applying scientific methodology. Changes in the consideration of all areas of knowledge set the basis for our current research process, and, in that sense, paleography and, more precisely, the study of Visigothic script was no exception.

Mabillon De Re Diplomatica. Scriptura Francogallica seu Merovingica (p. 349)

Fig. 1. Mabillon. De Re Diplomatica. Scriptura Francogallica seu Merovingica (p. 349)

During the medieval period all references we have of intellectuals studying Visigothic script show that they were focused on manuscript identification, the study of the script alphabet and the interpretation of the abbreviation system, the first problem for the correct reading of documents, making lists of abbreviations and trying to decipher them. The Enlightenment changed the study of medieval manuscripts and their scripts: from paleography understood as a science of reading, aimed to be able to read the texts, to scientific paleography understood as a science through which the scholar not only pursues reading but understanding the script and its cultural context. And all started with Mabillon’s De re Diplomatica, published in 1681. In this treatise, Mabillon acknowledged for the first time the problems the discipline had for analysing manuscript sources: when he read Papenbroch’s Propylaeum antiquarium, published in 1675, he realized that in order to be sure when deciding if medieval documents were or not authentic he was lacking a science, diplomatics, born with his work, as well as some refinement in approaching scripts. Despite being a manual primarily focused thus on diplomatics, Mabillon approached paleography for the first time as an independent science, which, using its own methodology, lead to a specific purpose: to analyze the nature of the graphic signs not in order to provide elements for historical work, but for the study of the intrinsic development of the writing itself, i.e., its origin, evolution, changes and variants. There was only a problem with Mabillon’s work: he thought that the national scripts –Visigothic, Beneventan, Merovingian and Insular– were a product of “barbarian” tribes and not the logical evolution, by regions and communities, of the Late Roman scripts. It was not until 1727 when, thanks to Maffei’s Istoria Diplomatica, the mistake was amended. After him the scientific paleographical study of Visigothic script flourished.

Fig. 1 Quid est liber? Códice Misceláneo Toledano (BPE de Toledo, MS. 381, Fol. 26 v.) by Palomares.

Fig. 2. Quid est liber? Códice Misceláneo Toledano (BPE de Toledo, MS. 381, Fol. 26 v.) by Palomares.

Now, looking back to the manuscript sources that scholars were eagerly collecting and studying to “enlighten the treasures hidden in archives and libraries”, it can be seen how useful Maffei’s logical explanation was. 18th-century rise of literary-historical studies in the Iberian Peninsula was instrumental in opening borders for intellectual exchange that allowed these new approaches to manuscript sources to arrive: from 1738 to 1780, five treatises specialized in Spanish paleography were published.[1] Think for a moment about them: it was fundamental to include reproductions of each manuscript they were trying to contextualize to make themselves understood, a not so easy task almost a hundred years before photography was invented. They manually reproduced facsimiles, and for that task it was particularly well recognized in Spain as well as abroad Francisco Javier de Santiago Palomares. He was so good at his job that some of his reproductions have been thought to be originals! (see Fig. 2).

These paleographical works of the Enlightenment were great for their time even bearing in mind they did not use the actual name for referring to Visigothic script (they used goda, gótica/gothica, antiqua…), that they thought the script suddenly “popped out” in the 5th or 6th century, and that they had some problems in understanding how the transition from Visigothic to Carolingian took place (here they were still following Lucas de Tuy and Jiménez de Rada as for the provisions of the Council of León were they thought the change was imposed). There were some bizarre ideas too, as that of Nasarre who thought that Gothic script was the same as Visigothic script, which has survived to Caroline minuscule (Gothica moderna vs. Gothica antiga).

What they were able to discern was crucial even for today: they not only discussed the graphic characteristics, abbreviations, musical notation, signs and orthography of Visigothic script, but also that the script was not always the same. They distinguished its different typological variants (cursive and minuscule mainly, with some outlandish ideas in between) and also saw that the script was used and that it evolved in different ways in each area. That is, in 1780 once Merino de Jesucristo published his treatise (“the school for reading ancient scripts”) summarizing coeval and previous works, the main avenue of research on Visigothic script, still open and not yet solved, started: the study of the regional variants of Visigothic script. Merino was clever enough as to see that the Visigothic script used in southern Spain (Andalucía) was different from the one used in northern Spain (Castilla), even distinguishing specific graphic features from one area or the other. He also saw that it was not the same script in the 9th than in the 10th century, since the most recent examples of Visigothic from the northwestern Iberian Peninsula were graphically influenced by the script used in Catalonia, what will be Caroline minuscule. (Note: for those of you who are well trained in paleography, Merino was also the first scholar who said the script was written by stokes and times, that is a hundred and seventy years before Mallon’s Paleographie Romaine.)

Although all these considerations are not completely accurate –to refine them is what paleographers have been doing for the last two hundred years–, 18th-century scholars set the basic foundations to continue studying Visigothic script: Roman script origin, 5th to 12th century as extreme dates, two basic typological variants, their most basic graphic characteristics, and the sense of regional differences and evolution.

19th-century treatises on paleography, although refining some aspects on studying Visigothic script, were not as revolutionary as the 18th-century ones, with the exception of Muñoz y Rivero’s Paleografía visigodapublished in 1881. The summary of previous research Muñoz did in his book allowed him to clarify the origin of the script, its graphic characteristics by typological variants and evolution by regional variants, as well as future scholars to go further in studying the script and its manuscripts.


[1] Rodríguez, C. and B. A. Nasarre. Bibliotheca universal de la polygraphia española. Madrid, 1738;

Morà i de Catà, J. de. “Observaciones sobre los principios elementales de la Historia”, 1756. Ed. por la Associació de Bibliòfils de Barcelona, en Memorias de la Real Academia de Buenas Letras de Barcelona. Barcelona, 2000;

Terreros y Pando, P. E. de and A. M. Burriel. Paleografia española, que contiene todos los modos conocidos que ha habido de escribir en España, desde su principio, y fundación hasta el presente... Madrid, 1758;

Palomares, F. J. de S.. Polygraphia góthico-española. Origen de los caracteres ó letras de los godos en España….1764;

Merino de Jesucristo, A. Escuela Paleographica ó de leer letras antiguas, desde la entrada de los Godos en España, hasta nuestros tiempos. Madrid, 1780.


– by Ainoa Castro

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “Studying Visigothic script during the Enlightenment”. Littera Visigothica (October 2014), ‎‎(ISSN 2386-6330).

Codex of the month (I): Archivo de la Catedral de León, ms. 8

León, Archivo de la Catedral, ms. 8 Antiphonarium mozarabicum

Dated early 10th c. / additions from the 10th and 11th c. (c. 1060)

The most complete antiphonary of purely Spanish liturgical use, with a total of 5000 responsories with verses… it stands out for its rigor in tonal organization, and for its range of notational signs…

Zapke, Hispania Vetus, 252.


Antiphonaries are codices which contain the sung portions of the Divine Office.[1] Besides the illuminations that complement the texts, they are particularly relevant for their musical notation. These codices were highly appreciated by their contemporaries who acknowledged the specialized work done by the scribes who wrote them. I cannot read musical notation, but I can recognize the difficulty of its study. I cannot even think how challenging should have been to write and read notation in medieval times, when many users have problems just to read the texts!

For being the result of collaboration among scribes, one for the text and another for the notation when it was not only one who wrote both (or even who prepared the parchment too), and illuminators, these codices are also appreciated for the information they can provide about their cultural context: about the scriptorium in which they were made and how the medieval work of writing a codex was organized and developed.


León, Archivo de la Catedral, ms. 8, fol. 9r. Calendar. © Ministerio de Cultura (BVPB)

FIG. 1. León, Archivo de la Catedral, ms. 8, fol. 9r. Calendar. © Ministerio de Cultura (BVPB)

Prologue: (A) Fols. 1-3: Oficium de Letania (fol. 1r); epigram dedicated to the abbot Ikila (fol. 1v); Cyclus XXV annorum (fol. 2r); Prologus in libro Antiphonarium (fol. 2v); Admonitio cantoris sub metro eroico elegiacum (fol. 3r); Anuntiationes festivitatum (fol. 3v). (B) Fols. 4-19: Alpha (fol. 4v); Sacrum in diem Sancti Iacobi apostolic VIII Kalendas Augusti (fol. 5r); the Cross of Oviedo (fol. 5v); carpet Librum Ikilani Abbati (fol. 6r); Mozarabic calendar (fols. 6v-9r) and computation tables (9v-19v) [see FIG. 1]. – dated mid-10th century.

Fols. 20-27: quires with the Computus Cottonianus. – added in the 11th century (dated c. 1060 by the scribe’s notes, see fol. 4r, 10v, 26r).

Fols. 28v-306r: Antiphonarium mozarabicum. (It ends abruptly, maybe removing the colophon and a note about the ownership when it changed owner? Was this colophon a model for the epigram and illumination on fol. 1v? ) [see FIG. 2]. – dated early (first third) 10th century.

León, Archivo de la Catedral, ms. 8, fol. 56v. Antiphonary. © Ministerio de Cultura (BVPB)

FIG. 2. León, Archivo de la Catedral, ms. 8, fol. 56v. Antiphonary. © Ministerio de Cultura (BVPB)

* ORDER OF COPY: Antiphonarium > Prologue ( > fol. 1v. and 6r.) > Computus

For codicological problems with these contents, initial plan of the manuscript and additions, see Díaz y Díaz, Incidental Notes. As a reminder, the manuscript was rebound in the 1950s.


Support: well-preserved parchment.

No. of leaves & layout: 306 fols. (330 x 240 mm); one 16-line single column for the Antiphonary, variable number of columns and lines in the prologues, two columns-42 lines for fols. 20-27; quaternions (not regular); ruled in dry point; 39 quires.


León, Archivo de la Catedral, ms. 8, fol. 1v. Teodemundo and Ikilanus © Ministerio de Cultura (BVPB)

FIG. 3. León, Archivo de la Catedral, ms. 8, fol. 1v. Teodemundo and Ikilanus © Ministerio de Cultura (BVPB)

Prologue: One or several unidentified hands (mid-10th century). Fol. 1, including the poem in the verso supposedly written by a scribe called abbot Teodemundo and the illumination which allegedly represents Teodemundo giving the codex to abbot Ikilanus (wrongly identified by traditional scholarship as abbot of León, 917-960 ?¿ depending on the source), was added, thus, after the antiphonary and the general prologue were copied. It is now believed that abbot Teodemundo commissioned to an unknown scribe to write this folio to be added to the codex he already had or maybe, less likely, to compose (i.e. to gather its parts plus the folio) the codex in full, to present it as a gift to abbot Ikilanus, in honor of whom the contents of 1v. – as well as the page tapestry fol. 6r. – were added.[2] In other words, Teodemundo owned the Antiphonary, which was constantly being used since written, maybe adding some folios, and then, once Ikilanus expressed his wish to have it, instructed to add the ‘final touches’ on his honor. [see FIG. 3]

León, Archivo de la Catedral, ms. 8, fol. 21v. Arias' addition © Ministerio de Cultura (BVPB)

FIG. 4. León, Archivo de la Catedral, ms. 8, fol. 21v. Arias’ addition © Ministerio de Cultura (BVPB)

Fols. 20-27 [see ex. FIG. 4]: One, of several?, identified scribe: Arias Didaci, notary of Santiago de Compostela (Galicia) for Díaz y Díaz, scribe working for the royal chancellery for Deswarte, who states his name and also his bibliographic interests in a note on fol. 12: Est liber storia eclesiastica que dicitur tripertita a tribus auctoribus de Grecia compositum, uno scilicet Teodorito sancto episcopo et duobus uiris Sozomeno et Socrater, incipiens a Constantino imperatore usque ad Teodosium iuniorem per multa interualla tempora. Cassiodorus senador accipiens per Epifanium scolasticum et dedit sancto uiro regi Teodosio. Ego Arias uidi ipsum librum in Francia, que nondum uideram in Gallicia.

Antiphonarium: One or several? unidentified hands (first third of the 10th century; the neumes were written after the text, superimposed on it, and they perfectly correspond to each other).

León, Archivo de la Catedral, ms. 8, fol. 28v. Title. © Ministerio de Cultura (BVPB)

FIG. 5. León, Archivo de la Catedral, ms. 8, fol. 28v. Title. © Ministerio de Cultura (BVPB)

Illuminator/s: unknown. There is no specific program of illuminations drawn for this codex, although it has several, in the usual Mozarabic style. The most important are, besides the one in fol. 1v., the Alpha (fol. 5v), the Cross of Oviedo and the page tapestry Librum Ikilani Abbati (fol. 5v), the ornamented box with ownership mark (fol. 6v), calendar, solar wheels and computation tables (fols. 6v-19v). Initials with anthropomorphic, botanical and lacework motifs and historiated initials. [see FIG. 5]

Script: cursive (in notes fol. 6v, 12r… see FIG. 6) and minuscule Visigothic script.


Origin: The codex was written in the eastern part of the Leonese area.

Context: “The current Antiphonary of León… is a reflection, thanks to the initial texts, of the tensions that the Hispanic Church experienced as a result of the problem caused and supported by Elipandus of Toledo, who Beatus of Liébana and the Asturian Church strongly argued against, as it was asserting itself against Toledo. Theologians in the Carolingian world argued even more strongly against him for various reasons, including, to a large extent, other needs that concerned the world of politics and relations between the Empire and the Church. In the diatribe against Elipandus written by his opponents, there is an evident distrust, and clear insults soon appeared against the Hispanic liturgy that left their mark and would never be forgotten in several key centers of Christendom”. Díaz y Díaz, Incidental Notes, 100. [I wrote a post about the Mozarabic rite here]

León, Archivo de la Catedral, ms. 8, fol. 6v. Notes in Cursive Visigothic script. © Ministerio de Cultura (BVPB)

FIG. 6. León, Archivo de la Catedral, ms. 8, fol. 6v. Notes in Cursive Visigothic script. © Ministerio de Cultura (BVPB)

IV. Personal comments:

I think this manuscript is a good example of the problems we have on codices written in Visigothic script (you can read a summary here). Until 2007 we all –more or less– believed Leon 8 was written in the mid-10th century by Teodemundo for Ikila. Now we know it was not, as well as that only the third part added by Arias can be accurately dated (mid-11th c.). Thus, the other two parts, the prologue and the antiphonary itself, are supposed from the first third of the 10th c. and the mid-10th c. respectively. Even so, the script of both parts has not been precisely described: Díaz y Díaz dated them by experience. I trust him, he is/was one of the masters, and one can be sure he made a thorough analysis, but I would like to see the facts and not only to believe his “paleographical eye”. I would like to know what exactly characterizes a script made in eastern Leon in those dates to be able to extrapolate the information to other codices.

V. Bibliography:

Deswarte, T. 2013. “Polygraphisme et mixité graphique. Note sur les additions d’Arias (1060-1070) dans l’Antiphonaire de León”, Territorio, Sociedad y Poder 8: 67-84.

Díaz y Díaz, M. C. 2007. “Some Incidental Notes on Music Manuscripts”. In Hispania Vetus. Manuscritos litúrgico-musicales de los orígenes visigóticos a la transición francorromana (siglos IX-XII) ed. by S. Zapke. Bilbao: Fundación BBVA, pp. 93-112. (see also p. 252 for S. Zapke’s report/file about the manuscript).

Díaz y Díaz, M. C. 1983. Códices visigóticos de la monarquia leonesa. León: Centro de Estudios e Investigación San Isidoro – CSIC, pp. 308-309 – nº 14, 390-391 – nº 98.

Millares Carlo, A. 1999. Corpus de códices visigóticos (ed. by M. C. Díaz y Díaz, A. M. Mundo Marcet, J. M. Ruiz Asencio, B. Casado Quintanilla, and E. Lecuona Ribot). Las Palmas de Gran Canaria: UNED, nº 81.

Digitized (Biblioteca Virtual del Patrimonio Bibliográfico).

Littera Visigothica Album.

[1] See Michelle P. Brown, Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts: A Guide to Technical Terms (J. Paul Getty Museum: Malibu and British Library: London, 1994) available online for this and other terms used in describing codices.

[2] The poem says: “Very great merit have you obtained with this gift, O Abbot Teodemundo, you who dwell here with your good monks and will in the future revel with the angels. Shining even brighter thanks to your wishes. O abbot Ikilanus! You can now see that what had been your desire is finished; look again and again at the book prepared for use; illustrated and decorated in gold. May I deserved to be helped by your prayers: remember me, the copyist, for ever, he who has worked so hard out of respect for your name”.

– by Ainoa Castro

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “Codex of the month (I): León, Catedral, ms. 8 Antiphonarium mozarabicum”. Littera Visigothica (October 2014), (ISSN 2386-6330).

Types of Visigothic script (II): perfection, evolution and canon

In a previous post I started writing about the different types of Visigothic script that can be distinguished, considering the degree of perfection of the script, its detail or speed when traced, the stage of evolution and the accuracy in keeping its alphabet and abbreviations to the canon. To have these considerations in mind is especially important for paleographers or historians of written culture, since they help us understand and identify the cultural context in which the scribe lived and developed his professional career. Indeed, tagging the script is very useful for building its environment.

The types of Visigothic script that can be individualized bearing in mind the speed (aka the main typological variants: cursive and minuscule) have been already explained, but what are the other types?

2.- Types of Visigothic script by the degree of the script’s perfection

Given the level of expertise that each scribe shows to the reader through the script, there are four types or degrees of perfection: calligraphic, rudimentary, semi-calligraphic and semi-rudimentary. It is difficult to describe the script following this principle because it is a subjective criterion and because it is the one which relies the most on the cultural context in which each scribe can be placed. The first two types are easy to explain: a calligraphic script (Fig. 1) is one written with care, slowly or not, denoting a scribe who was well-trained, a master; while a rudimentary script (Fig. 2) is exactly the opposite, a script written by a scribe who was still in training and had not yet mastered the act of writing. Even if they were writing a draft, well-trained scribes produced, in general, good examples of writing, while neophytes, doing their best, made poor examples.

Fig. 1 Calligraphic script © AHN., Lugo (Catedral), 1325C/8

Fig. 1 Calligraphic script © AHN., Lugo (Catedral), 1325C/8

Fig. 2 Rudimentary script © ACLu., Colección de documentos privados, nº 16 y Ainoa Castro

Fig. 2 Rudimentary script © ACLu., Colección de documentos privados, nº 16 y Ainoa Castro

The last two types –semi-calligraphic and semi-rudimentary– are tricky and, in my point of view, can only be distinguished in large corpora and having in mind the cultural context in which each testimony can be placed. For example, the script of a well-trained scribe, but not a master, working in a rural environment –meaning a small monastery or a parochial center–, can be calligraphic in comparison with that of his nearby colleagues but semi-calligraphic if we compare his writing with the main master calligraphers. This attribution to one or another type as for the degree of perfection in relation to the context, has led some scholars to employ other names for describing the same thing: professional, usual or elemental.

3.- Types of Visigothic script pondering the stage on the script’s evolution

El Escorial, Biblioteca del Monasterio, d.I.2

Fig. 3 Perfection: Codex Vigilanus seu Albeldensis © El Escorial, Biblioteca del Monasterio, d.I.2

As with any other script, Visigothic script was not the same at the beginning of its use as it was at the end. The first years were those of selecting features, of taking shape, whilst the last ones were those in which the influence of coeval scripts was deeper and more intense (affecting the alphabet). There are, thus, three types considering this principle: incipient, formed and decadent.

It is not known with certainty when the minuscule variant of Visigothic script can be completely distinguished from the Late Roman scripts as to be called by that name, although it is suggested that it must have been different enough around the early 7th century, if not before. Analyzing the testimonies preserved, what is clear is that it reached its perfection from the mid-10th century, with scribes as stellar as Florencio of Valeránica or Vigila of Albelda (Fig. 3), to the mid-11th century when its decay started. Thus, in general, before the 10th century the script is irregular and rough, it does not have its standardized and complete set of letter forms and abbreviations yet, while from the 10th onwards it is more regular and, in short, perfect, until the late 11th century when Caroline minuscule started to impose some of its features on Visigothic script scribes.

It must be said, albeit briefly, that these stages are not the same for all the regional variants of Visigothic script, but only “valid” for those examples made in the northern Iberian Peninsula –in Septimania and Catalonia Caroline minuscule was already the main writing system in the 9th century, while in southern Spain and Toledo the scribes who used Visigothic script are characterized by being archaic in developing the script.

The cursive variant is suggested as being already individualized enough around the 7th century. Its formation phase seems to have been a bit shorter than the minuscule, since in the mid-9th century it can be said to be already canonized. The decay of cursive Visigothic script may have begun in the 11th century too, although for this variant one needs to consider the area (regional variant) to be sure.

4.- Types of Visigothic script considering its accordance to a canon

For each one of the typological variants of the script, i.e. cursive, semi-cursive, minuscule and transitional scripts, a list of graphic characteristics has been established. In order to describe the canonical forms of each variant, examples of sources from the “formed” stage of the script have been analyzed and segmented. Comparing each graphic example with these pre-defined or canonized characteristics that the script should show, it can be distinguished between two types of Visigothic: genuine and mixed. Personally, I must say I do prefer to work with mixed scripts since trying to explain why the influence took place graphically and culturally speaking is exciting, although sometimes it is better just to stick with the basics and not to start a nightmarish research project about schools that supposedly did not exist or routes of cultural exchange that nobody has heard about before…


A bonus for all of you who have read both posts (types I and II) until the end! How would you classify the script of the following examples now?

Fig. 4 What type am I? © AHN., Lugo (Catedral), 1325A/20

Fig. 4 What type am I? © AHN., Lugo (Catedral), 1325A/20

Fig. 4 is a beautiful example of calligraphic (by its perfection) cursive Visigothic script (by the speed of its strokes), with elongate (first line). It is formed (dated 1016) and genuine (no external influences).

Fig. 5 Rudimentary script © ACLu., Colección de documentos privados, nº 41 y Ainoa Castro

Fig. 5 What type am I? © ACLu., Colección de documentos privados, nº 41 y Ainoa Castro

Fig. 5, on the other hand, is a messy rudimentary example of cursive Visigothic script. It is also formed (dated 1081) and genuine.

I am sure that after reading both posts you could even keep going talking about the scribe and his cultural context. Am I right?


– by Ainoa Castro

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “Types of Visigothic script (II): perfection, evolution and canon”. Littera Visigothica (October 2014), ‎‎(ISSN 2386-6330).

Un año de Littera Visigothica! / A year of Littera Visigothica!

Hoy hace un año que empecé este blog, Littera Visigothica; parece mentira lo rápido que pasa el tiempo! Por entonces ya llevaba unos añitos gestionando mi otro blog, De Re Palaeographica, en el que recopilo noticia de celebraciones de congresos u otro tipo de reuniones científicas que puedan resultar de interés para todos aquellos que trabajamos con fuentes manuscritas medievales. Al empezar a contactar con investigadores extranjeros, así como con profesionales que se movían en red, De Re se me quedó rápido pequeño y me embarqué en la aventura que está siendo Littera. Para mi, este blog no es solo un medio por el que ofrecer información sobre escritura visigótica, sino también de favorecer un punto de encuentro para todos aquellos que trabajamos con este tipo de fuentes. En solo un año, los beneficios que ha aportado el blog para mi investigación y para mi a nivel personal han sido mucho mayores de lo que inicialmente había podido pensar, y, por ello, a todos lo que me leéis os doy las gracias.

Just over a year ago I started this blog, Littera Visigothica; it is amazing how fast time flies! Back then, I already had some years of experience in managing my other blog, De Re Palaeographica, where I compile news about conferences or other scientific meetings that may be of interest to those of us who work with medieval manuscript sources. Getting to know foreign researchers and professionals active online, De Re was soon too small for me so I decided to start the adventure that is being Littera. For me, this blog is not just a means to provide information and resources on Visigothic script, but also a meeting point for all of those who work with these sources. The benefits the blog has brought to my research and to me throughout this year have been far greater than I thought. I am very grateful to all of you.

Estadísticas / Some stats

  • Visitas totales que ha recibido el blog en este año: 5.787 (a 28 de Septiembre)
  • Post más visitado: Catalog of Visigothic script manuscripts con 676 visitas.
  • Seguidores regulares: 876
  • Visitas por países: 1er lugar EEUU, con casi 1500 visitas; 2º lugar España, con algo más de 1300; 3r lugar el Reino Unido con algo más de 620.

Sé que no son unas cifras estelares, pero nunca pensé que tanta gente se interesase por leer sobre escritura visigótica!

  • Total views: 5.787 (on September 28th) 
  • Top postCatalog of Visigothic script manuscripts con 676 visitas.
  • Followers: 876
  • Views by country: first place USA with almost 1500 visitors; second, Spain, with around 1300 visitors; third place UK with around 620.

I know these are not ‘stellar’ numbers, but I never thought that so many people will be interested in reading about Visigothic script!

Novedades / News

He hecho algunos cambios en el blog a mediados de este mes para darle más forma y trazar unas líneas de trabajo. Básicamente:

  • He añadido una nueva página en la pestaña superior dedicada a docencia “Teaching Visigothic script” donde podéis encontrar no solamente el enlace a todo el material que utilicé para el Workshop en escritura Visigótica que impartí en el Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies* – University of Toronto la primavera pasada, sino también una lista de los posts que ya se han publicado y se publicarán organizados por temática. Espero que esta adición sea útil especialmente para que los estudiantes mejoren su formación en la materia, y también para que los profesores que imparten docencia en paleografía latina española puedan usarla de apoyo.
  • También he ampliado el blog con otra página “Networking!” en la que comento brevemente el estado de la cuestión sobre el estudio de la escritura visigótica y de sus fuentes manuscritas, a modo de llamamiento para establecer una red de trabajo, colaboración y contacto entre todos aquellos que trabajamos con estas fuentes. Muchas veces nos surgen problemas o dudas, y mi intención es favorecer el diálogo a través de la web.
  • El mes que viene empezaré otra nueva serie de posts llamada “Codex of the month”, podéis leer más sobre ella aquí.
  • Por último, he actualizado la sección “About”, el catálogo de códices y la sección de “Bibliography”.

Espero que os gusten los cambios y si tenéis cualquier sugerencia no dudéis en poneros en contacto conmigo.

* Por cierto, ¿a que me ha quedado bien la nueva web del Instituto? [works sited]

This month I have been making changes on the blog to give it a more defined structure and to draw some basic lines of work. Mainly:

  • I added a new page devoted to Teaching Visigothic script from where you can access not only to all the material I used for the Workshop in Visigothic script I taught at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies* – University of Toronto last Spring, but also to a well-defined list by topics of all the posts that have been already published and the ones to come. I hope this new page will be especially helpful to students as well as to professors teaching Spanish Latin Palaeography.
  • I also added another page for networking purposes, “Networking!”, where you can read about the state of the art about the study of Visigothic script and of its manuscript sources. I am trying to set up a network to promote dialogue and interdisciplinary collaboration among researchers working with these sources, to exchange problems or doubts.
  • Next month another new series of posts will start. I have called it “Codex of the month”. You can read more about it here.
  • Finally, the sections “About”, “Visigothic script timeline” aka the online catalog, and “Bibliography” have been updated.

 I hope you like the changes and if you have any suggestions or comments please do not hesitate to contact me.

* By the way, is it cool or not the new website of the PIMS I made? [works sited]

Muchas gracias / Many thanks!

– Ainoa Castro

Types of Visigothic script (I): the speed of strokes

Now that we all know how Visigothic script ended up being called that way, it is time to revise its types, meaning in which different executions it can be found.

If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you may already know that Visigothic script has two main typological variants, cursive and minuscule, but this is not the only basic classification that can be applied to the script nor the only typological variants that were used by its scribes. As with any other script, Visigothic can be externally described by its degree of perfection and by its detail or speed when traced, by the stage or degree of its evolution and by the accuracy in keeping its alphabet and abbreviations to the canon. These considerations regarding the execution of the script are, unfortunately, a bit subjective, thus being difficult to explain quantitatively even though the extremes are easily distinguished. However, anyone who can describe the script in as much detail as to include all these different considerations is also familiar with the cultural context to which each one corresponds. Among specialists, the “subjectivity” is not as confusing as you might think.

1.- Types of Visigothic script considering the speed of strokes

The typological variants of Visigothic script that can be distinguished bearing in mind the speed with which the script was traced are the easiest to recognize and, therefore, the types that are most commonly used. In general, when you hear/read about typological variants without further specification, this is the criterion the scholar is following. There are two main types, cursive and minuscule:

Visigothic cursive is the one which is drawn, in general, the fastest. That does not mean it was written carelessly. If you look at the Fig. 1 below, can you imagine how difficult it must have been to use all these ligatures and bitings, to develop all those ascenders and descenders, if doing it quickly? There are different levels of “perfection” as will be discussed. If a scribe was using the cursive variant, the result can be a total mess, writing quickly and sloppily, but it can also be a perfect beauty; it depends on how good the scribe was. This variant was the one used mostly for writing charters -in the early centuries of the Middle Ages, cursive writing for legal issues meant a direct link with the scriptural tradition of the late Roman empire-, but it was also used for codices, although very few have been preserved. And yes, if you are thinking about the context, we know that some scribes who were able to use different variants decided which one they wanted to use, not only considering the product (charter or codex) but also the institution or person issuing the document and to whom it was addressed.

© ACLu, Libro X de pergaminos, leg. 2/3 y Ainoa Castro

Fig. 1 Cursive Visigothic script © ACLu., Libro X de pergaminos, leg. 2/3 y Ainoa Castro

Visigothic minuscule is the one which is drawn slowly (Fig. 2). Again, that does not necessarily mean it was written with more care than cursive, just that the script has other graphic characteristics, few bitings and even fewer ligatures, that allow it to  be written less quickly. When we are using the speed to classify the script we are not talking about the speed the scribe decided to work with but that which the script tolerates. You cannot draw cursive ligatures stroke by stroke, slowly, but you can write minuscule ligatures taking all the time in the world without problems. Of course, if the scribe was well-trained, his minuscule will be more “cursive” as for quicker than the one used by a neophyte who was not yet completely familiar with the features he was using. It can really sound confusing, and indeed it is just having in mind the speed, which is why it is important to consider the other types of describing the script too -by perfection, evolution and accuracy to the canon. In contrast with the previous variant, minuscule was the one preferred for writing codices, as it was also the characteristic variant for some regional variants, but that will be another topic.

© AHN., Lugo (Catedral), 1325B/5

Fig. 2 Minuscule Visigothic script © AHN., Lugo (Catedral), 1325B/5

These two are the main typological variants, but there are also some variants in between…

First, there is the semi-cursive variant (Fig. 3) that, as its name suggests, is a mix between cursive and minuscule. It is difficult to explain with words as it is neither fast nor slow, and it is also difficult to place it in its cultural context. We can think about scribes who were not well trained in any one variant although they were good enough in both, scribes who did not belong to a main production center with a well-known school but to a small center, maybe a small monastery or a parochial church. The semi-cursive variant is difficult to study, although it can be extremely useful in analyzing cultural contacts among centers, and for studying the process of education itself.

© ACLu., Colección de documentos privados, nº 26 y Ainoa Castro

Fig. 3 Semi-cursive Visigothic script © ACLu., Colección de documentos privados, nº 26 y Ainoa Castro

Another typological variant is the so-called elongate (Fig. 4), a cursive drawn very carefully with increasing ascenders and descenders, which has a genetic origin a bit different from the other typological variants. Elongate is the medieval Visigothic interpretation of the script that was used in and for the Visigothic chancellery, and it looks, in its more pure form, similar to Merovingian script (externally and looking from afar). It is an elegant script that, losing its meaning a bit, was used within Visigothic script texts to highlight some important parts such as titles, first lines with verbal invocation, names of kings, etc. There are also some surviving charters, although very few, that were written entirely by using this variant; one codex too. If you see this script in a charter, you can be sure the scribe was a good well-trained one who wanted to catch your attention in those specific parts of the texts, and that he was aware that this script was used especially for that purpose, although it is likely that it was no longer known why.

© ACLu., Libro X de pergaminos, leg. 2/7

Fig. 4 Elongate © ACLu., Libro X de pergaminos, leg. 2/7 y Ainoa Castro

Finally, we can also consider the scripts in transition to Caroline minuscule as a typological variant. Thus, there is cursive towards Caroline, and minuscule towards Caroline (Fig. 5), and semi-cursive towards Caroline (luckily, I have not seen elongate in transition to Caroline… 😉 ).

Fig. 5 Minuscule (in transition to Caroline) Visigothic script © AHN., Lugo (Catedral), 1325C/7

Fig. 5 Minuscule (in transition to Caroline) Visigothic script © AHN., Lugo (Catedral), 1325C/7

All these typological variants have different alphabets, abbreviations, signs for abbreviations, general signs of abbreviation [you can see them briefly by going to the “workshop” material], their own graphic evolution and even their own system of punctuation! That is right, you may think Visigothic is more or less the same, being cursive or minuscule, but the truth is that both are very different scripts, not only in their execution, but also in their uses and cultural context. They even have two different genetic origins, but that is also a topic for another time.

[Read part II: Types of Visigothic script: perfection, evolution and canon]


– by Ainoa Castro

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “Types of Visigothic script (I): the speed of strokes”. Littera Visigothica (September 2014), ‎‎(ISSN 2386-6330).

Visigothic script: struggling for finding its name

Summer is over and it is time to go back to work and, as blogger, to share the state of the art on Visigothic script, highlighting what is known and what still needs to be studied. My last post was devoted to the few examples preserved in the script graphically placed just in the middle between New Roman cursive and Visigothic, discussing, visually, how Visigothic script arrived to its canon as it is now recognized and studied. But first, before posting about the genetic origin of the script, there is an important topic to talk about: why, although Visigothic script has almost nothing to do with the Visigoths, is it called Visigothic script?

The name

Vergilius Vaticanus (Biblioteca Apostolica, Cod. Vat. lat. 3225) – Capitalis rustica

Vergilius Vaticanus (Biblioteca Apostolica, Cod. Vat. lat. 3225) – Capitalis rustica

Once early medieval people realized that the script that was being used in the Iberian Peninsula and Septimania was, as far as they can remember, something different, something they were able to clearly distinguish from the Roman epigraphic scriptsCapitals–, the scripts used for codicesUncial and Half Uncial, Capitals–, and the documentary scriptsOld and New Roman Cursive–, they started playing with a name trying to find some way to call it. Undoubtedly, this need to seek a name should have been imperative especially in the 9th century when Caroline minuscule started to be spread into general use throughout Catalonia.[1]

Thus, the oldest denomination we know it was used was littera toletana, name given by the 13th-century scholars Lucas de Tuy[2] and Jimenez de Rada[3] as opposed to littera gallica (aka Caroline minuscule) speaking about the provisions of the Council of León (c. 1090) in which, according to these authors, Visigothic script was replaced by Caroline. I have already written here about this misconception kept also in no-so-old scholarship. It is not known how they referred to the script before that date; maybe they did not need to “call it” specifically in any way (?). Whatever the case, the denomination littera toletana was very much in vogue. It was chosen because they thought the script was originated, or first used, in Toledo, one of the main peninsular cultural centers –also the capital of the Visigothic kingdom and archiepiscopal see of Christian Iberian Peninsula– in which Visigothic script was intensively used until the mid-13th century,[4] so for them it was not a so-bad idea. This denomination points towards the origin of the script as it does the next term used too, chronologically speaking. In codex Escorial &.I.3 (c. 1047) there is a note from the 13th or 14th century stating the name moçaraba or moçarabica – to which a coeval hand added uel toletana as synonym. As it happens with toletana, in this case the term came from those who thought the script was first “made” or more brightly used in southern Iberian Peninsula by the mozarabs, among which it was extensible used in the former centuries.  Now we know neither of these two areas has the privilege of being the cradle of Visigothic script; or more precisely, we do not know from where it came from, although more likely from Catalonia, Septimania or nearby.[5]

Codex Argenteus (6th c.)

Codex Argenteus (6th c.)

Ongoing with the clever (or not so clever) names, creative late medieval and modern scholars just called Visigothic script littera antiqua or goda/gotica (here comes the idea of preserving the Visigothic kingdom, recurrent in medieval Spanish historiography), hispanica (which will be a problem for the French examples written in Visigothic script), isidoriana (Isidore’s cultural influence) and my two favorite names: rabuda (denoting the difficulty of its reading or for being the script full of “rabos” understood as long ascenders and descenders) and gallega (I guess for being the script also widely used there and thus maybe pointing towards another potential genetic origin? – I do not want to think about the possible association of the Galician people as “rabudos”).

The most bizarre name used in reference to Visigothic script was that of ulfiliana, applied by those who thought it was an evolution of the alphabet developed by the Goth Arian bishop Ulfilas. It was supposed that the Visigoths brought the script with them when they came to the Iberian Peninsula in the late 5th century.[6] This theory has many problems, mainly, it dismisses all the scripts that were used before their arrival as well as the logical evolution of the writing systems themselves. But, it is a cool name. You can see how the “ulfilian” alphabet really looks like here. Almost as weird as ulfiliana is that of ataúlfica used in the late 19th for those (well, only for F. Pérez Bayer) who thought it was made by the Visigothic king Ataulf.

Believe it or not, my beloved Visigothic script did not find its name until the late 19th century, when following the “need to give a name to the Roman script according to the nation in which it was used”, Muñoz y Rivero updated the name Wisigothica first used by the often forgotten excellent scholar Ribeiro.[7] The name was not yet commonly accepted, however, until 1932 when Millares Carlo published his first edition of the Tratado de Paleografía Española, one of the best works we have for studying Visigothic script (among other scripts; it is indeed an excellent treatise!).

For Muñoz, as needs to be for us nowadays, the name “is (nonetheless) of little importance” as long as “we apply the denominations of Visigothic, Merovingian, Longobardic, or Anglo-Saxon… only to indicate the Roman script used in Spain, France, Italy and England in the first centuries of the Middle Ages”.

Visigothic script and the Visigoths

Escorial, d.I.2, Codex Vigilanus seu Albeldensis (10th c.)

Escorial, d.I.2, Codex Vigilanus seu Albeldensis (10th c.)

The name Visigothic is indeed confusing even having in mind those considerations, maybe not for well-trained scholars but for students and general public. Visigoths did not do Visigothic script. The first codex preserved written in Visigothic script is the Orationale of Verona (Bibl. Capitular, 89), dating early 8th century, while the first charter is from early 9th century (Fakilo’s charter), and the Visigothic kingdom ended in 711 with the Muslim arrival (batalla de Guadalete). So, the Visigoths did not used Visigothic script although, as any other script that does not suddenly appear from nothing, the Visigothic script was indeed taking shape when the Visigoths were ruling. Well, being honest, since the generation who wrote the Orationale (c. 720) was not the first one in using the script, let’s say they – whoever they were but living within the Visigothic kingdom– used it maybe a little

When I am thinking in the first years of Visigothic script, I, of course, do not see kings Égica or Witiza saying to their scribes they need to accurate their Visigothic script features for writing their New Roman cursive charters. But I do see these very late antique or very early medieval scribes using something that was the main graphic source from which Visigothic script was “born”.

[1] Catalonia: transitional Visigothic script since the first half of the 9th century until c. 900 (with the first charter in Caroline dating 870). Septimania: transitional Visigothic script since the early 9th century until c. 850 (with the first charter in Caroline dating 820).

[2] Chronicon Mundi (1236): “statuerunt etiam ut scriptores de cetero Gallicam litteram scriberent et praetermitterent Toletanam in officiis ecclesiasticis…”. Liber IV, LXX.

[3] De Rebus Hispaniae (1243): “…Ibidemque celebrato concilio cum Bernardo Toletano primate multa de officiis Ecclesiae statuerunt et etiam de caetero omnes scriptores, ommissa littera Toletana, quam Gulphilas, Gothorum episcopus, adinvenit, Gallicis litteris uterentur”. Liber VI, XXVIII.

[4] Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, 10110 [Liber Misticus] is the last example written in Visigothic script.

[5] See about this Catalonian origin, at least for the minuscule variant, Alturo Perucho, Estado de la cuestión (2004), pp. 347-386.

[6] Mabillon, De re Diplomatica (1681), p. 432, following Jiménez de Rada “… littera Toletana, quam Gulfilas Gothorum Epicopus advenit…”. Available online here.

[7] Muñoz y Rivero, Paleografía visigoda (1881), p. 9 from J. P. Ribeiro, Dissertaçôes chronologicas (1819), pp. 83-84.


– by Ainoa Castro

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “Visigothic script: struggling for finding its name”. Littera Visigothica (September 2014), ‎‎(ISSN 2386-6330).

Summer posts: Visigothic script before Visigothic script #LitteraVisigothica @storify

Summer is almost over. In a few days it will be time to start a new academic year, one that comes with new challenges for me building a network for the study of manuscripts in Visigothic script while promoting the script and its study outside the Iberian Peninsula. But, before the chaos arrives, is still August and therefore I am still publishing #summerposts. This will be the last one; a post with images intended to introduce a very complex topic in a little more ‘edible’ way: Visigothic script before Visigothic script –aka the script that was used during the Visigothic kingdom that is not yet Visigothic script.


As usual, here is the Storify. I have tweeted pictures of some of the examples preserved that help us understand how Visigothic script was taking shape, progressively, from the New Roman Cursive (the script used in the Late Roman empire for common written practices –meaning, day by day use) to what it is now understood as Visigothic script.

New Roman Cursive

Ex. New Roman Cursive | Images from Wikipedia and Medieval Handwriting (

Those images of slate tablets and graffiti come from the excellent article “La escritura visigótica cursiva en su período primitivo”, by Isabel Velázquez, published in “La escritura visigótica en la Península Ibérica: nuevas aportaciones” (proceedings of the Workshop on Visigothic script held at the Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona in 2012). One of the books I have edited so far.

The charters from the Visigothic chancellery (not in Visigothic script) are digitized an online at the National Spanish Archive’s (Archivo Histórico Nacional de Madrid) webpage. For those of you who prefer to see them “on paper” you can check the Chartae Latinae Antiquiores vol. 46. Unfortunately, only these five fragments have survived. The collection was thoroughly studied by A. M. Mundó, one of the best paleographers we had, in what was his PhD dissertation (“Los diplomas visigodos originales en pergamino: transcripción y comentario, con un regesto de documentos de la época visigoda”, Universidad de Barcelona), and published also by Canellas (“De diplomática hispano-visigoda: colección documental”, Cuadernos de historia Jerónimo Zurita 33-34 (1979): 251-418; available online here).

Thanks for following!

– by Ainoa Castro