Understanding manuscript illumination

The one thing that has always capture my attention from Visigothic script manuscripts, long before I was able to crack the script and even before knowing that Manuscript Studies existed, is the images, the fascinating depictions of strange human figures standing just in front of me, staring. For me, I guess that especially for being so young ‒ the first time I saw a Beatus I was about 10 ‒, these figures quickly spoke; they were communicating in a way that no other figural representations had done before. I now know a bit more about the manuscripts in which they stand, about their context. These miniatures, illuminations, this type of medieval art, it was developed for people who, like me when I first saw them, could not understand the passage of text to which they were linked to, so even those who cannot read could understand. I did indeed. The fighting serpent-like monsters that populate the Beatos, stood in my mind for years, unconsciously urging me to learn palaeography and now to decipher them. Here my first incursion into the world of manuscript illumination.

I feel I should add a disclaimer. I am a palaeographer, not an art historian. I am not specialised in distinguishing, in dating and placing, representations of art of a magnitude as that of the illumination programmes found in Visigothic script manuscripts by schools, scriptoria, or masters as some of you might. But, I am curious and always open to discovering new things, and since I am reading a lot about the topic lately, I want to learn more. I started with the basics, everything by John Williams on Spanish manuscript illumination, and will continue with more specific readings.[1] I recognise my limitations to judge art history. So, If you are an expert on Mozarabic and/or Northern Peninsular manuscript illumination, my apologies for the inconsistencies that might be in what you are about to read ‒ and, please, you are welcome to share your expertise here if you like. What follows is a very succinct sketch of how I see the world of illumination in Visigothic script manuscripts developed, from the early 8th to the early 12th c.

Verona Orational, c. 720, Tarragona (Verona, Bibl. Capitular, 89)

Verona Orational, c. 720, Tarragona (Verona, Bibl. Capitular, 89)

Before manuscripts in Visigothic script only were written in the Iberian Peninsula, thus with not just some notes or maybe some paragraphs in that script ‒ which roughly corresponds with the proper period of the Visigothic Kingdom ‒, the few examples preserved of manuscript illumination link peninsular production with the Classical tradition (Byzantine). As shown in the image above (Verona Orational), the drawings were marked just by lines, and the occasional figures or geometrical frames were not coloured. In doing so, Visigothic master illuminators show a continuity with the past that will soon be reinterpreted, and, more significantly, the ascription of the peninsula to a shared supranational Mediterranean style.

La Cava Bible, early 9th c., Asturias? (Cava dei Tirreni, Archivio della Badia, ms. 1)

La Cava Bible, early 9th c., Asturias? (Cava dei Tirreni, Archivio della Badia, ms. 1)

Soon after, in the 8th/9th centuries, extant Christian written production moved to the north (Asturias), and there, in semi-isolation, the intense creativity of the easily recognisable medieval peninsular style began to show. The illumination contained in the manuscripts there produced, still scarce, intertwined both traditional (La Cava Bible) and exogenous styles in a way not seen before anywhere.

Cross of Oviedo, 9th c., Cogolla (Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, Cód. 26) and Relief panel with cross (San Martín de Salas, Oviedo; mid-10th c.)

Cross of Oviedo, 9th c., Cogolla (Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, Cód. 26) and relief panel with cross (San Martín de Salas, Oviedo; mid-10th c.)

There was a still strong Classical style, with linear, compass-drawn figures, and framed titles (see La Cava Bible above). But, these features, like for example a typical motif of the Classical style as the Canon Tables, created in the 6th c., were reinterpreted in a very personal way. Designs that took shape from antecedents not altogether clear but that, nonetheless, will become quite popular in Visigothic script manuscripts settled. For example the labyrinths or carpet pages, and the Asturian crosses – Cross of Oviedo (see above manuscript Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, Cód. 26 and the relief panel, and also the reliquary ‘The Cross of the Angels’).

Tendencies that will become familiar later on as predominant, as the brilliant and contrasting hues (red, green, yellow) in frame ornament, and decorated initials based on geometric forms and representations of animal and human figures can also be pinpointed to this period. As for from where this animal/human-like fashion applied to initials came from, J. Williams added a very interesting note on the topic in his book Early Spanish Manuscript Illumination. Paraphrasing, he wrote that although commonly associated with 8th-c. Merovingian illumination, primitive examples appear in Visigothic manuscripts at least as early, and that both Merovingian and Visigothic examples could point to an unknown common ancestry rather than direct influence. And, even scarce, in the first extant examples of illuminated manuscripts it can also be noted the influence of southern features, as the elongated, tear-shaped eyes, or the influence of Kufic script in geometrical-based initials.

Vimara’s Bible, c. 920, León (León, Archivo de la Catedral, ms. 6)

Vimara’s Bible, c. 920, León (León, Archivo de la Catedral, ms. 6)

By the early 10th c., all these styles merged together and were wisely exploited by Leonese monastic scribes in a general cultural revival, showing a “radically expanded notion of the art of book decoration” (J. Williams words). Here is where the plane figures so characteristic of Visigothic script manuscripts took shape, dominating the space as full-page miniatures no longer just restricted to blank spaces next to the text. There is no dimension beyond of height and breadth, no perspective in a classical execution, but flat patterns filled with intense primary colours. They were experimenting with colour and with the Classical conventions of human representation, creating something new, dynamic and full of character, where figures interact with one another surrounded by mostly irregular but still geometric patterns (with preference to circular forms), fish and birds.

Codex Hispalensis, c. 925 (Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, Vitr. 13,1)

Codex Hispalensis, c. 925 (Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, Vitr. 13,1)

But, what I find particularly interesting is that, at the same time, manuscripts produced by Christian (Mozarabic) communities in the south, show a prevalence of the Classical, more realistic, style (see the Codex Hispalensis), highlighting, thus, that the explosion of colours was a feature of northern scriptoria. The Islamic influence sought in earlier centuries, though, continued and expanded during this period too. Significantly, architectural formulas as the horseshoe arch (Visigothic, but greatly developed by the Umayyads), ornamental designs based on palm trees and acanthus, peacocks, and the adoption of the seated posture associated with Muslim life when representing figures, among others.

Libro de Horas de Fernando y Sancha, c. 1055, Sahagún? (Santiago de Compostela, Biblioteca Universitaria, Ms 609)

Libro de Horas de Fernando y Sancha, c. 1055, Sahagún? (Santiago de Compostela, Biblioteca Universitaria, Ms 609)

In the second half of the 10th c. Leonese illumination pivoted towards the Carolingian Empire, adopting the designs of geometrical-based, interlaced, initials (Franco-Saxon school), and a sense of “less abstraction” when representing figures, now with a clear narrative purpose.

Initial from the prayer book of Fernando y Sancha (Santiago de Compostela, Biblioteca Universitaria, Ms 609) vs. the same design from a book of Homilies from San Millán de la Cogolla (Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, Cód. 39, f. 134r)

Initial from the prayer book of Fernando y Sancha (Santiago de Compostela, Biblioteca Universitaria, Ms 609) vs. the same design from a book of Homilies from San Millán de la Cogolla (Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, Cód. 39, f. 134r)

Perspective was assimilated to the conception of space, and movement was embraced by the still in plain colour figures through complex drapery patterns. Motifs that were not native, as the Christ in Majesty (school of Tours), were also reproduced. However, the, what must have been felt, traditional style continued yet to be used, most likely with a conscious intention to express alliance to customs about to be discarded, as can be seen by the late 11th/early 12th c. illumination programme developed for the Beatus exemplar copied in the monastery of Silos, the BL Add. 11695.

“The Silos Beatus is the swansong of the Leonese style. With its almost exaggerated concern for emphatic pattern and color it pays homage to the style in brilliant fashion at the very moment when Spain was participating in the fashioning of the new Romanesque art whose stylistic premises were based on the plasticity so effectively banished by the Leonese painters” (J. Williams, Early Spanish Manuscript Illumination, 27-28).

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “Understanding manuscript illumination″. Littera Visigothica (February 2016), http://litteravisigothica.com/understanding-manuscript-illumination (ISSN 2386-6330).

[1] Another basic I found quite interesting is The Art of Medieval Spain, AD 500-1200 (available online thanks to the Metropolitan Museum of Art), particularly because of the way the authors wisely merge politics, society, liturgy, art (broadly understood), and manuscripts.

How did scribes perceive the graphic change?

If you are reading this post, you more likely come from its first part “Visigothic script at the 19th Colloquium of the CIPL”. If not, some context: Earlier this month, I gave a paper at the 19th Colloquium of the Comité international de paléographie latine about the change from Visigothic script to Caroline minuscule. There, instead of going through a detailed list of graphic changes, what I did was to organize my presentation into four main unsolved questions which can be extrapolated to any period of graphic change aiming to foster discussion on the topic.

How did scribes perceive the graphic change from Visigothic script to Caroline minuscule? :

To what extent were the scribes aware of the graphic differences between writing systems?

Were early 12th-century Galician scribes polygraphic amanuenses?

How were scribes trained in the new script? Who taught them?

Was the social status of Visigothic and Carolingian script scribes the same?

FIG. 1. A glimpse of one of the earliest charters written in Caroline minuscule from Galicia (dated 1126)

FIG. 1. A glimpse of one of the earliest charters written in Caroline minuscule from Galicia (dated 1126)

Medieval scribes did not have the freedom to choose the form of the letters they were using to write as we have now. Rather, they had a model, a standard that was followed by a given geographical area, which usually corresponds to a political entity – meaning a country or group of kingdoms with a cultural link.

As for Visigothic script, as I guess as for many other medieval and modern scripts, it was not decided per se that everything needed to be written in Visigothic; the script just evolved developing to what we identify now as that particular graphic model. Caroline minuscule, on the other hand, was, in the Iberian Peninsula, imposed. From the late 9th century on, the writing system that is Carolingian was spread and prioritized instead of the Visigothic one in the scriptoria that populated the different kingdoms of medieval Spain. Scribes who were, until that moment, using Visigothic, needed, thereafter, to learn and apply Caroline minuscule. Some agree, some others did not.

Such a process of graphic change here roughly explained, offers an exceptional milieu upon which to study many different aspects and not just the scripts used. For example, those scribes who decided not to use Caroline, even when they were supposed to do so, show objection for a reason, be it respect for a prior cultural tradition for them worth preserving or just old age and reluctance to learn something new. They could belong to a scriptorium that was opposed to all Carolingian graphic, religious, and/or political influence, or they might just have had problems to find and/or afford a master of Caroline minuscule to teach them. As can be seen, the approach accepts a rainbow of possibilities, as many as you want.

The Harley Psalter, 1st half of the 11th c. © British Library, digitized at http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Harley_MS_603

FIG. 2. The Harley Psalter, 1st half of the 11th c. © British Library, digitized at http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Harley_MS_603

Regardless of how we want to interpret the graphic change, what is beyond question is that scribes were aware of it. They indeed perceived it. Let us leave aside the historical, political, cultural, and/or religious change to focus upon the graphic one. To what extent were the scribes aware of the graphic differences between writing systems? What my research has shown is that Visigothic script scribes did recognize Caroline minuscule, being aware of its peculiarities.

In comparison with Visigothic, Caroline minuscule has a different set of letterforms – particularly for a, g, I, and t -, and abbreviations – new to the system were, for example, those of noster/uester with theme in r instead of in s [you can read more about abbreviations and letterforms here and here]. Punctuation also has its nuances [more here]. The ductus is, however, not far from that of Visigothic minuscule. Anyway, there was a difference. So, what some Visigothic script scribes did was to start incorporating some of these new features into their hands, using a typology that we now describe as transitional Visigothic script [more here and here].

Did they do it consciously or not? It can only be guessed; say they did. Why? Were they learning the new system and, thus, did not master it yet? Were they trying to add some traces of trendiness even when they did not want to change? Again, those who did not add the new features, why did they preserve the Visigothic model? It is difficult to assess. What it can be said is that, through the close examination of extant charters, they seem to have been a bit confused at first about which features belong to which graphic model, since we find some hands that mixed scripts in a very particular way. See the image below; this is a Visigothic minuscule hand who wrote a Carolingian abbreviation adding also the Visigothic one.

Caroline nb + Visigothic -is Santiago de Compostela, AHUS., Blanco Ciceron, 188 (1122)

FIG. 3. Caroline minuscule nb + Visigothic script sign for -is © Santiago de Compostela, AHUS., Blanco Cicerón, 188 (dated 1122)

Does this mean that the scribes who mixed both scripts were polygraphic amanuenses, meaning that they were able to write in both scripts, Visigothic and Caroline? I do not think so. Some of them might have been, but not all. In my point of view, most of the scribes working on this transitional period of graphic change were either learning Caroline minuscule or irremediable influenced by it, consciously or not. Another question to ask is whether they were polygraphic Visigothic script scribes; I have already written about this here.

Codex Vigilanus seu Albeldensis, late 10th c. © El Escorial d.I.2

FIG. 4. Codex Vigilanus seu Albeldensis, late 10th c. © El Escorial d.I.2

How the process of learning a new script was for the scribes who decided to change? Leaving aside the dissimilarities between the two writing systems, Visigothic and Caroline do not look so different. Our brain needs to be reminded, though, that in medieval times written culture was not as today. Most of the population now is able to write, in the Middle Ages this was not the case. Thus, to learn a new script must have been a great deal. It is known that Carolingian masters came to the Iberian Peninsula to teach the new script to those who wanted to learn it, but there is no direct evidence to explain how the process itself was. For those who already knew Visigothic, it must have been easier to learn the new features, or maybe not? If we were now obliged to modify the form of our a or t, how long will take to our brain, eye and hand, to actually change? [see related posts about me learning to write in Visigothic script].

Learning to write in Visigothic script

FIG. 5. Learning to write in Visigothic script

Another difference between now and 12th century Iberian Peninsula is that, back then, writing was a laborious and slow process; it can be assumed their brain had enough time to realize the model the scribe’s hand should follow, or not? This could be another post. Let us just note here that examples of codices in which the copyist lost his thought and wrote some lines in another script have been preserved.

Finally, as for the last question, it has been suggested that those scribes and scriptoria that changed to Caroline were thus accepting and acknowledging Carolingian cultural pre-eminence. If so, it can be discussed whether Carolingian scribes held a higher status than Visigothic script scribes. In my opinion, to assess this question is tricky if not impossible. I guess that if a center felt powerful enough as to fight for the preservation of its own culture, it did not subdue; while if it was a minor center it could have done so? What do you think?


PD. If you know about publications tackling one or several of these questions, I would be grateful if you could please let me know.


– by Ainoa Castro

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “How did scribes perceive the graphic change?″. Littera Visigothica (September 2015), http://litteravisigothica.com/how-did-scribes-perceive-the-graphic-change (ISSN 2386-6330).

Writing in cursive and minuscule Visigothic script: polygraphism in medieval Galicia

Some time ago I wrote about the different types of Visigothic script explaining that, according to the speed of the strokes the scribe used in writing, the script can be classified into two main typological variants: cursive and minuscule.[1] Visigothic cursive was, in general, drawn quickly, without lifting the pen, which leads to multiple ligatures and connections between letters and words [FIG. 2]. Visigothic minuscule, on the other hand, was written slowly, letter by letter, making it more readable and appealing to the eye. I also mentioned that the cursive variant was the one preferred, at least before the second half of the 11th century, to write charters –since cursive writing for legal issues meant a direct link with the writing practices of the late Roman empire– while minuscule can be found in almost all Visigothic script codices [list] as a main graphic variant. In saying that, it can be thought that the scribe chose which typological variant he wanted –or was supposed– to use for the manuscript he was commissioned to write, be it a charter or a codex, thus implying the scribes were able to use both types. But, was that accurate? If we consider that all Visigothic script scribes were capable of writing in both minuscule and cursive, were thus able to differentiate the uses and traditions linked to both types of scripts too?


FIG. 1 Alphabets, cursive and minuscule Visigothic script.

To write in minuscule or cursive Visigothic script was not just a matter of writing quickly or slowly but rather of using two different scripts, two different ideal graphic models. Both “variants” are grouped under the name ‘Visigothic’ but they are, in fact, not the same script; they differ as for their genetic and chronological origin –in all likelihood even their geographical origin was not the same–, basic graphic characteristics and evolution, chronology… Cursive and minuscule alphabets are not the same [FIG. 1], nor are their abbreviation or even punctuation systems (see more here and here). Therefore, if we think a scribe had the ability to choose which type should be used for his manuscript, we must also think he must have learned and mastered two different writing systems.

Think about that for a moment. We are assuming the scribe was not only so skilled as to be able to write, say, calligraphic cursive Visigothic script, but that he was also capable of writing a beautiful codex in minuscule Visigothic, without mixing alphabets, or, even more significantly, abbreviation systems! (read about medieval abbreviation systems here, part 3) There are substantial differences between the abbreviations used in minuscule and in cursive scripts. Not to confuse which set should he use really implied a profound understanding of the script. He must have been truly exceptional, and his training center/school and master must have been highly remarkable too. So, how many scribes do you think were able to achieve that in the early medieval Iberian Peninsula?


FIG. 2 Basic ligatures, cursive variant.

Although not all the manuscripts that were written and copied throughout the medieval scriptoria of the Iberian Peninsula are extant, and plenty of them have no indication of who their material author was, giving the sources preserved and the textual information they provide, very few scribes were able to achieve such an accomplishment. Polygraphic scribes were scarce. It was uncommon for a scribe to use both cursive and minuscule Visigothic script, and even more unusual if he also used other coeval writing systems or alphabets that can be found in the myriad of cultures that was medieval Spain. The examples we can be sure about are so scarce that they can be counted on the fingers of one hand, or almost.


FIG. 3 Petrus. Samos 1061 (© AHN 1239/13) and Tuy 1071 (© ACTuy, 1/2).

For the Galician area, the one I am familiar with, with some 300 charters written in Visigothic script, I only know of some ten examples of polygraphic scribes we can be completely sure about since we have charters written by them in both cursive and minuscule scripts (or parts of charters: text in minuscule and the scribe’s signature in cursive). One was brought up a couple of weeks ago thanks to a colleague who, reading the last post about the signs used in charters for signatures, recalled seeing the same scribe’s sign I posted in another charter than the one I extracted the image from. That is Petrus [FIG. 3]. Bearing in mind how frequent the name Petrus was back then, and still is, he indeed needed to differentiate himself from other scribes named Petrus, developing his own distinctive sign as he did. We know of at least two charters written by this same Petrus, one with a donation to the monastery of Samos dated 1061, and the other, a royal charter to the see of Tuy, dated 1071. Petrus was a well-trained and skilled scribe. Both charters were written in a very calligraphic script, the first in a neat Visigothic cursive and the second in minuscule variant, with all its proper features and characteristics.

Could there have been more that we are not aware of? Sure there were more, within the same Galician corpus. But how can we identify them when we have no examples of their polygraphism? Remember, cursive and minuscule are two different scripts and thus they cannot be graphically compared for recognising the same hand. Were all the skilled scribes, those of a higher cultural level, polygraphs? It could be; it makes no sense to think about scribes specialised in only cursive or minuscule. Can we assume that those scribes who wrote a perfectly calligraphic cursive Visigothic script with a few abbreviations or even letter forms from the minuscule variant (or vice versa) are telling us they knew and mastered both writing systems? Maybe they got distracted and forgot for a second what the correct form of the sign for the ending -um was. Or, are they just picturing a graphic environment in which both coeval systems were used and influenced one another? In other words, that they did not really graphically differentiate between both writing systems.

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

FIG. 4 Semi-cursive script | © ACLu. 26 y Ainoa Castro.

What about the scribes who used the semi-cursive variant [FIG. 4] of Visigothic script? Were they polygraphic scribes or just the few accomplished ones who allowed the graphic influence to happen? The identification of the semi-cursive typological variant is intricate. It is not just a cursive Visigothic with some features from the minuscule one (what I call ‘semi-cursive’) or vice versa (what I call ‘semi-minuscule’), but a total mix of alphabets, abbreviation and punctuation systems. In my point of view, the semi-cursive should not be described as a typological variant, altogether with cursive and minuscule, but as a mirror of the graphic skills the scribes who used it had. For me, every time I come across an example of this script I think about a scribe who was not well trained in any variant although had some knowledge about both. A scribe that did not belong to a main production centre with a well-known school but to a small centre, maybe a small monastery or a parochial church –that is why for some scholars the semi-cursive is also called elemental script.

So, scribes writing in a calligraphic script could thus have been polygraphs, meaning, able to write in both cursive and minuscule, because they learned both writing systems in their high-level school, while uncultured scribes were not polygraphs but rather just poor scribes mixing graphic characteristics because of their cultural level? What was the process of learning to write in cursive and minuscule?

[1] I do not consider here elongate since it is not a different writing system but a type of cursive Visigothic script.

– by Ainoa Castro

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “Writing in cursive and minuscule Visigothic script: polygraphism in medieval Galicia″. Littera Visigothica (March 2015), http://litteravisigothica.com/writing-in-cursive-and-minuscule-visigothic-script-polygraphism-in-medieval-galicia (ISSN 2386-6330).

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), http://litteravisigothica.com/medieval-abbreviations-i-origin (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 http://bibliotecadigital.rah.es/dgbrah/es/consulta/registro.cmd?id=26 ]

FIG. 1 Hair side vs. flesh side © Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, Cód. 80.
[available online http://bibliotecadigital.rah.es/dgbrah/es/consulta/registro.cmd?id=26 ]

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
[ http://ecdotica.hypotheses.org/tag/regla-de-gregory ]

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 http://bibliotecadigital.rah.es/dgbrah/es/consulta/registro.cmd?id=26 ]

FIG. 6 © Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, Cod. 80, 9th c. Cordobese area.
[ online at http://bibliotecadigital.rah.es/dgbrah/es/consulta/registro.cmd?id=26 ]

(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 http://bvpb.mcu.es/es/consulta/registro.cmd?id=449895 ]

FIG. 7 © León, Archivo de la Catedral, ms. 8. Detail of pricking and ruling, continental way.
[available online http://bvpb.mcu.es/es/consulta/registro.cmd?id=449895 ]

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 http://bibliotecadigital.rah.es/dgbrah/es/consulta/registro.cmd?id=67 ]

FIG. 5 © Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, Cod. 22. 11th century. Detail of catchword.
[available online http://bibliotecadigital.rah.es/dgbrah/es/consulta/registro.cmd?id=67 ]

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), http://litteravisigothica.com/codicology-visigothic-script-codices-north-vs-south ‎(ISSN 2386-6330).

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), http://litteravisigothica.com/types-of-visigothic-script-the-speed-of-strokes ‎‎(ISSN 2386-6330).

What is ‘Visigothic script’?

Last week, I was googling when arrived to the Wikipedia article on Visigothic script (English version). I cannot resist to talk about it. I strongly believe that Wikipedia does a job making easy to get access to information and that it can be useful if you are totally lost in a subject. I myself have sometimes consulted it. The intention of this post is just to warn again about the reliability of the source: maybe a good introduction, not a good/serious source of information. I mean absolutely no offense to anyone, I am just giving my opinion. Also, I am a bit annoyed since a MA student told me after a conference debate that her main bibliographic source is this website…

Ok, let’s do this:

Visigothic script was a type of medieval script that originated in the Visigothic kingdom in Hispania (the Iberian Peninsula, modern Spain and Portugal). Its more limiting alternative designations littera toletana and littera mozarabica associate it with scriptoria specifically in Toledo and with Mozarabic culture more generally, respectively. The script, which exists in book-hand and cursive versions, was used from approximately the late seventh century until the thirteenth century, mostly in Visigothic Iberia but also somewhat in southern France. It was perfected in the 9th-11th centuries and declined afterwards.

This first sentence is so strange to me! I do not know if I am missing something with the translation. “Was a type of medieval script” sounds like the script was something pre-established by the ‘goverment’ somehow. “Originated in the Visigothic kingdom”, originated? Visigothic script was the graphic form the Latin alphabet acquired for most common writing uses in the Iberian Peninsula and Septimania in the Middle Ages. Thus, it was used, between around the 8th and 13th centuries –this chronology depends on the regional variant– , in the territories that once formed the ancient Visigothic kingdom. It was not originated suddenly during it [I don’t like the term ‘originated’ at all]. During the 5th to 8th centuries, the features that will be distinctive in Visigothic script were developed gradually in a natural evolution that can be seen by analyzing the graphic forms of the so-called ‘new Roman cursive’ writing –common graphic point for all continental national writing systems– preserved in slate tablets and graffiti. Therefore, while the script was being developed and its main distinctive features were taking shape, the ‘visigoths’ were there but they did not see the script in its ‘final’ form, the one that we call now Visigothic script. [I would put a lot of footnotes here… I remember all the students who have told me “is the writing made by the Visigoths” when I read this paragraph, sorry].

This example comes from a 4th century letter on papyrus, discovered in Egypt (Strassburg i. Els., Pap. lat. Argent. I.) (from Steffens 1929)

This example comes from a 4th century letter on papyrus, discovered in Egypt (Strassburg i. Els., Pap. lat. Argent. I.) (from Steffens 1929)


Slate tablet from Cáceres (Spain), late 6th – early 7th century.
Epistola from Faustino to Paulo (from Velázquez 2012)

“The script, which exists in book-hand and cursive versions….” The script does not exist only it two versions, although it is true that, traditionally, only two main typological variants have been differentiated. An observation: both variants were developed at the same time, influencing each other, from the aforesaid ‘new roman cursive’. As I was saying, the script has four ‘versions’: its typological variants are cursive (and its own variant elongata), semi cursive, minuscule and minuscule in transition to Carolingian script. [And, for those who were my students, yes, the minuscule was used also in charters].

Example, cursive Visigothic script

Example, cursive Visigothic script

Example, minuscule Visigothic script

Example, minuscule Visigothic script

It developed from uncial script, and shares many features of uncial, especially an uncial form of the letter g. Other features of the script include an open-top a (very similar to the letter u), similar shapes for the letters r and s, and a long letter i resembling the letter l. There are two forms of the letter d, one with a straight vertical ascender, and another with an ascender slanting towards the left. The top stroke of the letter t, by itself, has a hook curving to the left; t also has a number of other forms when used in ligatures and there are two different ligatures for the two sounds of ti (“hard” or unassibilated and “soft”or sibilated) as spoken in Hispano-Latin during this period. The letters e and r also have many forms when written in ligature. Of particular interest is the special Visigothic z, which after adoption into Carolingian handwriting eventually transformed into the c-cedilla, ç.

“It developed from uncial script”… The cursive Visigothic script has its starting point in the local evolution of the lowercase Roman cursive script (called New Roman Cursive), particularly in the one used in the provincial chanceries, while the Visigothic minuscule was developed through the calligraphic execution of the Roman semi-cursive minuscule, that was used for copying codices from at least the 4th century.

Some of their main features can be seen in the next images:

Example alphabet cursive Visigothic script (year 947).

Example alphabet cursive Visigothic script (year 947).

Example alphabet minuscule Visigothic script (year 1034).

Example alphabet minuscule Visigothic script (year 1034).

I am not sure about the “cedilla” explanation, but I am not a linguist so I will let it be although it is the first time I hear that.

From the standard script, a capital-letter display script was developed, with long slender forms.

The capital letters were not only developed by giving a bigger size to the lowercase alphabet, the roman common capital forms were also used (as usual because the script is an evolution).

There was also a cursive form used for charters and non-religious writings, which had northern (“Leonese”) and southern (“Mozarabic”) forms. The Leonese cursive was used in the Christian north, while the Mozarabic was used by Christians living in the Muslim south. The cursive forms were probably influenced by Roman cursive, brought to Iberia from North Africa. Visigothic script has many similarities with Beneventan script and Merovingian script.

Both Leonese and Mozarabic are regional variants of the Visigothic script, not typological variants. Personally, given the aforesaid, I think this paragraph is more confusing than clarifying.

It is worth noting that the Spanish version of this article is much better. This hides a big problem on the study of the Visigothic script. Scholarly works published so far are, most of them, only in Spanish, making difficult to spread the main advances made, but this is another debate…

Again, I do not know who wrote that and I really appreciate his or her effort to bring the existence of this script to the large public, but I am Spanish, we tend to be a little picky… Anyway, the main aim of opening this blog was to talk about Visigothic script (and to learn English) and this Wikipedia article has given me the perfect excuse to start writing about my favorite medieval writing system. I will be posting on this script henceforth (with bibliographic references), with as many images as I can or the copyright leaves me.

Further readings:

  • Alturo Perucho, Jesús. “La escritura visigótica. Estado de la cuestión”. Archiv für Diplomatik 50 (2004): 347-86; “La escritura visigótica de origen transpirenaico. Una aproximación a sus particularidades”. Hispania Sacra XLVI/93 (1994); “Escritura visigótica y escritura carolina en el contexto cultural de la Cataluña del siglo IX”. Memoria Ecclesiae 2 (1991): 33-44, 298.
  • Alturo Perucho, Jesús and Ainoa Castro Correa, Miquel Torras Cortina, eds. La escritura visigótica en la Península Ibérica: nuevas aportaciones. Bellaterra, 2012.
  • Díaz y Díaz, Manuel Cecilio. Códices visigóticos de la monarquía leonesa. León, 1983.
  • Millares Carlo, Agustín. Consideraciones sobre la escritura visigótica cursiva. León, 1973; Tratado de Paleografía Española. 3rd ed. Madrid, 1983.
  • Mundó Marcet, Anscari. “Notas para la historia de la escritura visigótica en su período primitivo”, Bivium. Homenaje a M.C. Díaz y Díaz (1983); “Los diplomas visigodos originales en pergamino. Transcripción y comentario con un regesto de documentos de época visigoda”, Tesis Doctoral inédita: Universidad de Barcelona (1970).
  • Robinson, Rodney Potter. Manuscripts 27 (S 29) and 107 (S 129) of the Minicipal Library of Autun. A Study of Spanish Half-Uncial and Early Visigothic Minuscule and Cursive Scripts. Nueva York, 1939.


– by Ainoa Castro

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “What is ‘Visigothic script’?”. Littera Visigothica (November 2013), http://litteravisigothica.com/what-is-visigothic-script ‎‎(ISSN 2386-6330).