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Visigothic + Carolingian script. Mixing up graphic influences

3 years ago written by

In my last post I wrote about how the Carolingian script was spread across the Kingdom of Galicia thanks to the physical routes of cultural exchange opened with the Camino de Santiago. I also discussed about why, talking about Visigothic minuscule in transition to Carolingian script, the graphic influence was so different comparing the two major medieval cultural centers of the Kingdom, Lugo and Santiago, and that this difference can be seen not only in the sees, but also in the centers/monasteries under their command. I still need to work closely on the political implications of this situation in order to develop a little more the theories exposed. But, what I did not do was to delve into which ones are specifically these graphic ‘frenchy’ influences or their timing. Also, I did not spoil myself explaining that, while in Lugo the only Visigothic variant showing influence of Carolingian stuff is the minuscule, in Santiago scribes went crazy mixing up everything with everything: using cursive + Carolingian, semi cursive + ‘something I do not know how to call’, minuscule + Carolingian, and even minuscule + Gothic… Last month the work was as exciting as confusing… Anyway, in this post I want to continue with this topic by showing you, graphically, about what was I talking about.

Starting with the easy part, the minuscule variant in transition to Carolingian script is the one that, being mostly Visigothic minuscule, shows some features that are specific to the Carolingian writing system. This ‘carolinization’ can be seen in the general aspect of the script, increasingly rounded, in the incorporation of isolated letters (uncial a or elongated s), as well as in the orthography used by scribes (no longer use of I), but it is quite more intense in the abbreviation system. Thus, scribes categorized under this variant tend to use a semicircle for the abbreviation of –us, semicolon for -ue, a line above t for –er/-er- (wavy for ­-ur/-ur-), above r for –unt, above m for –en-, continental per and pre, Tironian notes for et and con, and abbreviations by overlapping one letter to another, among other things. Regarding chronology, this variant is registered in Lugo since the last decade of the 11th century (the first example is dated in 1091), while in Santiago can be found since 1070. (The minuscule has been preserved in charters from around 1020/30 in both episcopal sees.)

Alphabet, Visigothic minuscule in transition to Carolingian script - AHN1197/1 (1196)

Alphabet, Visigothic minuscule in transition to Carolingian script – AHN1197/1 (1196)

Now the tricky part. Given the amount of external influence that the diocese of Santiago ‘suffered’ since the political impulse of the Camino de Santiago, in this territory can also be distinguish a cursive variant in transition to Caroline –among other mixes– since mid-12th century. The Carolingian features adopted are focused in the abbreviation system too. I can understand the influence, but it looks really really odd!

cursive Visigothic script + Carolingian (detail)

cursive Visigothic script + Carolingian (detail)

I have a game for you 🙂 Below are two images, one from a charter in minuscule in transition to Carolingian script and the other one in cursive variant with Carolingian influence, are you able to find all the ‘unusual’ features?

Visigothic minuscule + Carolingian

Visigothic minuscule + Carolingian


cursive Visigothic script + Carolingian

cursive Visigothic script + Carolingian


Finally, some lines about the reverse influence between scripts, meaning the features that can be seen in Carolingian (and even later! See this tweet) examples coming from the Visigothic script. The first examples in Carolingian script for Galicia are from the second decade of the 12th century (1113), being, therefore, the most usual script from the mid-century onwards, although the Visigothic was still in use until the end of the century (1198) and even after (the last example for Galicia is dated in 1234). Thus, there is almost a century of exchanges between both graphic systems. The features I usually find in Carolingian manuscripts that do not belong are closed t –specially used in testes, in ligature with s–, ligature for the numeral XL, abbreviation of –us with a sign similar to an s, and of –is particularly under b, and noster/uester with theme in r instead of s (nre/ure instead of the Visigothic forms nse/use).


So, summarizing, since the early 11th century onwards,[1] the scribes were trained in the two typological variants of the Visigothic script as there is influence from the cursive in the minuscule and, moreover, some charters have been preserved from the same scribe using both typological variants. Regarding the Carolingian, since the late 11th century onwards, in some specific well-developed cultural centers as the ecclesiastical sees, they could possibly have been trained in the new script too, explaining the strong influence of the “frenchy” in the Visigothic system. Thus, during the 12th century, some scribes were primarily trained in Visigothic and then learnt Carolingian, while, at the same time, the new generation was trained directly in the latter system, but, as they were surrounded by manuscripts in Visigothic script, their eyes caught some features that were included unintentionally in their texts. One thing that, unfortunately, we will never know is what they thought about these mixes in the same text: did they know that some features were mixed? Did they care or they were just concern about making a tidy text without being careful in showing ‘respect’ for the script itself (following the rules)? Which were their insights about the writing systems?

In the next post I will write about the political implications of changing the writing system and I expect to show you why scribes from dioceses as Lugo react against it.


[1] I need to consider the cultural centers to which scribes using semi-cursive belonged. There are examples in this variant since late 9th century but I think it is contamination; I find difficult to believe they were trained also in both variants. I need to work deeper evaluating the features that were included from one and the other variant making this particular mix.

– by Ainoa Castro

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “Visigothic + Carolingian script. Mixing up graphic influences”. Littera Visigothica (December 2013), ‎‎(ISSN 2386-6330).

Article Categories:
Caroline min. · Charters · Paleography

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