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Carolingian Manuscripts: Paleography

Section 3: Hierarchy of Scripts

The Carolingian period saw the development of a widely-observed protocol for using the scripts of antiquity in a descending sequence of prestige in major and minor titles and headings, with Caroline Minuscule for the main text script. We saw the beginnings of this system in Insular manuscripts, but Carolingian scribes regularized the process.

Square Capitals, if present, were always at the top of the hierarchy, followed by Uncials, Rustic Capitals, and then Caroline Minuscule for the main text. Uncial continued to be used for litterae notabiliores within the text.

St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 116, p. 3. (


On this page from a 9th-century manuscript, the first four lines are in Square Capitals; the next two are in Uncial, the three below that are in Rustic Capitals, and then the body of the text is in Caroline Minuscule. Note that, in addition to the elaborate initial P full of eyes, there are litterae notabiliores marking minor divisions of the text, an Uncial E five lines up from the bottom and an S in the last line. The hierarchy in the headings, the prominent initial, and the litterae notabiliores combine with the clear word separation to make the text easy to navigate.