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Christian Late Antiquity: Paleography

Section 4: Half-Uncial

 

St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 1395, p. 25. (www.e‑codices.unifr.ch)

LETTERFORMS

Important letters in Half-Uncial that are distinct from Uncial and earlier Capital forms, and that anticipate medieval and modern minuscule forms, are as follows:

  • Half-Uncial a has the form of modern lower-case script or cursive a, except that the letter is not closed at the top. This open-topped a is liable to be confused with u.
  • b in Half-Uncial has the form of modern lower-case b: an upright stroke with ascender on the left, and a bow to the right. (Compare Uncial B, which has the "uppercase" form found in ancient capitals.)
  • d likewise has the modern lower-case form, with a straight upright stroke ascending above minim-height, and a bow to the left.
  • Half-Uncial g is a letter worth getting to know: it shows up again in several scripts of the early Middle Ages and is the ancestor of later minuscule-style g's. Half-Uncial g has a crossbar at minim height, and a tail hanging from it that squiggles down to form a descender. It can look a little bit like the number 5.
  • r is essentially the modern lower-case r, but note that the shoulder of the letter dips below minim-height just as the stroke is finishing. That dip is the key to telling r from s.
  • s in Half-Uncial and in a number of scripts that developed from it over the following centuries. Half-Uncial is the script that introduces the "tall" or "long" s ( ſ ) familiar to us from early-modern script and handwriting. Tall ſ is very easily confused with r!

This word is facerent. Notice the open top of a and the difference between the f that starts the word and the r in the middle. (Note also that Half-Uncial uses "upper-case" N.)

Text images below from St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek,
Cod. Sang. 1395, p. 25. (www.e-codices.unifr.ch

St Gallen1395 manuscript line showing FACERENT

This letter sequence is manifest. Note again the open-topped a, "upper-case" N, and the difference between f and s. The s stops on the baseline, whereas the f descends below it.

St Gallen1395 manuscript line showing MANIFEST

This is dicent. Note the upright d (as opposed to the curvy, leftward-leaning d of Uncial).

St Gallen1395 manuscript line showing DICENT

This is puer meus. Pay close attention to the difference between the fourth letter, r, and the last letter, s. The shoulder of r curves down below minim-height, but that of s curves upward.

St Gallen1395 manuscript line showing PUER MEUS

This word is gentibus. Note the 5-shaped g, "lower-case" b, and tall s at the end.

St Gallen1395 manuscript line showing GENTIBUS


Would you recognize these forms if you saw them in the wild? Would you be able to tell these Half-Uncial forms from Uncial ones? Review the list of important Half-Uncial letterforms above. If you're ready, click through to try a quick exercise in telling Half-Uncial from Uncial.