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Visigothic and Beneventan: Paleography

Section 2: Visigothic Script

Eight lines of Visigothic Minuscule, 1091-1109 CE, “The Silos Apocalypse”

Visigothic Minuscule – bottom eight lines of column A of manuscript
© The British Library Board, Add. 11695, f. 194ra. ll. 24-31.

The “Visigothic” script has nothing to do with the Visigoths, except that it arose in Spain, which had been ruled by the Visigoths in previous centuries. The script we call Visigothic emerged in recognizable form in the 8th century, a development of the local version of Later Roman Cursive with some influence from Half-Uncial and, indirectly, Uncial. Visigothic continued to be written until at least the 13th century, though it was to a great extent replaced by Caroline Minuscule by the late 11th century. The imposition of a new liturgy at that time, as part of a regularization of the liturgy under Pope Gregory VII, was decisive in bringing Spain into the mainstream of European script, especially because the new liturgy was disseminated in books written in Caroline Minuscule. But that did not entirely end the practice of Visigothic script.

 

Recognizing Visigothic Script

Aspect: Visigothic script has much in common in general appearance with other early medieval minuscules we have studied. It typically has a small minim-height and long, very vertical ascenders and descenders. Indeed, a 10th-century Visigothic manuscript at first glance is not all that different in aspect from a contemporary Carolingian manuscript, and it has an even closer resemblance to an Anglo-Saxon manuscript from the same period, even though the two scripts are quite independent in development. Here is the same 10th-century Visigothic manuscript depicted above, next to the 10th-century Anglo-Saxon manuscript we looked at in the Insular lesson:

Visigothic Script, 10th century

© The British Library Board, Add. 11695, f. 194r.

Anglo-Saxon Minuscule, 10th century

The Bodleian Libraries, The University of Oxford, Junius 27, f. 66r.

Letterforms

Visigothic uses some special forms of ligatures and individual letters in certain places in words, to represent particular pronunciations as well as for aesthetic effect.

I-longa: Visigothic uses a tall i (I) at the beginning of words, and also between vowels, where it has the value of a semiconsonant (“y” or IPA j). You can see the latter use in eius, the last word in the first column of the manuscript at the head of this section:

several characters from manuscript in Visigothic showing characters E I U S eius

 

Details above and below from last four lines from column A, © The British Library Board, Add. 11695, f. 194ra. ll. 28-31.

 

Ligatures: Visigothic script uses two ligatures for ti depending on how they are pronounced in the local version of Latin. T joined to an i that descends below the baseline, like a j, is used when the t is “assibilated” — softened to an s-like sound. T joined to a normal i it used when the t is “hard.” You can see the ligature for assibilated t here, in the word dicentium (pronounced dicensium). The last two letters, which will be easy to pick out, are um. The complex form just before that is a t whose crossbar curves around like a c on the left and reaches out to join a j-like i on the right:

one word cropped from manuscript in Visigothic: dicentium dicentium

You can also see in the detail above, in the fourth and fifth letters of dicentium, that e tends to be tall and to join the letter that follows it in ligature. This is a feature common to many of the early medieval minuscules.

 

The Visigothic G: In order to identify Visigothic decisively, one needs to pay attention to the letter g. The Visigothic g is utterly distinctive. It looks like a letter c with a very long tail coming down from the right side. (This is ultimately a descendant of Uncial g.) Observe the gs in the following words:

one word cropped from manuscript in Visigothic: glorificemus glorificemus

 

word cropped from Visigothic manuscript: gaudeamus gaudeamus

 

word cropped from Visigothic manuscript:  regnauit regnauit

 

word cropped from Visigothic manuscript: magnorum magnorum

Compare the Visigothic g in the details above to the Insular g in the Anglo-Saxon manuscript:

word cropped from Visigothic manuscript: gentibus gentibus

 

word cropped from Visigothic manuscript: diriges diriges
Preceding details from the Bodleian Libraries, The University of Oxford, Junius 27, f. 66r.

The Insular g is much closer to the Half-Uncial g and resembles an elongated number 5. (Note also that the Visigothic glorificemus and gaudeamus and the Insular gentibus and diriges all have a tall e in ligature with the letter that follows.)

Now compare both of those g styles to the Caroline g, which has an upper and a lower bow joined by a long stroke on the right side of the letter.

word cropped from Visigothic manuscript: intellegentie intellegentię
Detail above from St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 116, p. 3. (www.e-codices.unifr.ch)

 

G is very often a telltale letter for a given script, and it can also be helpful to observe gs when trying to tell one scribe from another. This is a situation where the concept of ductus is particularly helpful. In addition to noting what the g looks like, pay attention to how it is formed and how many strokes seem to be involved. Try imitating on a piece of paper the various forms of g shown here and see if that helps understand how they are constructed, and how they differ from one another.

 

Are you ready to try telling Visigothic from other early medieval minuscules on the basis of the g? Click ahead to try an exercise.