Book, The Medieval
BOOK, THE MEDIEVAL
The medieval book par excellence is the codex, though the rotulus or roll (which must be distinguished from the roll of antiquity) also was in use. The triumph of the parchment codex over the papyrus roll (see roll and codex), together with the accompanying change in copying procedure of the 4th century, led to the rapid disappearance of papyrus, hitherto dominant. From then on papyrus was used but rarely except for documents (e.g., in the papal chancery into the 11th century). When early medieval codices are compared with the unexcelled quality of the parchment codices of late antiquity (4th to the 6th century), they represent a clear regression, although the method of making them (for which instructions have been preserved from the 8th century) can scarcely have been substantially altered.
Parchment. Parchment was called διφθέρα in Greek and membrana in Latin; as early as a.d. 301 there is mention of membrana pergamena, and Jerome refers variously to membrana and pergamena. In the Middle Ages the word charta, or charter, was often modified by such words as ovina, vitulina, and pergamena. The parchment was prepared for writing by a membranarius, pergamenarius, etc. The untanned animal skin was first coated with caustic lime for several days, then bleached in limewater. The hair, epidermis, and any remnants of flesh were scraped off. The hide was once again cleaned in a lime bath, stretched on a frame, dried, and finally scraped smooth with pumice. Whiting was then poured over the hide and rubbed in. The inner or flesh side (F) of the parchment and the outer or hair side (H) differed in that the former would be whiter and smoother, the latter rather yellowish or gray, rough, and porous. The difference could be almost eliminated, but only by very special treatment, especially by oxidation. In charters, which usually carried writing on only one side (documents with writing on both sides, called opisthographs, are rare), the difference between F and H is more apparent than in books, since care was taken by bookmakers to render the contrast less noticeable. In southern Europe a finer sort of parchment, whose F is clearly whiter and smoother than its H, was used, whereas in the north a thicker, coarser
and more yellowish parchment predominated. However, it should be noted that the drastic difference between F and H of parchments can be easily discerned only down to the 10th and 11th centuries; from then on both sides tend to be more evenly oxidized. Vellum made from sheepskin by a special method is typical of the British Isles. Southern Europe preferred sheepskins and goat-skins; the north often used calfskin as well. The finest parchment came from the skin of newborn or unborn lambs; it was called charta virginea or charta non nata. The writing surface of deluxe MSS or single pages would sometimes be dyed, generally purple. This ancient custom (used in, e.g., the Codex Argenteus, the Codex Rossanensis, and the Vienna Genesis) came into vogue again under the Carolingians (having been used, e.g., in the Ada MS, the Gottschalk Gospel Book, and the Coronation Gospel Book of Vienna) but died out again in the 11th century. Blue and black parchment is very rare and a collector's item.
Parchment was better suited for repeated use than was papyrus. Hence, when it was in short supply, MSS that were expendable because their content was out of date, no longer valued, or objectionable, or because the script had become "old-fashioned," were often used again. This happened especially from the 7th to the 9th century, at which time many MSS from the 5th to the 7th century were reused. The original writing was erased by first scraping the parchment with a knife (rasorium ), then rubbing it with pumice (pumex, hence pumicare ), then soaking it in milk and washing it with a sponge (spongium or peniculus, hence the German Pinsel ). When modern scholars first tried to read these twice-inscribed pages (called palimpsests), they used reagents (gallnut ink, Gioberti ink) to bring out the original text; but too often this resulted in the total destruction of the text. Today the quartz lamp is used, as is also palimpsest photography. Until the 12th-century various European monastic centers—which were the chief consumers—manufactured their own parchment and even sold it. After that time parchment preparation became a secular craft.
Paper. Parchment was employed for books until the 16th or 17th century, but after the 14th or 15th century its use was generally restricted to precious liturgical books and collectors' items. It began to be replaced in the 13th century by paper (called charta bombycina, or in 1077 bambycina, then charta papyri in 1231, and then papirus in 1311). Paper had been a Chinese invention dating from the early 2d century b.c., allegedly of the minister of agriculture Ts'ai Lun. It had been used since a.d. 751 by the Arabs, first in Samarkand, and then throughout the Caliphate. In the East, paper replaced papyrus without a transitional parchment stage, but it came to Europe only in the 11th century via Spain, where the oldest paper mill in the West was established in Játiva before 1150, and via northern Italy as an Arab article of trade. In 1276 the first paper mill in Italy was built in Fabriano, in 1337 the first French mill was in Troyes, and in 1390 the first German mill appeared in Nuremberg. Paper first replaced parchment in the chanceries, where it was used for registers, communications, minute books, protocols, letters, etc. It was utilized for books earlier or later according to regions; e.g., in Spain paper was used before 1036, but it was not common before 1300.
Once the rags, the raw material for paper, were chopped into small pieces, they were soaked in water and underwent a decomposition process. The fiber was given more water and was then pulped by a stamping mill into half stuff. This was placed in storage chests and 24 hours later was stamped into paper pulp, or full stuff. The pulp was stored in vats, from which the vat assistant extracted a thin layer with a screen, i.e., a rectangular wooden frame strung with seven bronze wires. Gentle shaking of the screen matted the fibers and drained off the excess water. The leaves of paper thus obtained were then couched, i.e., each leaf was laid between two mats, piled one on top of the other, and pressed so that the water was sucked up by the mat. After a second pressing, this time without mats, the sheets were hung up to dry, often on a clothesline, and then dipped into a solution of glue or gelatinous material, made out of animal offal, to glaze the sheets. Lastly, from the 13th century on, the sheets were always marked with figures, symbols, letters, etc., and together with the imprints of the bottom and binding wire of the frames they formed the "watermark" or filigree. Two journeymen always worked together with a pair of frames: the dipper drew the pulp from the vat with a frame; the coucher pressed the dipped sheet off the frame onto the mat. Further preparation of any codex—as pictured in the 10 medallions on the title page of the 12th-century Michelsberg MS of St. Ambrose in Bamberg— was the business of the scribe.
Assembling the Book. The medieval book was usually of an elongated rectangular shape; some few (of an early date) were almost square, and occasionally an oblique shape appeared (but this was an insular idiosyncrasy). The size, however, varied to an extraordinary degree, depending on contemporary, local, and personal taste, on the book's purpose (e.g., a pocket-size prayer-book, a large choir book), the size of the available hides, the instructions of the client, etc. Thus there are codices of the tiniest size and almost all intervening sizes up to and including the large folio volume. The number of pages likewise varied from that of the slim little volume to that of a ponderous tome.
The scribe first had to cut the parchment given him into the desired size. For this he used a sharp curved knife (novacula, rasorium ) and a ruler (regula, linula, norma, canon, praeductale ). The basic unit of any book was the double sheet (diploma, plicatura, rarely arcus ); the single sheet was called a folium. The scribe often had to glue tears in the parchment, repair damaged spots, smooth out rough places with the plana, and sew up holes with catgut or twine; this was sometimes done in artistic form by skilled women using varicolored silk threads. The trimmed double sheet was then folded together into an individual gathering. If there were a considerable difference between F and H, further care was taken so that similar sides faced each other (F to F, H to H). When the difference was negligible, this rule was less strictly observed. Gatherings were formed by placing folded double sheets inside each other; thus two double sheets formed a binion (II); three, a ternion (III); four, a quaternion (IV); five, a quinternion (V); and six, a sexternion (VI). Until the 12th century, quaternions were most often used in books on the Continent, though often IIs, IIIs, and Vs were intermingled. The Irish (like the ancients) preferred quinternions. From the 13th century on, however, the form and size of the gatherings became irregular, influenced perhaps by the paper codices, in which sexternions often occurred, as did gatherings of up to 10 and more double sheets.
For ruling the page, a compass (circinus, punctorium ) was used; fine punctures were made at the edge of the sheet at intervals as regular as possible. These punctures are called prickings. A standard scale for ruling seems to have been plotted on the edge of the writing desk, to judge from miniatures. Vertical and horizontal lines were then drawn with a ruler, and a meticulous scribe gave his most careful attention to the accuracy of this operation. Down to the 10th century horizontal lines were ideally framed by double vertical lines; later scribes contented themselves, as a rule, with one vertical line. If there were to be columns, they were similarly separated by vertical lines down the center. In the late Middle Ages the uppermost line (usually not written on), and the bottom line (or several at the top and bottom and occasionally one in the middle) were drawn from the outer left to the outer right edge over both open pages so that the two sheets would not become displaced. Until the 12th century a blunt, or dry, stylus (stilus, graphium, graphius, graphiarium, ligniculum, sulcare, i.e., to draw lines) was generally used to make concave and convex "blind" lines on the recto and verso side of the sheet, respectively. By the 12th century, however, the pages were rather generally being ruled with lead pencil or crayon (plumbum ); and from the 13th century, increasingly with ink. For the earlier, pre-12th century period several variations are worthy of note: in the British Isles, after each gathering had been formed, the folded sheet was punctured with prickings at the inner and outer edge and ruled up; but on the Continent (up to the 10th or 11th century) proper procedure called for the double sheet, not yet folded, to be spread out and then for two, three, or all sheets of the future gathering to be laid on top of it so that when the top sheet was ruled up, the scribe pressed hard enough with the stylus to leave impressions on the sheets below. Only then were the sheets folded and made into a gathering. But from the 12th century on (to some extent even in the 11th) ruling was done after the sheets had been folded into a gathering. Then the two open pages were ruled at a time, skipping the next two, so that in each case the convex impression of the verso side served as lines. Early medieval scribes numbered the gatherings for the bookbinder, generally on the last page of each gathering using Roman numerals, often preceded by a Q (for quaternion). This practice was continued to the 12th century, although most such numbering was lost when the book was trimmed by the bookbinder. In the later Middle Ages the scribe tended to number the first page of the gathering, the last, or both. He might use letters, capital and minuscule, as well as Roman numerals, often with characteristic decoration. A further aid for the bookbinder when putting the gatherings together was the catchword; it guaranteed an accurate sequence of individual gatherings and is still of importance today for arranging the text in its right order. The catchwords were always located on the last page of a gathering, usually at the bottom inside edge. They consisted of the first word or words of the first page of the next gathering. Aside from isolated examples from the 8th and 9th centuries, the catchwords—which were forerunners of the signature marks of old printed books—came into use only in the 12th century. As opposed to the Egypto-Greek and Coptic custom of numbering pages, spaces, or lines, the Middle Ages produced only isolated instances of folio numbering between the 8th and the 12th or 13th century. But in the 12th century, foliation was used in Missals; and by the 13th century, it was already fairly widespread, and was customary by the 14th century. Arabic numbers were used as well as Roman numbers. By contrast, pagination was never generally employed in the Middle Ages. In the 15th century some MSS—like the earlier printed books—numbered only from the first to the middle sheet of the gathering, with letters and figures, e.g., a1, a2, a3, a4 in the first gathering (quaternion), and b1, b2, b3, b4 in the second gathering, etc.
Writing Instruments. After preliminary work of preparing his materials the scribe (Latin, antiquarius, librarius, scriptor, scriba, notarius, clericus, etc.) could begin writing—usually copying rather than taking dictation or composing. In addition to the reed pen (calamus ), the pen (penna, pennula ) had gained popularity in the Roman Empire (isolated bronze and silver pens have been preserved). From the 4th century the quill pen, made from the tail and wing feathers of geese and swans, competed with the reed pen. This is understandable since parchment was becoming predominant, and the pen wrote better than the reed on parchment. However, since the words calamus and penna occur side by side and are often synonymous, the exact date at which the reed pen was abandoned cannot be fixed. It is possible that it was used down to the 11th century in individual instances, and it is known that the Renaissance humanists used it again in their antiquarian enthusiasm. The reed pen was kept in a cylindrical holder of wood or metal (Greek καλαμοθήκη, καλαμίς, κανών Latin theca calamaria, theca cannarum, calamarium ); the pen was stored in an elongated penholder suited to its shape (theca libraria, but also calamarium ). These containers might also hold an inkwell (atramentarium, incausterium, and by metonymy, calamarium ); but the buckhorn (cornu ) also was used, one for red and one for black ink, either hung on the wall or placed in an opening of the writing desk. For sharpening both instruments as well as for erasing, the scribe had a broad knife with bowed back (scalprum librarium, cultellus scripturalis, scalpellum, temperatorium, artavus; the process was called acuere, temperare ). It was very important for the writing process how the pen was cut, whether symetrically or obliquely, i.e., whether the left or right edge was cut. A pen was tested by the scribe before he began to copy, hence the many probationes pennae in medieval MSS, which give interesting clues to the scribe's educational status, etc.
The Ink. Ink used in the Middle Ages was black, but in the course of time it took on shades of brown, gray, and green, by virtue of its chemical composition and atmospheric influences. Codices of late antiquity and generally those of Ireland were written in a deep black ink. Continental codices down to the 11th century often shade from light brown to black; in the 12th and 13th centuries they show deep black tints; in the 14th century, more often green (because of the addition of copper substances); and in the 15th, brown and gray tones, as well as black. The ink was called μέλαν, μελάνιον in Greek, and atramentum librarium in Latin, after its black color, to distinguish it from shoeblack, atramentum sutorium. When it was manufactured by cooking, it was called encaustum, incaustum. Less frequent is the designation tincta, tingta, tinctura, from tingere, to dye. The earliest inks were made of lampblack and gum and could be washed off with a sponge. Obviously this would not adhere well to parchment, and at least from the 4th or 5th century there was a shift to the manufacture of inks from metallic salts (e.g., iron sulfate or copper sulfate) and from gallnuts dissolved in wine, with admixtures of vinegar (or beer) and gum (or water). The metal content in this ink, or acids, or both together have not only caused the ink to turn color but, what is worse, have occasioned serious damage in the older MSS by corrosion (ink erosion). Today research is being devoted to the repair of such damage.
Red ink was made from red lead (minium ) or cinnabar. It was used by the scribe, an illuminator specialist, or a rubricator to accentuate certain passages, especially at the beginning of a codex, by little red strokes affixed to the letters (red dots in Irish MSS), by writing on top of individual letters or whole lines with red, or by simply writing in red (Latin, miniare, rubricare ). Red was generally used to decorate and to distinguish any titles, as well as for the incipit and explicit, for labeling, for initial capitals in chapters and sentences, for initials, etc. With the Carolingian period gold and silver ink was used in writing on purple parchment and in accentuating individual initials and illuminations. For this the scribe used a brush (peniculus, penicillus ).
The Writing. Writing (Greek γραφεîν hence the Latin graphiare to the extent that this word is not derived from graphium or slate-pencil, or the Greek χαράττειν and Latin charaxare, scribere; to make a simple copy or exemplar was exemplare, but to write elaborately and artistically was formare, hence the phrase littera formata ) was executed by the scribe sitting at a desk with a sloping top (scriptorium). Numerous representations show the scribe sitting before the desk, holding the knife in his left hand to erase or to hold down the sheet, while he writes with the pen in his right hand, often with the index and middle finger on the pen and the other fingers under it, without supporting his wrist on the desk. When the scribe was finished with his work, the rubricator or illuminator was called upon to execute any decoration the codex might require.
Bookbinding. When the scribe and rubricator had finished, the MS went to the bookbinder. Several papyrus codices from the 2d and 3d centuries are extant (e.g., the Nag-Hammādi), consisting of one rather large signature made up of many sheets of papyrus, bound in leather-covered boards. For multisignature codices, chain stitching was used in Coptic Egypt, the individual signatures being bound together by loop stitches in such a way that a chainlike pattern—which often served as ornamentation—was formed on the back of the cover, which had been laced to the signatures in the same process. Knowledge of bookbinding technique in late antiquity is very incomplete. The bound codex may have developed out of the Diptych. By the 8th century at the latest (from the earlier periods only the 7th-century, deluxe-bound Theodelinda Gospel Book in Monza, Italy, has been preserved) the signatures were sewn together. But with certain exceptions (including three Fulda MSS), the earliest bindings preserved are from the 9th century. It is possible that many books before that time were simply wrapped in parchment sheets, as may be seen in codices preserved in sankt gallen. Such MSS encountered in contemporary catalogues are designated as in quaternionibus and the like.
The typical method of binding in the Middle Ages was to stitch the individual signatures to several bands or cords running crosswise at the back with whose help the assembled book was laced to the covers. The stitching thread originally ran over the whole length of the back and was allowed to extend out above and below in order to bind the signatures to one another. To prevent the threads from tearing the signatures at top and bottom, a parchment or leather strip was added; this strip was sewn all around and thus formed the headband. After the assembled book had been laced to the cover, the outer edges were cut or planed smooth; in the later Middle Ages the edges were then painted or inscribed, especially if the volumes were displayed with the cut edges facing the user.
Book covers (in contrast to archive volumes, which often had no hard covers) were usually of wood up to the 16th century, but this was gradually supplanted in the Renaissance by pasteboard, which had appeared much earlier in Islamic bindings. Less frequent were covers made of parchment, leather, or woven fabric without boards. Wooden covers were made of beech, maple, or oak and covered with fabric, or more usually with leather made from skins of sheep, goat, deer, antelope, calf, cow; or pig. The leather was stretched moist over the wooden boards. After the boards were covered, the leather that overlapped was glued to the front and back inside cover, and an endpaper was glued over it. Up to the 12th or 13th century the first leaf of the first signature and the last leaf of the last signature of the book were so used, but later wastepaper (parchment or paper) was more often employed. The first free or unattached sheet (often missing at the back) is the end paper in the strict sense, the socalled fly leaf. In older volumes the fly leaf was usually a part of the first signature (i.e., the second sheet of that signature), but later it was often pasted-in wastepaper. Until the 11th century the binding most often had a smooth back, i.e., no back bands were visible; the headband, however, stood out sharply. The leather of the cover was usually decorated only with vertical, horizontal, or diagonal, simple or multiple parallel lines, etc.; only seldom did the cover bear figured ornamentation (cf. the early bindings of Fulda, Sankt Gallen, Schaffhausen, etc.). But from the 12th century book covers began to appear with beveled edges and with metal corner and center pieces (studs, bosses, bands, borders) of iron, copper, or brass, and with decorative and protective clasps (clausurae ). Strips of leather, similarly cut and applied, were used, but rarely, in place of these. Metal strips were applied to the outer edges of covers for heavy folio books. Books that were to be chained usually had the chain fastened with a ring through the upper edge of the back cover, though sometimes through the front cover; a ring at the other end of the chain fastened it to a rod on the reading desk. The covers of a book were held together in front by hasps or clasps (clausurae, fibulae ) made of metal, leather, plaited straps with hinges, etc.
Variations of the simple binding used generally throughout the Middle Ages were the pouch book, the girdle book, and book with jacket, all easy to carry or readily attachable to the belt. The covering material of the pouch and girdle bookbindings was allowed to extend far beyond the bottom edge of the cover (rather than being folded over into the inside of the cover). A book with a jacket binding had another material (leather, silk, velvet) that covered the book's regular binding; since the jacket binding extended some length beyond the edges of the book, it provided protection from dust.
Many bindings incorporated bookmarkers of leather, plaited hemp, or ribbons made of some fabric (corda, cordula, registrum ), which were fastened to the upper headband. In very large tomes there was sometimes a set of leather bookmarkers fastened to a free, or loose, diagonal strip (tenaculum ) located on the upper edge. There are some rare volumes that had a wooden box with sliding lid that was affixed to the top edge of the back cover and that contained a wooden reading-stick. Parchment strips called misericordiae were often attached to the outside edge of certain pages in the late Middle Ages; sometimes they were dyed red, inscribed, and made to protrude from the edge to facilitate the finding of certain passages or texts. Besides the simple, generally prevalent bindings (ligatura, coopertorium ), there is also a group of deluxe bindings, many of which date from as early as the 8th century. These are made with ivory covers, exemplified by the consular diptychs of antiquity and by books of Byzantine and medieval western making. Other deluxe bindings were embossed with gold or silver, such as the Codex Argenteus and the Codex Aureus. Still others were enamel, particularly from Limoges, or adorned with precious stones or filigrees. In the 12th century, leather bindings came to be enhanced with carving (e.g., some Codices of Engelberg), and later, plate and roller stamps were popular. Bookbinding became a secular craft in the 12th or 13th century, and subsequent bindings show that it became a highly developed art form.
See Also: book, the ancient; book, the printed.
Bibliography: s. dahl, History of the Book (New York 1958), revision of original Ger. ed. (1928). e. p. goldschmidt, Gothic and Renaissance Bookbindings, v.1 (New York 1928). r. delbrÜuck, Die Konsulardiptychen (Studien zur spätantiken Kunstgeschichte 2; Berlin 1929). j. destrez, La Pecia dans les manuscrits universitaires du XIII e et du XIV e siècle (Paris 1935). Lexikon des gesamten Buchwesens, ed. k. lÖffler and j. kirchner, 3 v. (Leipzig 1935–37). p. lehmann, "Blätter, Seiten, Spalten, Zeilen," Zentralblatt für Bibliothekswessen 53 (1936) 333–361, 411–442; repr. in Erforschung des Mittelalters, 4 v. (2d ed. Stuttgart 1959–61) 3: 1–59. l. w. jones, "Pricking Manuscripts: The Instruments and Their Significance," Speculum 21(1946) 389–403. Scriptorium (Antwerp 1946–). f. g. kenyon, Books and Readers in Ancient Greece and Rome (2d ed. Oxford 1951). k. lÖffler and p. ruf, "Allgemeine Handschriftkunde," Handbuch der Bibliothekswissenschaft, ed. f. milkau and g. leyh,v.1 Schrift und Buch (2d ed. Wiesbaden 1950) 106–162. a. boeckler and a. a. schmid, "Die Buchmalerei," ibid. 249–387, with important bibliogs. e. von rath and r. juchhoff, "Buchdruck und Buchillustration bis zum Jahre 1600," ibid. 388–533. m. j. husung and f. a. schmidt-kunsemÜller, "Geschichte des Bucheinbandes," ibid. 782–848. e. kuhnert and h. wilmann, "Geschichte des Buchhandels," ibid. 849–1004. a. renker, "Geschichte des Papiers," ibid. 1047–68. d. diringer, The Hand-produced Book (New York 1953). g. piccard, "Die Wasserzeichenforschung als historische Hilfswissenschaft," Archivalische Zeitschrift 52 (1956) 62–115. w. wattenbach, Das Schriftwesen im Mittelalter (3d ed. Leipzig 1896; 4th ed. repr. Graz 1958). d. diringer, The Illuminated Book, Its History and Production (New York 1958). L'Histoire et ses méthodes, ed. c. samaran (Paris 1961), with important methodological articles by select authors, with bibliogs. b. bischoff, Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and the Middle Ages (Cambridge, Eng. 1990). a. petrucci, Writers and Readers in Medieval Italy: Studies in the History of Written Culture (New Haven 1995). r. h. rouse, Preachers, Florilegia and Sermons (Toronto 1979). m. b. parkes, Pause and Effect: An Introduction to the History of Punctuation in the West (Berkeley 1993). p. saenger, Space Between Words: The Origins of Silent Reading (Stanford 1997).