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Paleography, Latin


The object of Latin paleography is the study of the various forms of handwriting in which Latin texts were written and of the forms of writing derived from them. Like all alphabets used in ancient Italy, the Latin alphabet represents a Western type of Greek alphabet, that is, an alphabet in which the Γ, Δ, Λ, Π, Ρ, Σ, and [symbol omitted] of the Eastern and classical Greek alphabet have forms that are quite similar to C, D, L, P, R, S, and V (U), but in which the X was pronounced ks and not kh, the H indicated aspiration, and the Digamma and Koppa were still in use. The Latins, however, did not borrow their alphabet directly from the Greeks, according to most authorities, but took it from the Etruscans. This would explain why their C had the value of a voiceless guttural, which gave it the same value as K and Q, and why there was no symbol to denote the voiced guttural (Mod E G). Their G was created only in 312 b.c. by modifying the letter C.

Rise and Spread of Latin Writing. The oldest Latin text is that engraved on the mutilated stele found in 1899 on the site of the old Forum Romanum. It dates from either the end of the 7th century b.c. or the beginning of the 6th. Latin writing was used by Roman soldiers, merchants, and officials throughout the empire. In the East, however, as well as in other areas where Greek was used as a means of communication, neither the Latin language nor the Latin script took root. In the Eastern areas of the empire various native linguistic groups, such as the Copts, the Goths, and later some of the Slavs, used alphabets derived essentially from the Greek alphabet. As a result, after the fall of the empire, Latin handwriting, like the Latin language, survived only in the West.

After the 3d century, Latin writing became that of the Roman Church, and from the 6th to the 12th century, in the course of the Christianization of the pagan peoples of northern Europe, it became the writing of Ireland, Germany, Norway, and Sweden. At various times Latin writing was adopted for the vernacular languages (even for non-Indo-European ones): for Celtic in the 1st century; in the 8th century for Welsh, English, and German; for French in the 9th century; for Provençal, Catalan, Spanish, Portuguese, Norwegian, and Icelandic in the 12th century; for Italian, Hungarian, Czech, Danish, and Swedish in the 13th century; for Old Prussian in the 14th century and for Polish and Croatian in the 15th century. Basque, Breton, Lithuanian, Lettish, Estonian, and Finnish adopted Latin writing in the 16th century; Albanian and Romanian, in the 19th century.

Through the influence of printing, Latin writing became widely disseminated and received a fixed form during the 15th century, and it has since become the writing of Western civilization. During the 19th century, Catholic and Protestant missionaries adapted the Latin alphabet to many native languages, among others, those of Vietnam and Madagascar. Some of the nationalistic and revolutionary movements of the 20th century, in an attempt to fight illiteracy and to promote modernization, abandoned traditional writing in favor of the Latin form of writing. Even though Russia and many other nations in the former U.S.S.R. still retain their Cyrillic alphabet, other nations have adopted the Latin hand. Since 1926 it has been used by the Islamic-Turkish republic of the former U.S.S.R; and since 1928, by Turkey. China officially adopted the Latin alphabet in 1958 but was faced with a tremendous task of adjustment, which it has still hardly begun.

The Science of Paleography. The first scientific treatise on Latin paleography is found in the last four chapters of Book I of the De re diplomatica (1681) by Dom Jean mabillon. A contemporary of the first naturalists, among them J. P. de Tournefort, whose Éléments de Botanique (1694) contained the first modern classification of plants, Mabillon attempted to classify the scripts known to him on the basis of their distinctive characteristics. He thus distinguished three types of Roman script the uncial, or capital; the minuta, or minuscule; and the minuta forensis as well as four types of national hands that he believed to be original creations, Gothic, Lombard, Frankish, and Anglo-Saxon.

This classification was refuted and rejected by Scipione Maffei in his Istoria diplomatica (1727). Maffei was the first to advance the thesis of the original unity of Latin writing. He maintained that the so-called national hands were only "degenerate" forms of Roman writing.

The six-volume Nouveau traité de diplomatique (175065) by R. P. Tassin and C. F. Toustain, Benedictines of the congregation of Saint-Maur (see maurists), is the masterpiece of the "Nomenclature School," or, as their members would be called today by the naturalists, the "taxonomists." To some extent the Nouveau traité is to the De re diplomatica of Mabillon what the Systema naturae (1735) of C. Linnaeus is to the Éléments de botanique of Tournefort. The paleographic section of the Nouveau traité is an "abecedarian history" in which the authors strove to teach "the art of determining the age and the country of origin of the letters by studying the variety of their forms and characteristics, acquired between their origin and the 18th century" (2.2). One can only admire the work of the two Maurists. Unfortunately, however, their classifications were not based on such obvious and fundamental characteristics as those selected by the genius of Linnaeus. Script is neither a living organism, the product of natural growth, nor even a system of self-developing forms. The ordering of hands on the basis of external characteristics can lead only to arbitrary and extremely complicated classifications. In fact the classification of the Maurists is recognized today as completely inadequate, and frequently incomprehensible.

In the latter half of the 19th century, W. Wattenbach in his Anleitung zur lateinischen Paläographie (1866) and Léopold Delisle in his works after 1875 found a new and more fruitful approach. Both Wattenbach and Delisle studied the letters in relation to their formation in writing. Botanists might describe their approach as that of the "geneticists," for they tried to reconstitute the ductus,i.e., the movement of the pen in forming the letter, and to establish a genealogy of writing based on the historical development of its forms. The latter approach resembled that of their contemporaries the comparative philologists, who sought to establish families of languages. Delisle and Wattenbach succeeded in separating paleography from diplomatics and in definitively making paleography an autonomous discipline. At the same time L. Traube assigned paleography its true place among the historical sciences by viewing the scripts it studies as the expression or reflection of a civilization.

Latin Writing from the 1st to the 6th Century. Although in principle the "science of handwriting" does not need to concern itself with the material on which the letters are written, the very fact that scholars turned their attention to the ductus led them to neglect the fixed forms of writing, which are characteristic of engraved letters. Latin inscriptions on stone and bronze were, even as late as 1850, almost the only known specimens of Roman writing and the only "documents" preservedas opposed to narrative sources and juridical codifications. The study of these inscriptions was established as an autonomous discipline under the name of epigraphy. Paleography, accordingly, abandoned inscriptions to devote itself solely to the study of official documents and books written by hand and in ink. Since the oldest manuscripts then known could be dated no earlier than the 4th or 5th century, paleographers ignored the preceding centuries. Epigraphists, however, showed little or no interest in the form of the letters. As a result, scholars began the history of Latin writing only with the 5th century. So complete was the ignorance of earlier scripts that Natalis de Wailly attempted to prove that the wax tablets found in 1841 in the gold mines of Transylvania, and dated between a.d. 139 and 162, were forgeries. In 1889 M. Prou expressed the same opinion in the first edition of his Manuel de paléographie (24).

Meanwhile, the excavations at Pompeii had revealed the cursive Latin hand of the 1st century. The first graffiti were discovered in 1765 but were not published until 1792 and 1793 in Nuremberg (cf. R. Garucci, Graffiti de Pompei, 2d ed. Paris 1856). Their publication was barely noticed, and it was not until 1837 that the Inscriptiones Pompeianae of J. Wordsworth brought them to the attention of the scholarly world. In 1849 the first edition of the Graffiti of Garucci contained a thoroughly satisfactory study of cursive writing, but it too was scarcely noticed by paleographers. Finally, some slight interest was shown in the publication of C. Zangemeister's Inscriptiones parietariae Pompeianae (Corpus inscriptionum latinarum 4; Berlin 1871).

Four years after Zangemeister's publication, the tables of the banker Jucundus were discovered at Pompeii, but they did not become common knowledge until Zangemeister in 1898 devoted the Supplementi pars prior of Corpus inscriptionum latinarum v. 4 to their publication. The first ancient Latin papyrus to be unearthed in modern times, the Carmen de bello Actiaco, had been found during the excavations at Herculaneum in 1730 and was reproduced as an engraving in 1793 in the first volume of the Herculanensium voluminum quae supersunt (see papyrology). Zangemeister and Wattenbach in their Exempla codicum latinorum litteris maiusculis scriptorum (Heidelberg 1876) plates 1, 2, 3, reproduced two others in part. From 1895 Egypt began to furnish literary as well as documentary Latin papyri but in very small numbersapproximately 200 between 1895 and 1914of which only half were published at the time; and only about 50 were reproduced by 1915. A young American papyrologist, H. B. Van Hoesen, studied their script (Roman Cursive Writing, Princeton 1915) and traced the history of the Roman cursive hand from the 1st to the 6th century. But the study of all forms of writing used prior to the 5th century was not definitively included in Latin paleography until the publication in 1921 of Luigi Schiaparelli's Scrittura latina nell'eta romana.

All the above-mentioned works were remarkable; yet they were not as perfect and precise as their authors might have made them had the available documentation been less rudimentary.

The Use of Photography and Electronic Digitalization. Photography was first introduced into paleography in 1858 by T. von Sickel, who later used photoengraving as well in his Monumenta graphica medii aevi ex archivis et bibliothecis imperii Austriaci collecta (10 fasc. 185882). Paleographers were rather slow in recognizing the potential role of photomechanical reproduction. The imperfections of the first processes, the high cost of the stereotype plates, and the unsatisfactory lighting apparatus were no doubt the cause of their slowness. In 1871 Zangemeister failed in his attempts to reproduce photographically the graffiti (Corpus inscriptionum latinarum 4:11.39), and E. Hübner decided against employing photoengraving in his Exempla scripturae epigraphicae latinae (Berlin 1885). In fact, the photography of graffiti and inscriptions continues to present particular difficulties (cf. J. S. and A. E. Gordon, Contributions to the Paleography of Latin Inscriptions, Berkeley 1957; repr. Milan 1977). The most adequate process for photographing graffiti and wax tablets involves the use of sodium lamps, but this is extremely difficult outside a well-organized laboratory. The paleographical study of inscriptions is therefore still in its infancy, and this has inhibited the study of the Latin calligraphy of the first four centuries. Even as late as 1953 there were barely three or four photographs of the graffiti of Pompeii, and scholars were content to use copies. The first photographs of the Latin papyri of Herculaneum were published by E. A. Lowe in Codices latini antiquiores (v. 3 Oxford 1938, Nos. 385387).

There have been numerous reproductions of medieval manuscripts, and starting in the late 19th century several large collections appeared in which the photography leaves nothing to be desired. These collections, however, had no preestablished design and were arranged by chance, depending on findings and research. As a result they contributed only a fragmentary documentation on which no exhaustive study could be based. These insufficiencies were partially remedied by the prodigious development of microfilm technique, but a more effective remedy would come through a series of systematic and massive facsimile collections.

The first, Codices Latini Antiquiores (= CLA), conceived and carried to completion by E. A. Lowe, began to appear in 1934. In twelve volumes (111 + Supplement) (Oxford 19341971) and two series of Addenda in Mediaeval Studies (47 and 54, Toronto 1985 and 1992) a paleographical description and a sample facsimile from one or more pages are furnished for every known extant Latin literary manuscript copied before the 9th century (1884 items in all). Starting in 1954, A. Bruckner and R. Marichal and eventually many other collaborators did something similar for official documents. Their Chartae latinae antiquiores (= ChLA), in 49 volumes (14: Olten Lausanne; 549: Dietikon-Zurich; 195498), provides a complete facsimile edition with transcription of all known extant Latin charters copied before the 9th century (1468 items in all). With some exceptions (a few papyri, graffiti, wax tablets, and inscriptions) all the extant writing evidence of the first eight centuries of the Christian era is now available for study in published facsimiles.

The same, however, cannot be said, and almost certainly will never be able to be said, for the period from the 9th century onward, because of the sheer mass of the surviving material (hundreds of thousands of manuscripts and documents). Just the same, for the 9th century itself some systematic projects are underway. All of its Latin literary manuscripts from the Continent are being systematically described, though unfortunately without facsimiles, in B. Bischoff's Katalog der festländischen Handschriften des neunten Jahrhunderts (mit Ausnahme der wisigotischen ) (Wiesbaden 1998). Part I deals in alphabetical order by place of preservation with the manuscripts from Aachen to Lambach. The documents of the 9th century have begun to be published in a facsimile edition in a second series of Chartae latinae antiquiores, edited by G. Cavallo and G. Nicolaj (Dietikon-Zurich, 1998). Seven volumes (5056) were published by 2000 (181 items, all from Italy).

But long before these two 9th-century projects began to see the light of day another approach had already been taken to the massive numbers of manuscripts from the later period. At an international conference held in Paris in 1953 at the instigation of C. Samaran most of the leading Latin paleographers of the time decided to support a plan to publish catalogues with sample facsimiles of all the objectively dated manuscripts copied before 1600 (or at least 1550), i.e., up to a time by which the codex was definitively replaced by the printed book. The international committee, under whose aegis each nation would publish its own dated, and if it so desired also its objectively placed, manuscripts, became in 1957 the Comité International de Paléographie (Latine, added to its name in 1985 = CIPL) and henceforth provided permanent patronage and direction for paleographical studies.

The first volume of the Catalogue des manuscrits datés (= CMD), issued in two parts for the descriptions and the facsimiles respectively, appeared in 1959 and dealt with the Musée Condé and Parisian libraries other than the Bibliothéque Nationale. By 2000 42 volumes had been published, mostly also in two parts, treating the dated manuscripts in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Holland, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, and Vatican City. Even though most of these national catalogues are still not wholly complete, there are now facsimiles of almost 25,000 dated manuscripts available for comparison by anyone who wishes to date an undated manuscript, and also available of course for anyone interested in tracing the history of Latin scripts. This is certainly one of the greatest accomplishments in the whole history of paleography. That no analogous project has yet been undertaken for the publication of dated documents (charters, etc.) down to modern times, however desirable this would be, is undoubtedly due to its enormity, since most documents are dated and would therefore have to be included.

If photography marked a new era in the history of paleography by making a generic advance over hand-drawn facsimiles and by giving in its further developments enlargement, ultraviolet and infrared lights, color filters, x-rays, beta-radiography, image of a manuscript often more clear and legible than the original itself, a still greater era may have been introduced with the invention of the computer and of digitalized reproduction or electronic "photography." Enlargement can now be pushed far beyond the possibilities of traditional photography without a loss of precision. Data can be manipulated to enhance or deemphasize any element one chooses, with an obvious advantage for the reading of palimpsests. The application of computerization to the study of scripts is still in its infancy, but the use of digitalized images, eventually of thousands and thousands of manuscripts, promises to make paleographical study enormously easier, cheaper, and more thorough, and to make all of these advantages accessible even in the privacy of the paleographer's own home.

Modern Trends in Paleography. In England and in Austria at the beginning of the 20th century two calligraphers, Edward Johnston and Rudolph von Larisch, as a result of their researches in Latin manuscripts, began to study the writing technique and the shape and holding of the pen best adapted for forming the ancient letters (see E. Johnston, Writing and Illuminating and Lettering, London 1906; and the work of a student of Larisch, Otto Hurm, Schriftform im Schreibwerkzeug, Vienna 1928). In France in the 1930s and 1940s, Jean Mallon and R. Marichal sought to find in the technical modifications of ancient writing the origin of the considerable changes that Latin writing had undergone during the first four centuries of the Christian era. Their research was independent of that of Johnston and Larisch but led to similar conclusions. In Germany many scholars working in fields touching paleography tried, with considerable temerity, to explain the variations of script in the light of similar changes in architecture and the other arts; at the same time others applied graphology to the history of writing (see H. Fichtenau, Mensch und Schrift im Mittelalter, Vienna 1946). As paleography became conscious of its true object, it was more able to clarify its relationship to neighboring disciplines. The study of book scripts was no longer isolated from that of the book itself; and, in fact, a new name, "codicology," was invented for this specialized discipline. This new tendency, advocated particularly in Belgium by F. Masai, led to the creation in Brussels in 1946 of the review Scriptorium and in Paris in 1982 of the Gazette du livre médiéval which has since become the organ for the CIPL and its companion organization, the Association Paléographique Internationale Culture-Écriture-Société (= APICES). Finally, greater knowledge of the Latin papyri of Egypt has given greater urgency to the question of the relationship between Greek and Latin writing, even though J. Mallon's wish to establish a distinct field of "Greco-Roman" paleography has not come to fruition.

These various developments have resulted in some new theories regarding the history of Latin script. Originally the Greek, Etruscan, and Latin alphabets consisted of "capitals," i.e., generally their form was similar to the letters that are still used in the titles of most books and signs; hence their name. Over a long period the capital, more or less carelessly employed, had been the only form of Latin writing, and at the beginning of the Christian era it was still the only bookscript. The script that became the printers' Roman type font of today, the minuscule, was the humanistic round hand that had been revived at the beginning of the 15th century by the humanists of Florence from the Caroline minuscule of the Carolingian renaissance. To be sure, the Caroline minuscule underwent many changes after the 9th century. Toward the end of the 12th century it assumed angular forms that made the humanists disdainfully call it "Gothic," a name that it still retains but without the pejorative connotations. As writing developed, this Gothic minuscule, while continuing in a formal textual or textura mode, was also debased into various cursive forms, which during the 16th century became extremely difficult to read. These cursive hands continued to be used throughout the 17th century especially by notaries, bailiffs, and lawyers. But at Florence, in the first half of the 15th century, a humanistic cursive hand, the model for the later Italic type font, had been created, paralleling the humanistic round hand and influenced by it. The humanistic cursive had its beginning in the chanceries. Meanwhile in France the normal Gothic cursive hand, known as bastard Gothic, became the book hand, particularly for books written in the vernacular. Modern forms of handwriting were born of both the humanistic cursive and the bastard hands. Therefore, since the 14th century at the latest, all Latin forms of writing have been derived, at least in part or indirectly, from the Caroline minuscule.

Where the Caroline minuscule came from thus becomes the obvious question, to which, basically, two answers have been given. One claims that it comes ultimately out of the later Roman cursive as this was modified in Merovingian Gaul and gradually through a number of pre-Caroline stages made more simple and written more deliberately. This answer can explain all the letter forms in Caroline minuscule except its uncial a. The other answer derives it from half-uncial, which can explain all its letter forms except a, g, and n. The two answers, however, are not as incompatible as they might seem. The scribes who first produced a recognizable Caroline minuscule had undoubtedly earlier been writing a more cursive pre-Caroline minuscule and the new script retained the proportions and something of the vitality of their earlier script. At the same time the models towards which the pre-Caroline letters were moving came, except for a, g, and n, from half-uncial. But they did not become quite identical with the half-uncial formsthey were less broad and more suppleand the Caroline minuscule scribes continued to make a clear distinction between their script and half-uncial, using the latter mainly for special purposes such as prefaces or first lines of new texts.

If one wants to trace the origins of Caroline minuscule back beyond the later Roman cursive or half-uncial, there is now available, thanks to the excavations of archaeologists since the late 19th century, a considerable amount of new material to compare from the first centuries, including older or earlier Roman cursive and early half-uncial or primitive minuscule. Even the new material, however, is still too sparse, particularly from the crucial second and third centuries, to bring about a unanimous answer. Those who see Caroline minuscule deriving from further developments in the later Roman cursive tend to find the origin of this cursive in the earlier Roman cursive, thanks to changes in the direction of the strokes and to writing dynamics (cf. Bischoff 1990, 65). The earlier Roman cursive would derive from capital script. The later Roman cursive would also be the source of both primitive minuscule and half-uncial. Those who see Caroline minuscule deriving directly from half-uncial tend to find the origin of half-uncial in early half-uncial or primitive minuscule. This latter script would derive in turn from the capital script under the influence of a changed angle of the writing material with respect to the scribe, the result of the change from the papyrus roll to the codex form of the book and possibly also of a different manner of holding the pen. The later Roman cursive would derive from the primitive minuscule (cf. Marichal).

To the paleographer the broad lines in the development of Latin writing appear to have been surely drawn: they follow closely the outline of the intellectual evolution of Western civilization. Yet one very challenging task remains: to determinewith greater or lesser certainty, depending on the degree to which the various types of Gothic and humanistic scripts have been "canonized"the geographical and chronological characteristics of the last three centuries of the Middle Ages, thereby permitting the localizing and dating of all the documents of that period. With this achievement, rendered immensely more feasible by the many series of Manuscrits Datés now available, paleography will have made a valuable contribution to the history of culture and to the history of the diffusion of ideas, a contribution which it alone can supply.

Bibliography: g. battelli, Lezioni di paleografia latina (4th ed. Vatican City 1999). b. bischoff, Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and the Middle Ages, trans. by d. Ó crÓinÍn and d. ganz (Cambridge-New York 1990) from Paläographie des romischen Altertums und des abendländischen Mittelalters (2nd ed. Berlin 1986). b. bischoff et al., Nomenclature des écritures livresques du IXe au XVIe siécle (Paris 1954). g. cencetti, Lineamenti di storia della scrittura latina (Bologna 1954; reprinted with bibliographical update 1997). j. j. john, "Latin Paleography" in Medieval Studies: An Introduction, ed. by j. m. powell (2nd ed. Syracuse 1992) 381. j. mallon, Paléographie romaine (Madrid 1952). r. marichal, "L'Écriture latine et la civilisation occidentale du Ier au XVIe siécle," in L'Écriture et la psychologie des peuples (Paris 1963) 199247. m. b. parkes, English Cursive Book Hands 12501500 (Oxford 1969). a. m. piazzoni, "Vers une paléographie électronique?" in Gazette du livre médiéval 33 (1998) 1119. f. steffens, Lateinische Paläographie (2nd ed. Trier 1909, and 3rd unaltered ed. Berlin 1929, reprinted 1964), still the best general collection of facsimiles. b. l. ullman, The Origin and Development of Humanistic Script (Rome 1960). c. e. wright, English Vernacular Hands (Oxford 1960). Current bibliography in Gazette du livre médiéval (Paris 1982) and the "Bulletin codicologique," in Scriptorium (Brussels 1959).

[r. marichal/

j. j. john]

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