The Info List - Carolingian Minuscule

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CAROLINGIAN or CAROLINE MINUSCULE is a script which developed as a calligraphic standard in Europe
so that the Latin alphabet could be easily recognized by the literate class from one region to another. It was developed for the first time, in about 780, by the Benedictine monks of Corbie Abbey
Corbie Abbey
(about 150 km north of Paris). It was used in the Holy Roman Empire
Holy Roman Empire
between approximately 800 and 1200. Codices , pagan and Christian
texts, and educational material were written in Carolingian minuscule
Carolingian minuscule
throughout the Carolingian Renaissance
Carolingian Renaissance
. The script developed into blackletter and became obsolete, though its revival in the Italian Renaissance
Italian Renaissance
forms the basis of more recent scripts.


* 1 Creation * 2 Characteristics * 3 Spread * 4 Role in cultural transmission * 5 See also * 6 References * 7 External links


Page of text (folio 160v) from a Carolingian Gospel Book (British Library, MS Add. 11848), written in Carolingian minuscule. Text is Vulgate
Luke 23:15-26.

The script is derived from Roman half uncial and the insular scripts that were being used in Irish and English monasteries. The strong influence of Irish literati on the script can be seen in the distinctively cló-Gaelach (Irish style) forms of the letters, especially a, e, d, g, s and t.

Carolingian minuscule
Carolingian minuscule
was created partly under the patronage of the Emperor Charlemagne
(hence Carolingian). Charlemagne
had a keen interest in learning, according to his biographer Einhard

Temptabat et scribere tabulasque et codicellos ad hoc in lecto sub cervicalibus circumferre solebat, ut, cum vacuum tempus esset, manum litteris effigiendis adsuesceret, sed parum successit labor praeposterus ac sero inchoatus.

He also tried to write, and used to keep tablets and blanks in bed under his pillow, that at leisure hours he might accustom his hand to form the letters; however, as he did not begin his efforts in due season, but late in life, they met with ill success.

Although Charlemagne
was never fully literate, he understood the value of literacy and a uniform script in running his empire. Charlemagne
sent for the English scholar Alcuin of York to run his palace school and scriptorium at his capital, Aachen
. Efforts to supplant Merovingian and Germanic scripts had been under way before Alcuin arrived at Aachen, where he was master from 782 to 796, with a two-year break. The new minuscule was disseminated first from Aachen, of which the Ada Gospels provide classic models, and later from the influential scriptorium at Marmoutier Abbey (Tours)
Marmoutier Abbey (Tours)
, where Alcuin withdrew from court service as an abbot in 796 and restructured the scriptorium.


Carolingian minuscule
Carolingian minuscule
was uniform, with rounded shapes in clearly distinguishable glyphs , disciplined and above all, legible. Clear capital letters and spaces between words became standard in Carolingian minuscule, which was one result of a campaign to achieve a culturally unifying standardization across the Carolingian Empire
Carolingian Empire

Traditional charters, however, continued to be written in a Merovingian "chancery hand" long after manuscripts of Scripture and classical literature were being produced in the minuscule hand. Documents written in a local language, like Gothic or Anglo-Saxon rather than Latin, tended to be expressed in traditional local script.

Carolingian script generally has fewer ligatures than other contemporary scripts , although the et ( at the same time, the modern dotted i appeared. A page of the Freising manuscripts
Freising manuscripts
, 10th century Slovene text written in Carolingian minuscules


The new script spread through Western Europe
most widely where Carolingian influence was strongest. In luxuriously produced lectionaries that now began to be produced for princely patronage of abbots and bishops, legibility was essential. It reached far afield: the 10th century Freising manuscripts
Freising manuscripts
, which contain the oldest Slovene language
Slovene language
, the first Roman-script record of any Slavic language , are written in Carolingian minuscule. In Switzerland
, Carolingian was used in the Rhaetian and Alemannic minuscule types. Manuscripts written in RHAETIAN MINUSCULE tend to have slender letters, resembling Insular script, with the letters ⟨a⟩ and ⟨t⟩, and ligatures such as ⟨ri⟩, showing similar to Visigothic and Beneventan. ALEMANNIC MINUSCULE, used for a short time in the early 9th century, is usually larger and broader, very vertical compared to the slanting Rhaetian type. In Austria
, Salzburg
was the major centre of Carolingian script, while Fulda
, Mainz
, and Würzburg
were the major centres in Germany. German minuscule tends to be oval-shaped, very slender, and slants to the right. It has uncial features as well, such as the ascender of the letter ⟨d⟩ slanting to the left, and vertical initial strokes of ⟨m⟩ and ⟨n⟩.

In northern Italy, the monastery at Bobbio
used Carolingian minuscule beginning in the 9th century. Outside the sphere of influence of Charlemagne
and his successors, however, the new legible hand was resisted by the Roman Curia
Roman Curia
; nevertheless the Romanesca type was developed in Rome
after the 10th century. The script was not taken up in England and Ireland until ecclesiastic reforms in the middle of the 10th century; in Spain a traditionalist Visigothic hand survived; and in southern Italy a 'Beneventan minuscule ' survived in the lands of the Lombard duchy of Benevento through the 13th century, although Romanesca eventually also appeared in southern Italy.


Scholars during the Carolingian Renaissance
Carolingian Renaissance
sought out and copied in the new legible standardized hand many Roman texts that had been wholly forgotten. Most of our knowledge of classical literature now derives from copies made in the scriptoria of Charlemagne
. Over 7000 manuscripts written in Carolingian script survive from the 8th and 9th centuries alone.

Though the Carolingian minuscule
Carolingian minuscule
was superseded by Gothic blackletter hands, it later seemed so thoroughly 'classic' to the humanists of the early Renaissance
that they took these old Carolingian manuscripts to be ancient Roman originals and modelled their Renaissance
hand on the Carolingian one. From there the script passed to the 15th- and 16th-century printers of books, such as Aldus Manutius
Aldus Manutius
of Venice. In this way it forms the basis of our modern lowercase typefaces. Indeed, 'Carolingian minuscule' is a style of typeface , which approximates this historical hand, eliminating the nuances of size of capitals, long descenders, etc.


* Ada Gospels * Blackletter
* Latin alphabet


* ^ The production of the scriptorium at Tours was reconstructed by E.K. Rand, A Survey of the Manuscripts of Tours (Harvard University Press), 1929. * ^ Berthold Louis Ullman, The Origin and Development of Humanistic Script. (Rome), 1960, p. 12.