3. OLD ROUND MINUSCULE
The oldest dated manuscript in Greek minuscule, by a significant margin, is the Uspensky Gospels (St. Petersburg, Russian National Library, gr. 219), from which you see the beginning of the Gospel of Mark here on the right. The scribe, an otherwise unknown monk named Nikolaos, subscribed and dated it in the year of the world 6343, i.e. 835 CE. It was acquired from the Mar Saba monastery near Jerusalem by the Russian archbishop Porfiry Uspensky, who bequeathed it to the Russian Imperial Library upon his death in 1855. Because of its proximate provenance from Palestine, and because it antedates other dated minuscule manuscripts by several decades, it was once thought to show that the origins of Greek minuscule script were to be sought in the Eastern part of the Byzantine world. It may in fact be that it was written in Palestine, though it is obviously equally possible that it was brought there from somewhere else during the thousand years which passed between its production and its discovery by Uspensky. More important than its immediate provenance is the connection to certain monastic communities which is indicated by an obituary notice which was added on f. 344v of the manuscript by the scribe Nikolaos himself. This notice records the deaths of three men, named Plato, Theodore and Joseph; as G. Cereteli showed in an article published over a century ago, these must surely be none other than St. Theodore the Studite (d. 826), his brother Joseph (d. 832) and his uncle Plato (d. 813?). Plato had founded the Sakkoudion monastery in Bithynia in 781 (this monastery has since disappeared and its exact location is unknown, but Bithynia is the north-western part of Asia Minor, along the Black Sea coast), of which his nephew Theodore had been abbot before being appointed abbot of the famous Studite monastery of St. John the Baptist in Constantinople in 799, where his reforms included the establishment of a considerable library and of a scriptorium (as detailed in the rules which are attributed to him) — features which appear to have been exceptional for a Byzantine monastery of that time.
Theodore's brother Joseph the Confessor, who had been Archbishop of Thessalonica, also retired to the Studite monastery at the end of his life. What this manuscript teaches us, therefore, is not so much that Greek minuscule originated in Palestine, but rather that the Studite monastery and the institutions connected to it (including the Sakkoudion monastery and perhaps others in Bythinia) likely played an important role in its early development and diffusion. It seems likely, at any rate that the scribe Nicholas was himself a Studite monk, who in 835, under the iconoclast emperor Theophilos, was probably in exile from Constantinople (perhaps in Bithynia or even in Palestine) due to the iconophile stance of the his monastery.
The hand of this same monk Nikolaos has been identified by paleographers in a number of other manuscripts, but the current consensus is that none of these identifications are correct. This is disappointing, at least to the scholars who proposed the identifications; but it also shows that the script we find in the Uspensky Gospels was not merely the style of an individual scribe, but rather one which enjoyed a certain currency in the early ninth century. One of the manuscripts which has in the past been attributed to Nikolaos is the homilary Vat. gr. 2079, which you see below.
Vat. gr. 2079, early ninth century (initial view: f. 69v).
The script we see here, which E. Follieri proposed to call minuscola antica rotonda (or "tipo Nicola", in honour of the scribe Nikolaos; see her article "La minuscola libraria dei secoli IX e X" in ead., Byzantina et italograeca, pp. 205-224:211, which is an expanded version of her contribution to the 1974 Paris conference), is a pure minuscule with upright axis, small module, relatively short ascenders and descenders; rounded letter-shapes, with slight squaring of the curve of U-shaped elements along the baseline (note, for example, how, in the words βίου τούτου, in f. 68r l. 9 of the minuscule script, the lower curves of beta and upsilon are shaped differently from the bottom half of omikron); and frequent hooks on protruding strokes, particularly on descenders but also occasionally on the ascender of epsilon, etc.). Note how the zeta and xi of Vat. gr. 2079 are rounded, while those in the Uspensky Gospels have a zig-zag shape — this is one of the criteria which allowed B. Fonkič (in Thesaurismata 16 , pp. 153-169) to establish that the two manuscripts were not in fact written by the same scribe. You may like to look for other clues.
As we shall see on the next page, this style of script is only one of a number of styles which flourished in the early decades of the development of minuscule. It recommends itself as a starting point for learning to read and transcribe Greek minuscule because it is clearly identified as an early script by the dated Uspensky Gospels, because of its connection to the Studite monastery and the origins of minuscule, because it is very legible and because it departs relatively little from the basic letter-shapes which we saw in the previous page.
A later variant of this same style of script may be found in the manuscript of Plato which is dated to the late ninth or early tenth century and which now bears the shelfmark Vat.gr.1 (shown below). While the style is visibly the same as that of the Vat.gr.2079, it is immediately obvious that it is not written by the same scribe (in fact, it is probably nearly a century later). In particular, you will notice that the script is visibly more cursive: see for example the first nu in νομοθετεῖν in l. 2, where it looks very much as if the scribe had written the entire letter in a single stroke, prefiguring our "modern", V-shaped nu. More importantly, a number of majuscule letters have crept into the repertoire, starting with a lambda in ὀφλόντων (line 1); see also e.g. the pi in παραδείγματα (l. 11), the kappa in ἐπάναγκες near the middle of the last line, and the frequent occurrence of majuscule nu at line-end.
Vat. gr. 1, late ninth or early tenth century (initial view: f. 101r).
For further practice reading and transcribing this script, please see Vat. gr. 2079 and Vat. gr. 1.
In her fundamental article, referenced above, which attempted to classify Greek minuscules of the ninth and tenth centuries, Enrica Follieri identified a number of other manuscripts which she considered to be examples of Old Rounded Minuscule (or "Minuscola Tipo Nicola"). A list of them is given below. Where digitized images are available from the relevant libraries, a link has been added.
In addition, for those manuscripts which are dated, two very valuable resources are the volumes of plates published in the early twentieth century by K. & S. Lake (Dated Greek Minuscule Manuscripts to the Year 1200, in 10 vols.) and by L. Th. Lefort & J. Cochez (Album palaeographicum codicum Graecorum minusculis litteris saec. IX et X certo tempore scriptorum...); both have now been conveniently digitized on the Pyle website. Where "Lake numbers" or "Lefort-Cochez numbers" (the former referring to volume and number) are indicated below or in subsequent pages, you may enter these numbers into the relevant fields in Pyle's "Lake online" or "Lefort-Cochez online" resources, which will offer you links to the relevant images. These resources also allow you to search in Lake or in Lefort-Cochez by date, by library, etc. You will also find (below and in subsequent pages) references to another extremely useful bibliographical tool (which unfortunately is available only in paper form), namely the Repertorium der griechischen Kopisten or RGK, which is an ongoing project to list all the known scribes of Byzantine minuscule, with the manuscripts which can be attributed to them and (at least) one plate giving a sample of each scribe's script. For practical reasons, the work is organized geographically, with volume 1 containing scribes represented in manuscripts now kept in Great Britain, volume 2 containing scribes represented in manuscripts now kept in France, and volume 3 (the last one to have appeared so far) containing scribes represented in manuscripts now kept in Rome (including the Vatican). This work is intended to replace the older work by M. Vogel and V. Gardthausen, which however remains useful because it includes the areas not yet covered by the RGK.
- Ott. gr. 86 (Cyril of Jerusalem)
- Oxon. Barocc. 26 (Nomocanon, i.e. a collection of ecclesiastical law)
- Oxon. Corp. Chr. 108 (Aristotle)
- Oxon. D'Orville 301 (Euclid, written by one Stephanos (RGK 1,365) for Arethas, the famous Archbishop of Caesarea [ca. 860-ca. 932]) (888 CE; Lake 2,51; Lefort-Cochez 6)
- Pal. gr. 14 (Josephus)
- Pal. gr. 44 (Psalms in minuscule with commentary in majuscule, written by the scribe Leo [RGK 3,384]) (898 CE)
- Pal. gr. 123 (Dionysius the Areopagite)
- Vat. gr. 90 (Lucian)
- Vat. gr. 190 (Euclid)
- Vat. gr. 204 (various geometricians)
- Vat. gr. 836, ff. 136-138 (patristic fragment)
- Vat. gr. 1039, the flyleaves taken from an older manuscript (patristic fragment)