Latin Paleography From Antiquity to the Renaissance [by A. M. Piazzoni]



Late Roman Gaul was the most Romanized country in Europe: Latinization had been widespread and the region had also produced important persons of letters, such as Paolinus of Nola, Rutilius Namazianus, Sidonius Apollinaris, Gregory of Tours, Venantius Fortunatus. Between the 5th and 6th centuries, Gaul had become increasingly occupied by the Franks, who unlike other Germanic peoples who had invaded the Roman Empire, did not destroy the administrative structure of the state but took control directly by replacing the previous Gallo-Roman bureaucratic class. After the conversion of the pagan king Clovis to Christianity at the end of the 5th century, the link between the Frankish rulers and the Gallo-Roman populations was also strengthened.

The widespread presence of the new cursive script used in the provincial chanceries, especially in the administrative realm, led to the development of another kind of writing. In the new kingdom of Gaul, a writing that derived from New Cursive, but characterized with a pronounced artificiality constructed with very elongated shapes and tablets. This writing is called MEROVINGIAN because it was used in the chancery of the Merovingian kings (between the 6th and 8th centuries), and then spread (without major changes) to all the documents written in the Frankish Kingdom and in areas of Frankish influence (thus also in Burgundy, in Bavaria, in northwestern Italy). When the Merovingian dynasty was replaced by the Carolingian dynasty, this writing continued to be used by the royal chancery for a certain period. At any rate, Merovingian remains a documentary script and only occasionally a bookhand. Nevertheless, it is important because the bookhands that develop in the Frankish zone derive from it.

The main features of Merovingian are:

  • strong lateral compression;
  • letters pressed against each other and distinctly elongated;
  • a tendency to lean to the left;
  • the loops are not round but oblong;
  • the shafts are not straight but curvy;
  • the ascenders have a pronounced length, while the descenders are not;
  • the ligatures are very numerous, often irregular and the signs for abbreviations often have an ornamental quality.
alcune lettere merovingica.jpg
Characteristic letters are: A, B, E, G, O, T (Reg. lat. 317, f. 136v)