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

12.1. Use and characteristics of visigothic

Visigothic bookhand is characterized by a certain regularity and heavy tracing, without a large contrast between thin lines and thick strokes. It also features a particular morphology for some letters.

Alfabeto visigotica2.jpg
Alphabet of Visigothic (Reg. lat. 708)

The most characteristic letters are:

  • a: open, composed of two curved arches at the bottom; in some ligatures (with c, n and s) the first arch is raised and the second remains resting on the staff, resulting in a sign that looks like an inverted 3;
  • e: normally high and open, sometimes with a closed loop;
  • g: Uncial, but with an extension of the lower stroke;
  • t: with a practically closed loop, resulting from the cross-stroke bending backward to the left until it touches the shaft at the bottom; in some ligatures (those with e, i, r and s) the left cross-stroke is bent downward toward the right, obtaining, also in this case, a shape similar to an inverted 3.

Other noteworthy features include:

  • “clubbing” of the shafts (that is, a club-shaped widening of the shaft at the top) and a rigidly vertical tracing of strokes;
  • a capital alphabet richly endowed with ornamental elements, influenced by Arabic writing;
  • beginning from the 10th century, the difference of the ligature ti with a short i to express the phonetically hard sound (as in the word statim) and the long i, lengthened below the staff to express the soft or aspirated sound (like in etiam);
  • the use of abbreviations that favor consonants, probably due to the influence of Arabic writing;
  • the use of some peculiarities that reveal Spanish pronunciation (devent for debent, aliut for aliud, etc.).

Important examples include: Reg. lat. 708 (Isidore of Seville) from the 10th/11th century, and Ott. lat. 1210 (Lucan) of the 11th/12th century.

Four different schools or settings for the execution of Visigothic can be distinguished: three in Mozarabic territory, that is the land occupied by the Arabs, but inhabited by Christians (Andalusian, Toletan, Leonese) and one in Castilian territory, with thinner and more threadlike letters. The oldest witness is an Orationale (made in Tarragona sometime before 732, currently in Verona, Biblioteca Capitolare LXXXIX [84]) and perhaps even a more ancient witness, a manuscript now found in Autun, Bibliothèque Municipale, 27, ff. 63-76.

Particularly in the monasteries of the kingdom of Leon, beginning from the 10th century, there are certain manuscripts that indicate place, date, copyist, patron, and dating according to the aera Hispanica, a dating system which precedes the Christian one by 38 years. Bilingual (Arabic and Latin) codices may also be found in the southern regions.

Visigothic began its decline in the 12th century, together with the introduction of the Roman liturgy (by incentive of Pope Gregory VII) which gradually replaced the Mozarabic liturgy. The manuscripts written in Caroline brought by the monks of Cluny were instrumental to the liturgical reform. The monks (with their codices) gradually settled into the region, moving in from the Pyrenees (even if the previous influences of Caroline date back to the 9th century, tracing to Ripoll). In the 13th century Visigothic was completely replaced by the Gothic, save some exceptions.