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


Spain, among the first Roman colonies outside the Italian peninsula, which in classical times had produced writers like Lucius Annaeus Seneca and Marcus Valerius Martialis, was almost entirely and firmly occupied by the Visigoths by the second half of the 5th century (between 466 and 484). The Visigoths were previously connected in various capacities with the Roman empire and understood the Latin language. During the domination of the Visigoths (6th-7th century) and in particular after the conversion from Arianism to Catholicism (which took place with King Reccared in 589) and before the Arab invasion from Morocco (711), there was a remarkable intellectual flourishing and a good diffusion of writing (Isidore of Seville, d. 636 may be considered as an exponent of this fruitful period).

The origins of the Visigothic script

It has long been believed that the basis of Spanish writing is New Cursive, which is also a very widespread script thanks to the provincial chanceries of the Roman Empire, which kept the script in use. From New Cursive, another cursive script would have developed in Spain (between the 7th and 8th centuries), one used both for documentary use and for book use, also affected by the influence of other traditional Latin scripts, Uncial and semi-Uncial, characterized by a pronounced inclination to the left.

Besides cursive script, there was also another kind of writing in Spain that developed which was more set and without inclination. This other minuscule script was destined for book use, but it is debatable whether there was an inherent relation of derivation between the two (and it is likewise debatable which was formed first). Today it is generally believed that both scripts, the cursive and the more set one, have a common origin. After the Arab conquest, in the territories that had been formerly occupied by the Arabs, the script was subject to various stylistic influences, for example, strokes that lean toward the left and abbreviations made without the use of vowels.

The term VISIGOTHIC is also debatable; Mabillon used the term to define this script, which may also sometimes be called Mozarabic or Toletan bookhand, because it developed in the final period of the Visigothic kingdom and continued in use for centuries after the Arab conquest. Nevertheless, the term is justified given that actually Visigothic represented the script of the Latin-Iberian culture, and it was also used in some areas to the north of the Pyrenees that remained unconquered by the Arabs but constituted part of the original Visigothic kingdom. The script was used until the beginning of the 13th century and there are even later witnesses up until the 14th century, especially in liturgical manuscripts. About 300 manuscripts have been found as examples of this script.

Ott. lat. 1210, f. 14v

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The theory that considers Visigothic as a local elaboration of minuscule that developed under the influence of Uncial and semi-Uncial has been questioned by the discovery of two liturgical manuscripts in the monastery of St. Catherine on the Sinai, which present a minuscule with very strong similarities to Visigothic. Perhaps these can be accounted for by the cosmopolitan, Christian setting of Palestine, but perhaps (as some paleographers suggest) there were traces of the Latin tradition of northern Africa before the Arabs preserved in the Sinai monastery, and in the 7th century there was a conspicuous movement toward Spain, which would have also brought with it the very minuscule from which then Visigothic developed.