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

13.2 The beneventan script

13.2.1 The beneventan script from the origins to the 10th century

From a graphic point of view, in southern Italy you find yourself facing an unbridgeable gap that continues throughout the 7th century and most of the 8th. Only at the end of this period are there some documents to be found (produced in Cava dei Tirreni and Monte Cassino), written in the New Cursive of the Roman tradition. As for the librarian manuscripts, after those produced in uncial in the sixth century in a place where the late-Latin tradition had remained (in Naples, in Capua, at the Vivarium of Cassiodorus), one must wait until the end of the 8th century to find four codices, produced in Monte Cassino, which share the common characteristics of a new script, still in its initial phase: BENEVENTAN. The script was thus defined as early as the 14th century, because it had its maximum development in the Duchy of Benevento. Mabillon instead called it “Lombard”, distinguishing it from the "Francisca", a term used to identify Caroline.

For a long time it was thought that the cradle of this typification was the Benedictine abbey of Monte Cassino, where it would have developed further in the 9th and 10th centuries, and from where, after it was definitively formed in the 11th century, it would have spread to the other Benedictine centers of the Southern Italy and the Dalmatian coast. This thesis was sustained in 1914 by E. A. Lowe, who surveyed about 600 manuscripts, of which he also published an impressive collection of facsimiles fifteen years later

In the second half of the twentieth century, two Italian scholars questioned the role played by Monte Cassino in the formation of Beneventan writing: G. Cencetti (Cencetti, Scriptoria), who noted the connections with the region occupied by the Lombards in northern Italy and in particular with the abbey of Nonantola (but which ought to be reconsidered today), and G. Cavallo (Cavallo, Struttura), who observed that the Beneventan script had already been formed in the 10th century in Benevento. At that time, under Archbishop Landulf I, Monte Cassino, which had been destroyed eighty years before by the Saracens, was just beginning to be rebuilt and reorganized under the guidance of Abbot Aligernus. At this time, Benevento thus became the capital of the reunified region of southern Langobardia under Pandulf Ironhead and the region was a powerful and expanding principality, in which writing developed and from there spread to other parts of southern Italy.

From the 10th century onward, Beneventan can be associated with some definitive characteristics, such as a fluid ductus, the shapes of roundish letters, the close juxtaposition of letters, the strict use of some mandatory ligatures and numerous other types of ligatures.

Alfabeto beneventana2.jpg
Alphabet of Beneventan of the 10th/11th century (Vat. lat. 3317)

The characteristic letters are:

  • a: in the form o + c;
  • e: with bow and with high, separate horizontal cross-stroke;
  • r: high and falls below the line;
  • t: with bow.

Also noteworthy:

  • c: often it is high and crested;
  • i: long when it functions as the initial of a word or when it has a semi-vocalic function (eius);
  • ti: different ligatures for unassimilated ti (statim) and assimilated ti (etiam) (similar to what happens in the Visigothic script).

Some significant examples are:

  • Vat. lat. 3313 (Prisciano, early 9th century. In Benevento, or perhaps late 8th century at Monte Cassino) ;
  • Reg. lat. 1823 (Isidore of Seville et al., 9th century in Benevento);
  • Vat. lat. 3317 (Servius, 10th / 11th century in Monte Cassino or Naples);
  • Pal. lat. 909 (Landolfo Sagace, 10th / 11th century in Naples?).

13.2.2 The beneventan writing in the 11th century: the Bari type and the writing of Monte Cassino

In the 11th century, the panorama of the Beneventan script diversified according to geographical areas, which correspond to two different evolutions, recognized today as the typologies of the Bari type and the Monte Cassino type.

At the beginning of the century, a Beneventan in Bari was formed, called the Bari type, which presents a very large-sized writing, the rounding of the shapes of the letters, the reduction of the shafts, a thin and uniform tracing of the letters and the frequent use of the Tironian sign for the word est, a line surmounted by a dot. A possible influence of the Greek Minuscule has also been supposed to have taken place, effecting rounded and flattened letters, since this script was in circulation at the time due to the Byzantine presence reestablished in Puglia from the end of the 9th century onward. But the Bari type of Beneventan is actually the result of the normal development of writing that had already been defined in the previous century. An example of this type is a Gospel book of the 9th century (Ott. lat. 296). This Bari type of Beneventan also spread to Dalmatia, where it was used until the 13th century.

At Monte Cassino, again in the first half of the 11th century, under the direction of abbots Theobald and Richerus, there was a vigorous revival of the production of manuscripts, which continued in the second half of the century with Desiderius, who was abbot for almost thirty years and then became Pope Victor III, and his successor Oderisius. During the course of the century a typification was established, precisely called the writing of Monte Cassino, characterized by a very strong contrast, due to the use of a pen with the soft tip cut to the left, which produced horizontal, vertical and oblique strokes towards the left that were very thick, and oblique sections towards the right that were very thin. Moreover, the horizontal strokes connecting some of the letters are perfectly aligned with each other, which produces the impression of words that were crossed by a single thick line. The short vertical shafts (for example, for m and for i) are broken and appear to consist of two small diamonds; the system of abbreviations contains a sign similar to a 3 to indicate the lack of m or n, and uses a typical abbreviation for eius. Examples include a martyrology from the 11th century (Vat. lat. 4958) and a beautiful lectionary of the 11th century for the saints Benedict and Scholastica, which is richly illustrated and called Codex Benedictus (Vat. lat. 1202). The Beneventan of Monte Cassino area spread throughout southern continental Italy, but also in the Tremiti islands and on the Dalmatian coast, often in competition or alternation with the Bari type.

13.2.3 Decline of the beneventan script

In the 12th and 13th centuries the Benevento area became smaller and was gradually replaced as a book script by late Caroline and by Gothic, scripts that gathered influence in the region after the Normans conquered southern Italy, and as the Cistercian monks gradually replaced the traditional Benedictine ones.

Beneventan still continued in use at Monte Cassino and Cava dei Tirreni, but it became almost an artificial writing. It is interesting to note that between the 12th and the 13th centuries, in all cases (except one, the famous Ritmo Cassinese, today Montecassino, Biblioteca, ms. 552) alongside Latin and vulgar texts, the Latin texts are written in Beneventan, and the vernacular texts in late-Caroline or in Gothic. This constitutes a sign that the Beneventan script is closely related to Latin and the new Caroline-Gothic script to the vernacular. It is a further indication of the artificiality and isolation of Beneventan, considered unsuitable for writing in the new language. The script survived until the 15th century in documents issued by the pontifical chancery.