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

15.2 Caroline in time and in space; its circulation and types

Caroline spread rapidly, between the end of the 8th century and the first decades of the 9th, in the Frankish territories between the Rhine and the Loire, by means of the writing centers of Aachen, Tours, Corbie, Fleury, Laon, Cluny. Before the end of the century, it had replaced the previous early medieval writings in practically all the territories of the Carolingian empire, and had spread to Burgundy, Aquitaine and at least in part, even further south, in the Spanish Pyrenees, in Rhineland Germany and in Bavaria, in the region of ​​Lake of Constance, and in northern Italy. It entered only later the territories outside the empire. It arrived to Britain together with the conquest of the Normans in the second half of the 11th century, and replaced Insular script, which also happened during the 12th century in Ireland. Caroline began to spread to the Iberian peninsula along with the ecclesiastical reform in the 11th century, starting from the Pyrenean area. This was helped by the strong influence of the Cluny monasteries that were gradually founded in the Christian kingdoms formed in the north of the Iberian peninsula, and here Caroline definitively supplanted the Visigothic script in the 12th century. In southern Italy the penetration of Caroline was less strong, since for a long time Beneventan continued to be used, and when the latter concluded its cycle at the end of the twelfth century, it was then replaced by the Gothic script, which meanwhile was to a certain extent replacing Caroline everywhere.

In addition to those already mentioned for its origins, the reasons for the success of this writing include: the large number of well-organized scriptoria present in the abbeys, which were capable of producing books not only for their own internal use but also in order to be exported to other study centers; the circulation of books that were lent to be copied, an economic improvement that allowed their production (books were always an expensive purchase) and also the type of texts that were copied. An extensive work of transcription of the Latin Classics and of the Church Fathers of the preceding centuries was carried out in Caroline minuscule, especially by monks. This work added to the production of contemporary texts and biblical and liturgical texts as well. The uniformity of a common script, one that was moreover easily legible and orthographically correct, allowed for the use of books produced even in places other than those in which one had learned to read; the use of the script in this way thus opened wide horizons of study and research to the ever increasing number of readers who moved from one monastery to another, from one school to another.

15.2.1 Local types

In the different centers of book production, however, the script underwent some slight stylistic developments, although substantially its morphology remained unchanged. These slight modifications were often linked to the graphic tradition of the place and cannot be configured as real types. However, two interesting cases can be taken into account.

The first refers to the use of Caroline in Rome and in Lazio, where the script appears in the last quarter of the 9th century, and is influenced by the use of Uncial, which was produced in Rome in previous centuries. An example is Vat. lat. 4965, which contains texts by Anastasius the Librarian, produced in Rome in 870-871. During the 9th century a type was defined that is usually defined as roman minuscule, characterized by a slant to the right, its relatively large letter size, the rather irregular arrangement of the letters, which adopt a more square design, from the presence of high ligatures above the top line, and sometimes the wavy shape of the shafts.

The second case refers to the use of Caroline not in a book but in a documentary context. By the 9th century it had been used with some special modifications in the imperial Carolingian chancery, to replace the Merovingian; in later centuries it grew to be widespread in Europe, and again served for documentary purposes (public but also private), taking on a typology called DIPLOMATIC MINUSCULE, characterized by the considerable lengthening of the shafts, which at the top turn into bows or other flourishes; the absence of ligaments; the presence of the crested c; the g with the lower extended stroke sometimes intertwined; the first line of the document usually presents a series of narrow, tall, interconnected capitals. This non-librarian writing is mentioned here because later, from the 13th century, it will lay the foundations for another particular book script (which will be called “CANCELLERESCA” MINUSCULE).

15.2.2 Criteria for dating

The script was also subject to modifications over the course of time; some of these serve for a correct dating of the manuscripts in Caroline. One of the criteria most often used to date Caroline minuscule is related to the presence of ligatures, the number of which progressively increases with the passage of time. Other practical criteria have been suggested in various ways, such as the continuation of some Italic elements in the 9th century (such as the open a) and of thickened shafts, elements which gradually disappeared in the following century; it is also observed. From the 11th century, there was also a straightening and an enlargement of the letters; and finally, in the 12th century, when the Gothic script was already spreading, an accentuation of the contrast between thin and thick strokes, the use of the capital form of s (instead of the long-s) at the end of the word, and the presence of diacritical marks on the double i or when the i is followed by a u, as well as the use of a small oblique stroke at the end of the line when a word continues in the following line. This type of writing, which charts the transition from Caroline to Gothic, is also referred to as TRANSITION MINUSCULE and differs according to region. An example of a Norman transition Minuscule (characterized by the a with the back slightly tilted to the left, the x with the lower left stroke stretching back to the previous letter, the g shaped like an 8 and the t with a lower, curved element) may be found in Vat. lat. 42, (Gospels, late 12th century, produced in Monreale). It must however be kept in mind that these criteria are always non-univocal, and that often a diversity of writing depends not on a distance of time but on a distance of place, and sometimes simply on the variation of person in charge of a scriptorium.

15.2.3 Caroline in our day

In the 12th century Caroline completed its course and was replaced by Gothic, which represented an advancement but which nevertheless resulted in the loss of the characteristics of easy legibility that had characterized Caroline. It was rediscovered in its forms of clear reading by the Italian humanists who imitated it and in the 15th century they spread it as Humanistic Minuscule. From here it passed into printing with Movable type, crystallized in the forms of round typefaces called Roman and still today its forms are the ones normally used in printing and electronic scripts (for example in the fonts, Times New Roman, Palatino Linotype, Courier, Cambria, Garamond, Arial and many others).