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


The bookhands that have been described thus far (Capital, New Cursive, Uncial, semi-Uncial) have in common the fact that they were being used throughout the area of the Latin culture of the Roman Empire. For at least a dozen centuries, the graphic tradition of the Roman world was essentially unitary. Even while scripts were diversified, they were understood, written and read in all the regions of the Empire, from the Iberian peninsula to Mesopotamia, from Britain to Africa.

Between the 5 and the 6th centuries, various cultural and political factors began to fracture, and between the 6th and 7th, the unity of the graphic picture began to disintegrate. There were several factors: first of all, the deterioration of the teaching system (both lower and higher); second, the radical change in the system of book production with the disappearance of the secular workshops that produced the books, and finally the rise of the Roman Germanic kingdoms with their own cultural traditions which gradually replaced the unitary structure of the Empire. In addition to these three factors, there was also the tendency to separate the different manifestations of the only cultural civilization rigidly and therefore the documentary and the literary components remained ever more isolated from each other: in the early Middle Ages, those who read and wrote documents often could not read and write books.

Sacramentarium Gallicanum. Missale Gothicum

The result of this process of fracture and diversification of a unitary graphic and cultural tradition was graphic differentiation (the expression comes from Giorgio Cencetti), which should be understood not only in a geographical sense (different writings for different regions) but also in a social one (different scripts for different categories or classes of the world of the literate, albeit limited).

One can exemplify this graphic differentiation by observing the writings that developed in the British Isles, in the Frankish world, in the Hispanic area and in the Italic one.