Medieval Writing and Scripts

The art of writing is one of the most important developments in human history and the Middle Ages were a period of slow but dramatic changes when it comes to this art and pursuit. In this article I will show you some of the types of writing of the Middle Ages and explain to you some of the changes that took place.

While other developments through the middle ages such as art, painting, sculpture and music changed dramatically and rather quickly over the decades and centuries the art of writing did not! It changed very slowly over the course of centuries. Part of this is due to the fact that it in itself is a skill of conservation. Once a writing style or script had become popular it could become firmly entrenched and remain unchanged for centuries.

A scribe in his scriptorium


A little bit about the Latin Alphabet

With the exception of Greece, Armenia and Orthodox Slavs the latin alphabet (also called the roman alphabet) is ubiquitous in western civilization. And it came in roughly two different types: The Round or Roman and the Gothic (also called black letter type. So this article takes a look medieval writing in the latin alphabet. The Occupation and presence of Roman rule in the early centuries of the medieval period had an effect, of course, on the writing style and script throughout all of Europe.


Very Early Writing and Script

Uncial ScriptUncial and Half Uncial are good examples of early scripts that lasted for five centuries (4th -9th)and were an early script that was used for the first translations of the bible. This translation was done by St. Jerome for Pope Damasus. it was used to record information for long periods of time. But it did change and there were factors for this that included war and the economics of the times. The first script shown at half uncialthe right is Uncial and the second script is half uncial.




Another very old script that owes much to the roman empire is Capitalis Rustica.

Capitals Rustica


The end of the old ancient majuscule scripts

Up until around the eighth century the old majuscule scripts were still being used but because of a variety of reasons they slowly began to be replaced. These reasons were plentiful and they included the weakening and downfall of the Roman empire and the insulation of various countries Irish Magiscule scriptand cultures because of war. The precession of generatons was a factor too. Scribes who were facile at writing in the old uncial scripts were dying off without training successors. Meanwhile the newer, easier and more economical scripts were being used and taught.

But one of the most important reasons was money! The old scripts took up a lot of space and this meant lots of money spent on papyrus, animal skins, vellum and parchment. So scripts changed to be more economical. It was a necessity to get more and more onto a page or into a book.

There were different scripts that were used in the later centuries of the early medieval period and these scripts were localized to certain countries but did spread because of war or economic changes. A good example of this is the Visigothic Script which was used in the Iberian Peninsual (Spain and Portugal) during the 7th through 13th centuries. Visigothic was derived from Uncial and it shares many of the traits of Uncial.

Visigothic script



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