Medieval Writing
Early Curialis

Script Type : minuscule

Alternative name : littera Romana

Date : up until around the 11th century

Location : the papal curia in Rome

Function : document hand or diploma hand, specifically for use in papal bulls

This very small segment comes from a fragment of a bull or privilege of Pope John VIII, of 876 (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Ms lat 8840). (From Steffens 1929)
It is written on a sheet of papyrus which has been cut into several pieces, but which was originally 3.2 m long and 0.55m wide. The writing must therefore be very large. It represents a grant to the monastery of Sts Maria and Filiberti in Tournus. The script is the ancient form of curialis.
Pass cursor over letters to see examples taken from the page illustrated above.

Distinctive letters : There are many unusual letter forms in this script and many letters that resemble each other. Ascenders and descenders are very tall compared to the general letter sizes, which also makes it tricky.

The letter a looks rather like a w, while e is a simple loop that could be mistaken for an o. The letter f has a strange broken backed appearance while g is completely open in a zigzag form. While i looks relatively normal, it is extended into a tall form when it occurs at the beginning of words. The letter q is very unusual, rather like the numeral 2. The letters r and s are practically identical. The letter t is highly variable, but is short and sometimes has a loop at the bottom.

The letter K only appears as a capital in the proper name Karoli, and there are no examples visible of j, w, y or z.

Add to this a number of ligatures which change the appearance of letters and a cramped word spacing, and you have something which is very difficult to read. However, there are no abbreviations.

As this script was used only in the papal curia and only during the early middle ages, I doubt there is a single document out there in this script that has not been transcribed and published already. However, it is another link in the chain of the history of writing. The segment shown above is a non-continuous scrap, but pass the cursor across it slowly and see if the words that appear are anything like what you expect. Needless to say, the transcription comes directly from Steffens. There is no paleography exercise for this sample until I get my strength up.

An assiduous reader has pointed out a typo that was on this page, ascribing the date of the document to 100 years too late according to the lists of medieval popes. And to think it took nearly five years for anyone to notice. It has been corrected, which is more than I could have done had this been a book.
Script Index

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This site is created and maintained by Dr Dianne Tillotson, freelance researcher and compulsive multimedia and web author. Comments are welcome. Material on this web site is copyright, but some parts more so than others. Please check here for copyright status and usage before you start making free with it. This page last modified 29/8/2011.