Medieval Writing
Merovingian Chancery Script

Script Type : minuscule cursive

Date : 7th to 10th centuries

Location : Merovingian France and Carolingian France and Germany

Function : Document hand or charter hand or diploma hand

The first three lines of a diploma of Charlemagne, of 781, granting land to the monastery of Fulda (Marburg, K. Preussisches Staatsarchiv). (From Steffens 1929)  
Pass cursor over letters to see enlarged examples taken from the page illustrated above.  

Distinctive letters : While there are some strange letter forms here, the thing that makes this script very difficult to read is the way in which the letters are elongated and compressed. The examples in the alphabet above have been mainly taken from the enlarged top line, where the letter forms are essentially similar to the rest, but not quite so exaggerated and a little easier to make out. Add to this the fact that the script is cursive as well as squashed, the letter forms are a bit variable and there are ligatures, and you have something which is truly horrendous to read. I must confess I really cannot read a lot of it and am relying on the transcript provided by Dr Steffens.

Getting down to details, a is open at the top; b has a funny little horizontal extension; c has an extraneous squiggle on the top in the heading, but this disappears sometimes in the smaller text below; d is extended below the line as well as above. Well, there is something a little peculiar about all of them. The ascenders of letters like b, d, h and l are very tall and curved, although the descenders of p and q are short and g is short and curly. The majuscule form of n appears occasionally, usually but not always at the beginning of words. The letters i and j are not differentiated, and neither are u and v.

There are no examples of k, w, y or z in the example.

There are a few abbreviations in the text, but they are not numerous.

The one consoling thought is that surely all known Carolingian diplomas have been transcribed and published already somewhere, by somebody (I think).

If you feel like a bit of a challenge, try the paleography exercises for this script. Otherwise, just run the cursor slowly over the first couple of lines and be amazed.

Script Index  

Paleography exercises using Flash

Requires at least the Flash 5 plugin


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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 3/10/2011.