Carolingian minuscule

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Text example for the Carolingian minuscule
Oldest dated Carolingian minuscule, Corbie, around 765 ( Berlin State Library )

The Carolingian minuscule , also called Carolingian minuscule or Carolina , is a font that, according to the latest findings, was created in the mid-8th century as a regional font in the royal monastery of Corbie . The Carolingian minuscule is characterized by the clarity and simplicity of the typeface. From it, the lower case letters of the German scripts (block letters and scripts) developed via the Gothic minuscule and the modern lower case letters of the Latin script ( Antiqua and Latin script ) via the humanistic minuscule .

Origin and Distribution

Excerpt from the Grandval Bible in Carolingian minuscule (London, British Library )
Late form of the Carolingian minuscule from the middle of the twelfth century: Beda's commentary on the Proverbs ( Bolzano City Archives )

The Carolingian minuscule is the stylization of everyday writing . So far it has been assumed that this was created in the court school of Charlemagne . A manuscript that was created around 765 in the scriptorium of Corbie under Abbot Leutchar shows first attempts to translate the Carolingian minuscule on three pages. This is the oldest documented script in Carolingian minuscule, a result of the progressive calligraphy of the younger Roman cursive . This new script then spread from the court school of Charlemagne, for example it also reached the monastery of Saint-Martin de Tours under the abbot Alcuin of York. It replaces the previously used Latin script in capital letters ( majuscule ) and the uncial , a font that was created by rounding off the letters of the Roman capitalis and the quadrata . The use and book fonts now follow a uniform pattern: the lowercase font has ascenders and descenders, the words are clearly separated from each other, the beginnings of lines can be emphasized with decorative or capital letters, the fine-bold contrast of the lines enables good legibility.

The revitalization of the ancient school system , initiated under the reign of Charlemagne, strongly encouraged a return to spelling. After their creation in Corbie, the Carolingian minuscules spread very quickly from the writing centers of the Carolingian Empire (including Tours , Reims and Aachen ) from the 9th century . Towards the end of the 11th century in Belgium and northern France, the Carolingian minuscule developed into the early Gothic minuscule as a new font, which quickly spread throughout Europe and replaced the Carolingian minuscule. Later the Carolingian minuscule developed into the Gothic minuscule and the humanistic minuscule. The preoccupation with the authors of antiquity led the Italian humanists back to the early medieval, mostly Carolingian manuscripts, which were often the oldest attainable testimonies of these texts. The imitation of this Carolingian minuscule, which was (mis) understood as the script of the "ancients", was also used for letterpress printing ( Antiqua ) and has remained in use until today. The Carolingian minuscule thus forms the basis for today's lowercase letters in both written and printed letters.

In Carolingian manuscripts, a font hierarchy is used with which the introductory pages were designed. In addition to an initial , at the top of the hierarchy and thus at the beginning of the page are the capitalis, if there is a need for further gradation, then uncial fonts and finally semi-uncials before the “normal” text in minuscule follows. However, many inexpensive manuscripts do not go beyond a two-level hierarchy (capitalis and minuscule).

The Rhaetian script is similar to the Carolingian minuscule.

Shape development

Since the middle of the 8th century, the individual letters in the semi-italics , which are heavily interspersed with ligatures , began to develop again. The Carolingian minuscule can be found for the first time around 765 in Corbie. In the first phase, the Carolingian minuscule nevertheless still contained numerous ligatures and extreme regional forms. In a second phase that began around 820, the font design became more uniform, the letters were slimmer and almost always inclined to the right. In the late 9th century, the forms became increasingly rigid, often with marks and cuts, and the number of ligatures used is increasing again. In the 11th century, the oblique oval style, named after its shape for the "o", developed in southern Germany, which remained predominant for about 200 years.

Script example

Manuscript from the possession of King Ludwig the German , around 830 or around 870

Different types of Carolingian minuscule are shown in a manuscript from the possession of King Ludwig the German , the so-called Muspilli manuscript. The old Bavarian Muspilli poem was added around the year 870 under a Latin text from the year 830 . You can see a calligraphic Carolingian minuscule (left), a capitalis as markup for the dedication address (right) and the awkward German Carolingian minuscule as an addendum from the late ninth century at the bottom.

See also


  • Wilhelm Wattenbach : The writing system in the Middle Ages. Hirzel, Leipzig 1871.
  • Bernhard Bischoff : Palaeography of Roman antiquity and the western Middle Ages Berlin (= basics of German studies 24). Schmidt, Berlin 1979, ISBN 3-503-01282-6 .
  • Anne Schmidt: Writing reform - The Carolingian minuscule. In: Christoph Stiegemann, Matthias Wemhoff (ed.): 799 - Art and culture of the Carolingian era. Charles the Great and Pope Leo III. in Paderborn. Contribution tape. von Zabern, Mainz 1999, ISBN 3-8053-2590-8 , pp. 681-691.
  • Tino Licht: The oldest Carolingian minuscule. In: Middle Latin Yearbook. International Journal for Medieval Studies and Research on Humanism 47, Stuttgart 2012, pp. 337–346.

Web links

Commons : Carolingian minuscule  - collection of images, videos, and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Udo Kindermann : The cultural effects of the introduction of the Carolingian minuscule , in: Education and teaching methods in historical change (= series of publications on the Bavarian School Museum Ichenhausen , vol. 4), Bad Heilbrunn 1986, pp. 103-125.