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Carolingian minuscule

Carolingian minuscule is a script developed as a writing standard in Europe so that the Roman alphabet could be easily recognized by the small literate class from one region to another. It was used in Charlemagne's empire between approximately 800 and 1200. Codices, pagan and Christian texts, and educational material were written in Carolingian minuscule throughout the Carolingian Renaissance. The script was superseded by the Gothic script and became obsolete, though it forms the basis of more recent scripts.

Example from 10th century manuscript

Its characteristics: Carolingian minuscule was clear and uniform, with rounded shapes, disciplined and above all, legible. Clear capital letters and spaces between words&mdash norms we take for granted— became standard in Carolingian minuscule, which was one result of a campaign to achieve a culturally unifying standardization across the Carolingian Empire.

The value of a standardized hand is vivid to anyone who has tried to read a paragraph printed in Germanic black-letter or fraktur typeface, a fact that was not lost on the Nazi government in their attempt to create an isolated, purely 'Germanic' information zone. Legibility may appear to be of secondary value, even a drawback, in some cultural contexts. Traditional charters for example continued to be written in a Merovingian 'chancery hand'. Documents written in a local language, Visigothic or Anglo-Saxon rather than Latin, tended to be expressed in traditional local handwritings.

Its spread: The new script spread through Western Europe most widely where Carolingian influence was strongest. It reached far afield: the 10th century Freising manuscripts, the first Roman-script record of any Slavic language, which contain the oldest Slovene language are written in Carolingian minuscule. Outside the sphere of influence of Charlemagne and his successors, however, the new legible hand was resisted by the Roman Curia; it was not taken up in England and Ireland until ecclesiastic reforms in the middle of the tenth century; in Spain a traditionalist Visigothic hand survived; and in southern Italy a 'Beneventan minuscule' survived in the lands of the Lombard Duchy of Benevento through the thirteenth century.

Its creation: The script ultimately developed from Roman Half Uncial and its cursive version, which had given rise to various Continental minuscule scripts, combined with features from the "Insular" scripts that were being used in Irish and English monasteries. Carolingian minuscule was created partly under the patronage of the Emperor Charlemagne (hence Carolingian). With his interest in learning (though he himself learned to write late in life, and maintained that his fingers had been ruined for the pen by being trained to the sword), he sent for the English scholar Alcuin of York to run his palace school and scriptorium at his capital, Aachen. The revolutionary character of the Carolingian reform can be over-emphasized; efforts at taming the crabbed Merovingian and Germanic hands had been under way before Alciun arrived at Aachen, where he was master from 782 to 796, with a two-year break. The new minuscule was disseminated first from Aachen, and later from the influential scriptorium at Tours, France, where Alcuin 'retired' as abbot.

Its role in cultural tranmission: Scholars during the Carolingian renaissance sought out and copied in the new legible standardized hand many Roman texts that had been wholly forgotten. Most of our knowledge of classical literature now derives from copies made in the scriptoria of Charlemagne.

Though the Carolingian minuscule was superseded by Gothic hands, it later seemed so thoroughly 'classic' to the humanists of the early Renaissance that they took these Carolingian manuscripts to be true Roman ones and modelled their Renaissance hand on the Carolingian one, and thus it passed to the 15th century printers of books, like Aldus Manutius of Venice. In this way it is the basis of our modern typefaces. Indeed 'Carolingian minuscule' is a style of typographic font, which approximates this historical hand, eliminating the nuances of size of capitals, long descenders, etc..

See also Ada Gospels

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