site's logo and link back to the English-speaking home page decorative picture arrow back

The Caroline Minuscule

pages decorative bandeau, reminder of the one of the main entry home page and the localized home page

The Caroline minuscule is a new standard script proper to the Carolingian era, appearing about 770-780, as it's still unclear whether it was the effort to collect the ancient works and copy them, which triggered the new script, or the opposite. It's generally Alcuin who's credited with the creation of the Caroline minuscule. This new script was more easily readable and more easy to draw than the former Merovingian script. The Caroline minuscule made the work of the copists easier as long texts could be packed in a small volume and as it became easier to uniformize the book production throughout the kingdom. The Carolingian script is at the origin of our modern way of writing. As it likely was deviced within the scriptoria in Gauls, it was then enforced to replace the national scripts in use in Frankish dominions

The Caroline minuscule swiftly spread throughout the parts of the Frankish world, as it spread too, relatively more slowly into the neighbouring countries, like in Italy, Spain, or England. It did not manage however to replace the national Irish script. The papal bulls began to use the Caroline minuscule under Pope Clement II (1046-1047), a German pope as Rome will definitely use the new script under Pope Honorius II (1124-1130). The royal Frankish chancellery, it's remarkable somehow, long remained stuck to the ancient, Merovingian script. It's under Louis the Pious only that the new script will be used, for the date only, and the whole of the charters will use it under Louis II the German (840-876) only, taking some pecular aspects which will have it named the 'diplomatic minuscule'. Private charters, as far as they are concerned, swiftly adopted the new script

The Caroline minuscule, by 800, was still adhering to some influences of the ancient Merovingian script as it eventually gained a complete independency during the 9th century. It kept evolving during the 10th century as the new script, then, suffers from the conditions of that era, becoming neglected and coarser due to ill-trained copists who, further, has a less artistic taste than their predecessors. The evolution, on the other hand, came to calligraphic schools or writing styles varying according to the regions of the Empire. The calligraphic schools were those of St Gall, the Palace School and Tours as they were too numerous German ones (Bamberg, Eichstät, Fulda, Lorsch, Ratisbonne, Reichenau, Salzburg, Wurtzburg). The older monks kept applying a style they used in their youth, as some copists were innovators! It has to be noted that no capitulary ever was edicted about the Caroline minuscule nor did any script model existed -as it seems that none came down to us. It's copists only who are responsible for the progressive formation of such a common script, with the advanced monks training the new ones. A capitulary in March 789, which is about books, mostly is about how to enhance the text in the Church books, calling the Chuch officials to have the holy books correctly copied. Alcuin neither, albeit he wrote a book about orthography, did wrote about the form of the new letters

The new script is endeavouring to keep the words better separated than before as Alcuin, on the other hand, wanted the copists to better accentuate the meaning in the texts through punctuation. Prepositions, along with other small words however long remained linked to the following word, as no unique standard was agreed upon as far as punctuation is concerned. Punctuation appeared about 900 A.D. The various punctuation marks, in any case, were used to indicate the length of the pauses between parts of a sentence. Any new sentence, on the other hand, was beginning with a capital letter as a white space was let between sentences. The hyphen was unknown at the time. Large-scaled letters, according to the Merovingian use, are used for the chapters' titles and by the sentences' beginning, with such letters either taken in an alphabet of the majuscules -or another script- or the copist just was scaling up a Caroline minuscule. Proper nouns gradually came to be capitalized too. At the time when the Vikinks settled into Normandy, the Franks came to add a new letter to the alphabet, the 'W', to render the sound "ou" as, until now, they had already turned the Latin letter 'U' into a new letter, 'V,' to render the sound 'u" due to that writing the 'U' led ink to leak on the parchment. The 'W' was a double 'V'. The western alpabet is a alphabetic one, inherited from the alphabets from the Mediterranean world. Such alphabets typically number about 25 signs, each matching a sound. Other types of alphabets worldwide are either syllabic, with about 80 signs (due to that they are comprising all the variants of a consonant as link to all the vowels of the alphabet) or glyphic, which are alphabets with thousands of signs, each glyph representing one word!

Website Manager: G. Guichard, site Learning and Knowledge In the Carolingian Times / Erudition et savoir à l'époque carolingienne, Page Editor: G. Guichard. last edited: 4/30/2015. contact us at