Latin Carolingian Manuscripts: Transcription


More Abbreviations

In previous lessons, we have become familiar with the common mark of abbreviation used to indicate the omission of final -m. In this unit, we see a wider range of uses of the common mark.

  • It can be used to indicate omission of -m following a vowel in the middle or a word, not just at the end, so look out for it in the middle of words.

  • It can indicate that a very common word has been shortened by suspension (leaving off the end of a word) or contraction (leaving letters out of the middle of a word) in ways not otherwise specified. For example, in this unit's lessons, we have e with the common mark, for est; dix with the common mark, for dixit; and oma with the common mark, for omnia. The correct expansion of these forms is usually easy to deduce from context and syntax, but if in doubt, consult Adriano Cappelli, Lexicon Abbreviaturarum.


This unit also introduces the ubiquitous form of medieval abbreviation whereby very common Latin function words starting with p- and q- (prepositions, adverbs, conjunctions, and pronouns, mostly) are abbreviated by a stroke placed above or below the letter p or q. The placement and shape of the stroke tells you which p or q word you are looking at. In the lessons on Gothic scripts, we will have more practice with these signs. For the moment, you can become familiar with the most common of these, the sign for per, which is a p with a horizontal stroke through the descender. (The per abbreviation can be used for the syllable per as part of a word, not only for the preposition per as a word by itself.)


The transcription exercises in this unit will give you plenty of practice with nomina sacra. (If you need to review them, visit Christian Late Antiquity Transcription, section 3.)

Exercise 1

St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 75, p. 521.


Transcribe the first 17 lines in column 2.

This 9th-century Bible from Tours has good word separation and fairly clear letters, but it has a few early-Caroline features that may cause confusion. In particular, watch out for three forms of a:

an ordinary Caroline a with a curved sloping stroke and a small lobe on the left:

an a that looks like cc and is liable to confusion with u, as here:

= ula

= ra

an a that resembles an o plus a c, which this scribe uses in ligature following a pointy-shouldered r:

Reminder: recording scribal alterations


This exercise gives you a chance to try out the conventions we introduced in the Transcription Basics lesson for recording alterations to the original text.

This transcription passage contains one place where the scribe erased two letters because he had written them twice by mistake, and another place where he seems to have erased a letter at the beginning of a line. Put the letters that were erased, if you can make them out, inside square brackets: [ ]. If you can't make them out, leave a blank space between the brackets to indicate that something has been erased.


There is also one place where the scribe, or a corrector, inserted a letter that had been left out. You should indicate a scribal insertion above the line by putting the inserted letter between outward-leaning slash marks: \ /


Note on punctuation: This scribe uses a variety of punctuation symbols that are hard to reproduce typographically. For this exercise, just use a period each time the scribe inserts one of his punctuation marks.


Transcribe lines 1-17 from the second column.

Exercise 2

Walters Art Museum, W.4, f. 38r


Transcribe the first 13 lines (omitting the running title).

This 9th-century copy of the Gospels has less-clear word separation than some other manuscripts we have looked at and is more highly abbreviated. The story, though, is a familiar one.


There are several nomina sacra in this text but they are not set off by special letterforms and are not clearly separated from nearby words. Watch out for them!


This scribe uses a fine acute accent to mark monosyllabic words. Be careful not to confuse those marks with the common mark of abbreviation.


This scribe clearly uses majuscule letters at the start of major sense units. You may transcribe them as capitals.


As in the last exercise, you can just use a period to represent the scribe's various forms of punctuation—but note the variety of his symbols as you transcribe.