Working with Gothic Script

This transcription lesson gives you three transcription exercises, for plenty of practice with the challenges of Textualis.

As you learned in the paleography lesson on Textualis, the key characteristics of the script include lateral compression and a very regular rhythm of parallel minims whose feet are all finished the same way. These are the features that can make the script tricky to transcribe.

In earlier medieval scripts, you encountered forms of individual letters that were easy to mistake for other letters — an a that looks like a u or like cc, for example, or an s that looks like an f or an r. In Textualis, the bigger problem is that the letters are so close to each other, and so many of them are made up of minims. It is often necessary to count minims to figure out how to disentangle i m n and u from one another — and as you know, those letters are used a lot, and used in combination a lot, in Latin.


The first transcription exercise in this lesson is actually one of the Protogothic manuscripts you saw in this unit's paleography lesson. It will give you a chance to practice dealing with lateral compression and minim-confusion in a script that consists mainly of familiar Caroline letterforms.


The second manuscript you'll transcribe is a very formal Textualis from the 14th century, which will give you practice with extremely regular minims with lozenge-shaped feet, as well as other Gothic features like biting, the 2-shaped r, and the 7-shaped Tironian et in its later Gothic form.


The third manuscript contains all of those forms, but in a script with a markedly less careful ductus and letters that almost all touch each other. If you've completed the first two exercises, your eye should be ready to tackle this one.

Exercise 1

Walters Art Museum, W.18, f. 11v


Transcribe the entire first column of this 12th-century manuscript.

Abbreviations in this manuscript


  • This scribe's common mark of abbreviation is a slightly curved diagonal upward stroke. The common mark is mainly used for omission of word- or syllable-final -m, or -n, but it can also be used to indicate that a word is abbreviated in some other way. For example, the passage to be transcribed has the word uram, for u(est)ram.

  • There is one nomen sacrum that uses a straight common mark and also the Greek form of the letters in Jesus's name: IHC, for iota-eta-sigma. As we discussed in the Christian Late Antiquity lesson, you should still transcribe this as the Latin name iesus.

  • This manuscript introduces another of the p abbreviations, one you haven't seen before. P with a stroke coming left off its descender and curving down around to the left stands for pro. As with the per abbreviation you saw in the last unit, the pro abbreviation can be used when pro is a syllable in a longer word, not just when it stands on its own.

  • q with a superscript i = q(u)i.



  • This scribe regularly uses larger letters to start new verses or sentences. You may transcribe those with upper case letters.

  • e with a lightning bolt-like stroke hanging off it is an e caudata, an e with a tail, in which the tail is a fossilized form of a. This is one way of representing the historical ae diphthong, which in postclassical Latin is pronounced like, and often spelled interchangeably with, the e. You should transcribe the e caudata as its own thing, distinct from the diphthong fully spelled out. You can represent it typographically using the e on your keyboard in conjunction with the cedilla.

Meine Philosophie

Ich sehe den menschlichen Körper als ein Wunder, welches niemand wirklich erklären kann. Ein Wunder, dass ein Leben lang Unglaubliches für uns leistet. Nehmen wir nur einmal das Herz als Beispiel: Vom ersten Moment an schlägt es ununterbrochen bis zu unserem letzten Atemzug. Dabei bewegt es pro Tag ca. 7000 Liter Blut. In einem durchschnittlich langen Leben schlägt es drei Milliarden Mal (eine 3 mit 9 Nullen dahinter!) – ohne, dass wir einmal Bitte oder Danke sagen müssten. Ist das nicht erstaunlich? Lass uns dieses Wunder wertschätzen und verstehen, dass wir in großem Maße Einfluss auf unsere Gesundheit und unser Wohlbefinden haben. Es ist kein Zufall, dass manche Menschen ein langes, glückliches und gesundes Leben und andere Menschen ein kurzes, unglückliches und von Krankheiten begleitetes Leben führen. Lass uns Verantwortung für unseren Körper, unsere Gesundheit und unser Wohlbefinden übernehmen, indem wir JETZT und HIER eine bewusste Entscheidung treffen. Eine Entscheidung, die Deinem Leben eine neue Richtung gibt, die Richtung in ein erfülltes, gesundes und entspanntes Leben. Triff Du die Entscheidung, ich begleite Dich bei der Umsetzung!

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Exercise 2

Köln, Erzbischöfliche Diözesan- und Dombibliothek, Cod. 149, f. 50r.


Transcribe the entire page.

Although this hand is very clear and careful, reading a script composed almost entirely of matching minims and hairline strokes takes some getting used to.


Abbreviations: You should be able to decipher most of the abbreviations here based on what you already know, but some look rather different because of the script. The end of line 11 reads:


(um) (et) c(etera)

First comes the 2-shaped r, which we discussed in this unit's scripts/paleography lesson, with a stroke—here a very elaborate stroke—through the last stroke of the r to stand for the omitted final -um. Then comes the 7-shaped Tironian et, here in the later Gothic style with a stroke through it, followed by a c with a flourishy mark of abbreviation for c(etera).


The end of line 7 in the second column has a superscript mark that looks a bit like an a and stands for an omitted ra.


The last word on the page is an S followed by a stylized 3-like shape that signals an abbreviation by suspension. The word is S(ed). (That 3-like shape sometimes looks more like a semi-colon, and it can stand for various things in other contexts.)

Transcription Answer Key

Column 1
1. tes in pri-
2. mis glori-
3. ose semper
4. uirg(in)is ma-
5. rie genitri-
6. cis eiusdem
7. dei et domi-
8. ni n(ost)ri ie(s)u
9. chr(ist)i. Sed et
10. beatorum
11. ap(osto)lor(um) (et) c(etera).
12. In festo pe(n)-
Column 2
1. thecostes i(n)-
2. fra actione(m).
3. Co(m)mu-
4. nican-
5. tes et diem
6. sacratissi-
7. mu(m) celeb(ra)n-
8. tes. quo sp(iritu)s
9. s(an)c(t)us ap(osto)lis
10. in numeris
11. linguis ap-
12. paruit. S(ed)

Exercise 3

HMML, Bethune MS 2, f. 7r


Please transcribe the first 14 lines from the left column from this breviary-missal from Northeast France (ca. 1290-1310).

When this scribe writes two is next to each other, he writes ij, which is a device that emerges in the Gothic period to help distinguish a series of is from other groups of minims. You should transcribe ij as ii, since the j is just a variant form of i and does not represent the modern English letter j.

As in the last manuscript, you will encounter both the 2-shaped r after round letters, and the -rum abbreviation, which is the 2-shaped r with a stroke through the final stroke of the r. They look rather different in this hand than they did in the very angular hand of the last manuscript.

This is a 2-shaped r following d:
Bethune_Breviary7rf_ or(um).jpg

You would transcribe this or(um), since the stroke represents the omitted -um.

and this is the -rum abbreviation, in the genitive plural -orum:

This manuscript is your first time seeing the abbreviation for final -us, which looks like a superscript 9. It appears in the first word on this page, and also in line 11.

You will also see a form like a 3, which can represent various omitted final letters.

Here, it is used with s to abbreviate sed:


Transcribe s(ed) . This is the same abbreviation that appeared as the last word in the previous exercise.

In line 14, the common mark of abbreviation is used four times: once over a nomen sacrum; once as usual to indicate omission of a final m; and twice to indicate simply that something has been omitted in abbreviation. The first word in that line is Q(uonia)m and the last word is iust(orum).

Transcription Answer Key

Column 1
1. Beat(us) uir
2. qui no(n)
3. abiit in
4. consilio
5. impior(um)
6. et i(n) uia
7. peccator(um) non stetit.´ et in
8. cathedra pestilentie n(on) sedit·
9. Sed in lege d(omi)ni uoluntas·
10. Et erit tanqua(m) lignum·
11. Et folium ei(us) no(n) defluet.´
12. Non sic impii non sic.´ s(ed)
13. Ideo n(on) resurgunt impii.
14. Q(uonia)m nouit d(omi)n(u)s uia(m) iust(orum)·