David Ganz (Monumenta Germaniae Historica)

English Half Uncial: the reception of a script

English scribes adopted Roman uncial script in the late seventh century, as a result of the import of Roman books and in order to express loyalty to the Roman papacy. Those manuscripts were the subject of a monograph by E.A. Lowe, and an important article by Bernhard Bischoff. But they also adopted Roman half uncial script. Two manuscripts, now in Oxford Bodleian Library Douce 140 Primasius on the Apocalypse and Cambrai 470 Philippus on Job, are copied in that script, but Ludwig Traube noted that one chapter heading in the Oxford manuscript of the Regula Benedicti Oxford Hatton 48 is also in half uncial. St Boniface owned the sixth century half uncial copy of Hegesippus now in Kassel 2 Ms theol 65 and annotated it and the Douce Primasius. He also owned the celebrated uncial manuscript of the New Testament Fulda Bonifatius I, which has been corrected by Bishop Victor of Capua, showing that he had access to Italian exemplars. Robert Babcock has identified a papyrus fragment of Gregory’s Homilies of the Gospels in half uncial, British Library Cotton Titus C XV fol 1 which was in England in the 16th century, and probably earlier.

In addition to this classic half uncial insular scribes had developed their own insular version, first found in the Old Latin Codex Usserianus primus now in Dublin and the Psalter known as the Cathach of St Columba, but stylised and used for the major Insular Gospelbooks: the Book of Durrow Dublin Trinity College MS 57 , the Lindisfarne Gospels British Library Cotton Nero D iv, Durham Cathedral Library A II 17, the Lichfield, Augsburg and Maaseik Gospels and the Book of Kells Dublin Trinity College MS 58. (There are also important fragments of Gospel Books in this script, and it was used for a canon law collection, Cologne Dombibliothek 213.) Ludwig Traube believed that this script derived from late antique half uncial, and the Irish named the script Litterae Affricanae in texts giving names for different kinds of script.  The script was also called tunsae meaning shorn. Half uncial also played a crucial role in the creation of caroline minuscule scripts.

This paper will explore how both versions of half uncial show exchange between the insular world and the continent and reception of the scripts used to write Latin. The contrast between the two different versions helps to clarify the stimuli to the creation of a formal minuscule script, both in the insular world and in Gaul and Italy and the different processes of reception involved.

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