Mar 10, 2010
Excerpt from: E.A. Lowe, E.K. Rand, A 6th Cent. Frag. of the Letters of Pliny the Younger, (Carnegie Inst. 304, 1922)
Dating Ancient Uncials
E.A. Lowe, E.K. Rand,
A 6th Cent. Frag. of the Letters of Pliny the Younger,
(Carnegie Inst. 304, 1922)
Headings have been added for clarity and navigation purposes.
In dating uncial manuscripts we must proceed warily, since the data on which our judgments are based are meagre in the extreme and rather difficult to formulate.
The history of uncial writing still remains to be written. The chief value of excellent works like Chatelain’s Uncialis Scriptura or Zangemeister and Wattenbach’s Exempla Codicum Latinorum Litteris Maiusculis Scriptorum lies in the mass of material they offer to the student. This could not well be otherwise, since clear-cut, objective criteria for dating uncial manuscripts have not yet been formulated; and that is due to the fact that of our four hundred or more uncial manuscripts, ranging from the fourth to the eighth century, very few, indeed, can be dated with 14 precision, and of these virtually none is in the oldest class. Yet a few guide-posts there are. By means of those it ought to be possible not only to throw light on the development of this script, but also to determine the features peculiar to the different periods of its history. This task, of course, can not be attempted here; it may, however, not be out of place to call attention to certain salient facts.
The student of manuscripts knows that a law of evolution is observable in writing as in other aspects of human endeavor. The process of evolution is from the less to the more complex, from the less to the more differentiated, from the simple to the more ornate form. Guided by these general considerations, he would find that his uncial manuscripts naturally fall into two groups. One group is manifestly the older: in orthography, punctuation, and abbreviation it bears close resemblance to inscriptions of the classical or Roman period. The other group is as manifestly composed of the more recent manuscripts: this may be inferred from the corrupt or barbarous spelling, from the use of abbreviations unfamiliar in the classical period but very common in the Middle Ages, or from the presence of punctuation, which the oldest manuscripts invariably lack. The manuscripts of the first group show letters that are simple and unadorned and words unseparated from each other. Those of the second group show a type of ornate writing, the letters having serifs or hair-lines and flourishes, and the words being well separated. There can be no reasonable doubt that this rough classification is correct as far as it goes; but it must remain rough and permit large play for subjective judgement.
A scientific classification, however, can rest only on objective criteria—criteria which, once recognized, are acceptable to all. Such criteria are made possible by the presence of dated manuscripts. Now, if by a dated manuscript we mean a manuscript of which we know, through a subscription or some other entry, that it was written in a certain year, there is not a single dated manuscript in uncial writing which is older than the seventh century—the oldest manuscript with a precise date known to me being the manuscript of St. Augustine written in the Abbey of Luxeuil in A.D. 669.26 But there are a few manuscripts of which we can say with certainty that they were written either before or after some given date. And these manuscripts which furnish us with a terminus ante quem or post quem, as the case may be, are extremely important to us as being the only relatively safe landmarks for following development in a field that is both remote and shadowy.
The Codex Fuldensis of the Gospels, mentioned above, is our first landmark of importance.27 It was read by Bishop Victor of Capua in the years A.D. 546 and 547, as is testified by two entries, probably autograph. From this it follows that 15 the manuscript was written before A.D. 546. We may surmise—and I think correctly—that it was shortly before 546, if not in that very year. In any case the Codex Fuldensis furnishes a precise terminus ante quem.
The other landmark of importance is furnished by a Berlin fragment containing a computation for finding the correct date for Easter Sunday.28 Internal evidence makes it clear that this Computus Paschalis first saw light shortly after A.D. 447. The presumption is that the Berlin leaves represent a very early copy, if not the original, of this composition. In no case can these leaves be regarded as a much later copy of the original, as the following purely palaeographical considerations, that is, considerations of style and form of letters, will go to show.
Let us assume, as we do in geometry, for the sake of argument, that the Fulda manuscript and the Berlin fragment were both written about the year 500—a date representing, roughly speaking, the middle point in the period of about one hundred years which separates the extreme limits of the dates possible for either of these two manuscripts, as the following diagram illustrates:
If our hypothesis be correct, then the script of these two manuscripts, as well as other palaeographical features, would offer striking similarities if not close resemblance. As a matter of fact, a careful comparison of the two manuscripts discloses differences so marked as to render our assumption absurd. The Berlin fragment is obviously much older than the Fulda manuscript. It would be rash to specify the exact interval of time that separates these two manuscripts, yet if we remember the slow development of types of writing the conclusion seems justified that at least several generations of evolution lie between the two manuscripts. If this be correct, we are forced to push the date of each as far back as the ascertained limit will permit, namely, the Fulda manuscript to the year 546 and the Berlin fragment to the year 447. Thus, apparently, considerations of form and style (purely palaeographical considerations) confirm the dates derived from examination of the internal evidence, and the Berlin and Fulda manuscripts may, in effect, be considered two dated manuscripts, two definite guide-posts.
If the preceding conclusion accords with fact, then we may accept the traditional date (circa A.D. 371) of the Codex Vercellensis of the Gospels. The famous Vatican palimpsest of Cicero’s De Re Publica seems more properly placed in the fourth than in the fifth century; and the older portion of the Bodleian manuscript of Jerome’s translation of the Chronicle of Eusebius, dated after the year A.D. 442, becomes another guide-post in the history of uncial writing, since a comparison with the Berlin fragment of about A.D. 447 convinces 16 one that the Bodleian manuscript can not have been written much after the date of its archetype, which is A.D. 442.
Asked to enumerate the landmarks which may serve as helpful guides in uncial writing prior to the year 800, we should hardly go far wrong if we tabulate them in the following order:29
ca. a. 371 1. Codex Vercellensis of the Gospels (a).
post a. 442 2. Bodleian Manuscript (Auct. T. 2. 26) of Jerome’s translation of the Chronicle of Eusebius (older portion).
ca. a. 447 3. Berlin Computus Paschalis (MS. lat. 4º. 298).
ante a. 546 4. Codex Fuldensis of the Gospels (F), Fulda MS. Bonifat. 1, read by Bishop Victor of Capua.
a. 438-ca. 550 5. Codex Theodosianus (Turin, MS. A. II. 2).
Manuscripts containing the Theodosian Code can not be earlier than A.D. 438, when this body of law was promulgated, nor much later than the middle of sixth century, when the Justinian Code supplanted the Theodosian and made it useless to copy it.
a. 600-666 6. The Toulouse Manuscript (No. 364) and Paris MS. lat. 8901, containing Canons, written at Albi.
a. 669 7. The Morgan Manuscript of St. Augustine’s Homilies, written in the Abbey of Luxeuil. Later at Beauvais and Chateau de Troussures.
a. 699 8. The Berne Manuscript (No. 219B) of Jerome’s translation of the Chronicle of Eusebius, written in France, possibly at Fleury.
a. 695-711 9. Brussels Fragment of a Psalter and Varia Patristica (MS. 1221 = 9850-52) written for St. Medardus in Soissons in the time of Childebert III.
ante a. 716 10. Codex Amiatinus of the Bible (Florence Laur. Am. 1) written in England.
a. 719 11. The Treves Prosper (MS. 36, olim S. Matthaei).
ca. a. 750 12. The Milan Manuscript (Ambros. B. 159 sup.) of Gregory’s Moralia, written at Bobbio in the abbacy of Anastasius.
ante a. 752 13. The Bodleian Acts of the Apostles (MS. Selden supra 30) written in the Isle of Thanet.
a. 754 14. The Autun Manuscript (No. 3) of the Gospels, written at Vosevium.
a. 739-760 15. Codex Beneventanus of the Gospels (London Brit. Mus. Add. MS. 5463) written at Benevento.
post a. 787 16. The Lucca Manuscript (No. 490) of the Liber Pontificalis.
Guided by the above manuscripts, we may proceed to determine the place which the Morgan Pliny occupies in the series of uncial manuscripts. The student of manuscripts recognizes at a glance that the Morgan fragment is, as has been said, distinctly older than the Codex Fuldensis of about the year 546. But how much older? Is it to be compared in antiquity with such venerable monuments as the palimpsest of Cicero’s De Re Publica, with products like the Berlin Computus Paschalis or the Bodleian Chronicle of Eusebius? If we examine carefully the characteristics of our oldest group of fourth- and fifth-century manuscripts and compare them with those of the Morgan manuscript we shall see that the latter, though sharing some of the features found in manuscripts of the oldest group, lacks others and in turn shows features peculiar to manuscripts of a later group.
Our oldest group would naturally be composed of those uncial manuscripts which bear the closest resemblance to the above-mentioned manuscripts of the fourth and fifth centuries, and I should include in that group such manuscripts as these:18
1. Rome, Vatic. lat. 5757.—Cicero, De Re Publica, palimpsest.
2. Rome, Vatic. lat. 5750 + Milan, Ambros. E. 147 sup.—Scholia Bobiensia in Ciceronem, palimpsest.
3. Vienna, 15.—Livy, fifth decade (five books).
4. Paris, lat. 5730.—Livy, third decade.
5. Verona, XL (38).—Livy, first decade, 6 palimpsest leaves.
6. Rome, Vatic. lat. 10696.—Livy, fourth decade, Lateran fragments.
7. Bamberg, Class. 35a.—Livy, fourth decade, fragments.
8. Vienna, lat. 1a.—Pliny, Historia Naturalis, fragments.
9. St. Paul in Carinthia, XXV a 3.—Pliny, Historia Naturalis, palimpsest.
10. Turin, A. II. 2.—Theodosian Codex, fragments, palimpsest.
1. Vercelli, Cathedral Library.—Gospels (a) ascribed to Bishop Eusebius (†371).
2. Paris, lat. 17225.—Corbie Gospels (ff2).
3. Constance-Weingarten Biblical fragments.—Prophets, fragments scattered in the libraries of Stuttgart, Darmstadt, Fulda, and St. Paul in Carinthia.
4. Berlin, lat. 4º. 298.—Computus Paschalis of ca. a. 447.
5. Turin, G. VII. 15.—Bobbio Gospels (k).
6. Turin, F. IV. 27 + Milan, D. 519. inf. + Rome, Vatic. lat. 10959.—Cyprian, Epistolae, fragments.
7. Turin, G. V. 37.—Cyprian, de opere et eleemosynis.
8. Oxford, Bodleian Auct. T. 2. 26.—Eusebius-Hieronymus, Chronicle, post a. 442.
9. Petrograd Q. v. I. 3 (Corbie).—Varia of St. Augustine.
10. St. Gall, 1394.—Gospels (n).
The main characteristics of the manuscripts included in the above list, which is by no means complete, may briefly be described thus:
1. General effect of compactness. This is the result of scriptura continua, which knows no separation of words and no punctuation. See the facsimiles cited above.
2. Precision in the mode of shading. The alternation of stressed and unstressed strokes is very regular. The two arcs of are shaded not in the middle, as in Greek uncials, but in the lower left and upper right parts of the letter, so that the space enclosed by the two arcs resembles an ellipse leaning to the left at an angle of about 45°, thus . What is true of the is true of other curved strokes. The strokes are often very short, mere touches of pen to parchment, like brush work. Often they are unconnected, thus giving a mere suggestion of the form. The attack or fore-stroke as well as the finishing stroke is a very fine, oblique hair-line.30
3. Absence of long ascending or descending strokes. The letters lie virtually between two lines (instead of between four as in later uncials), the upper and lower shafts of letters like projecting but slightly beyond the head and base lines.
4. The broadness of the letters
5. The relative narrowness of the letters
6. The manner of forming
B with the lower bow considerably larger than the upper, which often has the form of a mere comma.
E with the tongue or horizontal stroke placed not in the middle, as in later uncial manuscripts, but high above it, and extending beyond the upper curve. The loop is often left open.
L with very small base.
M with the initial stroke tending to be a straight line instead of the well-rounded bow of later uncials.
N with the oblique connecting stroke shaded.
P with the loop very small and often open.
S with a rather longish form and shallow curves, as compared with the broad form and ample curves of later uncials.
T with a very small, sinuous horizontal top stroke (except at the beginning of a line when it often has an exaggerated extension to the left).
7. Extreme fineness of parchment, at least in parts of the manuscript.
9. Quires signed by means of roman numerals often preceded by the letter Q· (= Quaternio) in the lower right corner of the last page of each gathering.
10. Running titles, in abbreviated form, usually in smaller uncials than the text.
11. Colophons, in which red and black ink alternate, usually in large-sized uncials.
12. Use of a capital, i.e., a larger-sized letter at the beginning of each page or of each column in the page, even if the beginning falls in the middle of a word.
13. Lack of all but the simplest ornamentation, e.g., scroll or ivy-leaf.
14. The restricted use of abbreviations. Besides B· and Q· and such suspensions as occur in classical inscriptions only the contracted forms of the Nomina Sacra are found.
15. Omission of M and N allowed only at the end of a line, the omission being marked by means of a simple horizontal line (somewhat hooked at each end) placed above the line after the final vowel and not directly over it as in later uncial manuscripts.
16. Absence of nearly all punctuation.
17. The use of in the text where an omission has occurred, and after the supplied omission in the lower margin, or the same symbols reversed if the supplement is entered in the upper margin.
If we now turn to the Morgan Pliny we observe that it lacks a number of the characteristics enumerated above as belonging to the oldest type of uncial manuscripts. The parchment is not of the very thin sort. There has been no corrosion along the furrows made by the pen. The running title and colophons are in rustic capitals, not in uncials. The manner of forming such letters as:
... differs from that employed in the oldest group.
B with the lower bow not so markedly larger than the upper.
E with the horizontal stroke placed nearer the middle.
M with the left bow tending to become a distinct curve.
R S T have gained in breadth and proportionately lost in height.
Our manuscript, then, was written in Italy about the year 500.
- Lowe & Rand, 1922