In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Latin Paleography, Editing, and the Transmission of Classical Texts

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • History of the Field
  • Bibliographies and Claves
  • Journals
  • Digital Libraries and Collections
  • Tools and Finding Aids
  • Databases of Texts
  • Codicology
  • Literacy
  • Education
  • Book Production, Scribes, and Scriptoria
  • Readers
  • Layout: Paratext, MisE en page, and Decoration
  • Libraries
  • Reception of Classical Texts
  • Bible
  • History of Textual Criticism
  • Theory and Practice of Textual Editing
  • Roman System of Scripts: Rustic and Square Capitals, Old and New Roman Cursive
  • Uncial and Half-Uncial
  • Beneventan
  • Insular System of Scripts
  • Visigothic
  • Carolingian Minuscule
  • Protogothic and Gothic
  • Humanist Scripts

Classics Latin Paleography, Editing, and the Transmission of Classical Texts
Maura Lafferty
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 February 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0295


Paleography, stricto sensu, is, as its etymology suggests, the study of “old” writing, that is, the study of scripts written by hand and their evolution. Latin paleography is the study of the scripts written in Latin by hand on papyrus, parchment, and other surfaces from classical Antiquity until Early Modernity, when manuscripts were replaced by print books as the main vehicle for “books,” works of scholarship and literature. Paleography in a narrow sense equips scholars to read ancient and medieval texts in the difficult and highly abbreviated scripts in which they appear in ancient and medieval manuscripts and to date and localize those hands. It is impossible to study scripts outside of their material form, that is, in the scrolls and manuscripts in which they are written, so most paleographers consider the closely related field of codicology, the study of the codex, the physical support for most handwritten texts from Late Antiquity to the printing press, to come under their purview. Arguably the most important function of paleography is to provide access to classical and medieval works that have only survived in Late Antique and medieval manuscripts. Paleography is the main tool allowing us to read the scripts in which these works are written, to edit them for a modern audience, and to study their reception from the point of their composition to the Renaissance, and so this bibliography includes sections on textual editing and the transmission of classical texts. This bibiography takes an expansive approach to paleography as the study of material written culture, including sections on education (how people learned to read wax tablets, scrolls, and codices) and literacy (who could read scrolls and codices and why did they do so?).

General Overviews

The diversity of the following items reflects the diversity in the ways scholars approach manuscript studies. Some focus narrowly on scripts and their evolution (Bischoff 1990, Brown 1993, Derolez 2006, John 1994). Others make codicology, the book as a physical object, central (Clemens and Graham 2007). Cencetti 1997 argues that paleography and diplomatics should be studied together. Gruijs 1972 (cited under Codicology) and Mallon 1982 argue for an expansive view of paleography. Morison 1972 and Petrucci 2002 put writing in its political, social, and cultural contexts. Reynolds and Wilson 2014 is concerned primarily with how classical texts were written down and transmitted, in scrolls, manuscripts, and print.

  • Bischoff, Bernard. 1990. Latin palaeography: Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Translated by David Ganz and Daíbhi Ó Cróinin. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511809927

    An overview of Latin hands and their evolution from the Roman period through the Renaissance by one of the leading paleographers of the 20th century. Although often assigned to beginning students, it serves better as a review. Paleographical descriptions are difficult to understand without a visual illustration: Bischoff assumes that the reader will have Lowe 1934–1972 (cited under Facsimiles and Facsimile Collections) at hand. A translation of Paläographie des römishen Altertums und des abendländischen Mittelalters (2nd ed. Berlin: Schmidt, 1986). Oddly, the plates are from the French translation by H. Atsma and J. Vezin, Paléographie de l’antiquité romaine et du moyen âge occidentale (Paris: Picard, 1985). The German version is now in its 4th edition (2009).

  • Brown, Michelle. 1993. A guide to Western historical scripts from Antiquity to 1600. Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press.

    A concise introduction to Western hands, each illustrated by a full-page black-and-white illustration, usually showing a full leaf, with commentary on the manuscript and script with a partial transcription. Its strength is its chronological and geographical coverage, but it lacks the depth and breadth of Clemens and Graham 2007.

  • Cencetti, G. 1997. Lineamenti di storia della scrittura latina. Edited by G. Guerini Ferri. Bologna, Italy: Patron.

    Argues that diplomatic hands should be an important part of the field.

  • Clemens, Raymond, and Timothy Graham. 2007. Introduction to manuscript studies. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press.

    A broadly conceived introduction, covering codicology, the transcription of medieval hands, and description of manuscripts. Select scripts from Carolingian to humanist are illustrated by full-color plates, with commentary and a partial transcription. The last section illustrates manuscripts of different genres (biblical, liturgical, diplomatic, maps). The strength of this introduction is its thoroughness and the sumptuous illustration of full pages. It does not have the chronological coverage of Brown 1993.

  • Derolez, Albert. 2006. The palaeography of Gothic manuscript books from the twelfth to the early sixteenth century. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    An exceptionally well-illustrated introduction to the scripts of the period, beginning with Carolingian and exploring the many manifestations of Gothic hands in this period. Includes a discussion of the vexed problem of nomenclature and adopts a modified form of Lieftinck’s system. Each letter form is illustrated by figures at the bottom of the page. The descriptions accompanying each black-and-white plate illustrate Derolez’s descriptive approach to nomenclature and include partial transcriptions.

  • John, James J. 1994. Latin paleography. In Medieval studies. 2d ed. Edited by James M. Powell, 3–80. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse Univ. Press.

    An introduction to the field with bibliographical review, including a glossary of terms, an illustrated introduction to the technical vocabulary of paleography, to individual medieval hands, to abbreviations, numerals, and punctuation, to reading, transcribing and describing manuscripts, and to codicology.

  • Mallon, Jean. 1982. Qu’est ce que la paléographie? In Paläographie: Colloquium des Comité Internationale de Paléographie, Munich, 15-18 September 1981. Edited by Gabriel Silagi, 47–52. Munich: Arbeo-Gesellschaft.

    Argues for a holistic approach to paleography incorporating, for example, codicology.

  • Morison, Stanley. 1972. Politics and script: Aspects of authority and freedom in the development of Graeco-Latin script from the sixth century B.C. to the twentieth century A.D. Oxford: Clarendon.

    Argues that script reflects and conveys changing political deologies in Antiquity.

  • Petrucci, Armando. 2002. Prima lezione di paleografia. Rome and Bari, Italy: Laterza.

    An introduction to writing in all its forms, in books, documents, graffitti, pamphlets; its relationship to space, power, and memory.

  • Reynolds, L. D., and N. G. Wilson. 2014. Scribes and scholars: A guide to the transmission of Greek and Latin literature. 4th rev. ed. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    A very engaging and readable introduction to a difficult and often dry subject, the history of the transmission of ancient Greek and Latin texts, how and why they were written down, copied and so survived to the present today. Includes an overview of ancient, medieval, and Renaissance textual scholarship.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.