We have seen the Uncial Book-hand in papyri, and have had in the facsimiles of a conveyance of A.D. 38 (p 126) and of the Bankes Homer (p. 127) specimens of the round hand which is the direct prototype of the writing on vellum which we are now about to examine.
The first thing to strike the eye in the earliest examples of vellum uncial MSS. is the great beauty and firmness of the characters. The general result of the progress of any form of writing through a number of centuries is decadence and not improvement. But in the case of the uncial writing of the early codices there is improvement and not decadence. This is to be attributed to the change of material, the firm and smooth surface of vellum giving the scribe greater scope for displaying his skili as a calligrapher. In other words, there appears to have been a period of renaissance with the general introduction of vellum as the ordinary writing material.
The earliest examples of vellum uncial Greek MSS., which have survived practically entire, are the three great codices of the Bible : the Codex Vaticanus, the Codex Sinaiticus, and the Codex Alexandrinus. The Vaticanus is to all appearance the most ancient and may be ascribed to the 4th century. It is written in triple columns, without enlarged initial letters to mark paragraphs or even the beginnings of the several books. The writing in its original state was beatifully regular and line ; but, unfortunately, the whole of the text has been touched over, in darker ink, by a hand of perhaps the 10th century, only rejected letters or word being allowed to remain intact.
|Codex Vaticanus.—4th century.|
|γραπτω̑ν λέγων· τά | δε λέγει ὁ βασιλεὺς περ | σῶν κῦρος· ἐμὲ ἀνéδει | ξεν βασιλέα τῦς οἰκου | μένης ὁ κύριος τοῦ ἰσ | ραὴλ κ[ύριο]ς ὁ ὑψιστος· καὶ | ἐσήμηνέν μοι οἰκο | δομῆσαι αὐτῶ οἶκον|
The accents and marks of punctuation are additions probably by the hand which retouched the writing.
The Codex Sinaiticus, Tischendorf's great discovery, is probably somewhat younger than the Vatican MS. and may be placed early in the 5th century.
|Codex Sinaiticus.—5th century.|
|τω βασιλει το πρα | γμα και εοιησε[ν] | ουτως : | και ανθρωπος ην | ϊουδαιος εv σου | σοις τη πολει και | ονομα αυτω μαρ | δοχαιος ο του ϊαει | ρου του σεμεειου.)|
It is written with four columns in a page, the open book thus presenting eight columns in sequence, and, as has been suggested, recalling the line of columns on a papyrus roll. Like the Vatican MS., it is devoid of enlarged letters; but the initial letter of a line beginning a sentence is usually placed slightly in the margin, as will be seen in the facsimile.
The chief characteristic of the letters is squareness, the width being generally equal to the height. The shapes are simple, and horizontal strokes are fine.
With the Codex Alexandrinus there is a decided advance. The division of the Gospels into Ammonian sections and the presence of the references to the Eusebian canons are indications of a later age thnn that, of its two predecessors. The MS. may have been written before the middle of the 5th Century. There can be little doubt of the country of its origin being Egypt, for, besides the fact of its having belonged to the Patriarchal Chamber of Alexandria, it also contains in its titles certain forms of the letters Α and Μ which are distinctly Egyptian.It was sent as a present to King Charles the First by Cyril Lucar, Patriarch of Constantinople.
|Codex Alexandrinus.—5th century.|
|θ[εο]ν σου και aυτω μονω λατπευ | σεις και ηγαγω αυτον | εις ϊ [ηρουσα]γημ· και εστησεν αυτον | επι τε πτερυγιον του ιερoυ | και ειπεν αυτω ει υ[ιο]ς ει του θ[εο]υ | βαλε σεαυτον εντευθεν κατω· | γεγραπται γαρ οτι τοις αγγελοις | αυτου εντελειτε περι σου του|
In this specimen we see instances of contracted words. The MS. has enlarged letters to mark the beginnings of paragraphs ; the initial standing in the margin at the beginning of the first full line, whether that be the first line of the paragraph, or whether the paragraph begin, as shown in the facsimile, in the middle of the preceding line after a blank space.
The writing of the Codex Alexandrinus is more carefully finished than that of the Codex Sinaiticus. The letters are rather wide ; horizontal strokes are very fine ; and there is a general tendency to thicken or club the extremities of certain letters, as Γ, Τ, Ⲉ, and Ⲥ .
Other uncial MSS. which have been ascribed to the fifth century and a little later are : the Homer of the Ambrosian Library at Milan, interesting for its illustrations, which were copied probably from earlier originals and have transmitted the characteristics of classical art (Pal. Soc. i. pls. 39, 40, 50, 51) ; the palimpsest MS. of the Bible, known as the Codex Ephraemi, at Paris (ed. Tischendorf, 1845) ; the Octateuch, whose extant leaves are divided between Paris, Leyden, and St. Petersburg; the Genesis of the Cottonian Library, once, probably, one of the most beautifully illustrated MSS. of its period, but now reduced by fire to blackened and defaced fragments (Cat. Anc. MSS. i. pl. 8) ; the Dio Cassius of the Vatican (Silvesire, pl. 60) ; and the Paris Pentatench (Ib. pl. 61). A facsimile of an ancient fragment of Euripides at Berlin, which is certainly of a respectable age and which has even been ascribed to the 4th Century, will be found in Wilcken's Tafeln zür älteren griech. Palaeographie, pl. iv.
Uncial writing of the sixth Century shows an advance on the delicate style of the fifth Century in the comparatively heavy forms of its letters. Horizontal strokes are lengthened, and are generally finished off with heavy points or finials. The Dioscorides of Vienna, (Pal. Soc. i. pl. 177), written early in the Century for Juliana Anicia, daughter of Flavius Anicius Olybrius, Emperor of the West in 472, is a most valuable MS. for the palæographer, as it is the earliest example of uncial writing on vellum to which an approximate date can be given. It is also of great interest for the history of art, as, in addition to the coloured drawings of plants, reptiles, insects, etc., which illustrate the text, it contains six full-page designs, oneof them being the portrait of the royal Juliana herself.
|Dioscorides.—early 6th century.|
|Φυλλα εχει καροια βασιλι[κη]— | χλωρα ως βραμ' βης· το δε— I ωσπερ πριων· καυλον— | τριπηχη· παραφυαδας α[πο]— | κεφαλαι ομοιαι μηκων[ι]—|
This is a specimen of careful writing, suitable to a sumptuous book prepared for a lady of high rank. The letters exhibit a contrast of thick and fine strokes ; the curve of both Ⲉand C is thickened at both extremities ; the base of Δ extends right and left and has heavy dots at the ends ; the cross-strokes of Π and Τ are treated in the same way. In the second line will be noticed an instance, in the word βραμβης, of the use of the apostrophe to separate two consonants, a common practice in this MS.
Other MSS. of this period are: the palimpsest Homer in the British Museum (Cat. Anc. MSS. i. pl. 9 ; Pal. Soc. ii. pl. 3), generally named, after its editor, the Cureton Homer, and the palimpsest fragments of St. Luke's Gospel (Cat. Anc. MSS. pl. 10), which together with it were re-used by a later Syrian scribe; the fragments of the Pauline Epistles from Mount Athos, some of which are in Paris and some in Moscow (Silvestre, pls. 63, 64 ; Sabas, pl. A) ; the Gospels written on purple vellum in silver and gold, and now scattered between London (Cotton MS., Titus C. xv.), Rome, Vienna, and Patmos, the place of its origin ; the fragments of the Eusebian Canons, written on gilt vellum and sumptuously ornamented, in the British Museum (Cat. Anc. MSS., i. pl. 11) ; the Coislin Octateuch (Silvestre, pl. 65) ; the Vienna Genesis, with illustrations of very great interest (Pal. Anc. i. pl. 178); the Rossano Gospels written in silver on purple vellum and also having a remarkable series of illustrations (ed. Gebhardt and Harnack, 1880); and the Dublin palimpsest fragments of St. Matthew's Gospel and of Isaiah (ed. T. K. .Abbott, Par Palimpsestorum, Dublin.), the handwriting of the former using the Egyptian forms of Α and Μ, strongly marked (Δ, .
There are also two bilingual Græco-Latin MSS. which are assigned to the sixth Century, viz., the Codex Bezæ of the New Testament at Cambridge (Pal. Soc. i. pls. 14, 15), and the Codex Claromontanus of the Pauline Epistles at Paris (Pal. Soc. i. pls. 63, 64). But these were almost certainly written in France or, at all events, in Western Europe, and rather belong to the domain of Latin palæography, as the Greek letters are to some extent modelled on the Latin forms. The Greek portions of the great Laurentian codex of the Pandects at Florence (Wattenbach, Script. Graec. Specim., tab. 7) should also be noticed as of this period.
The decadence of the round uncial hand in the successive centuries may be seen in the second Vienna Dioscorides (Pal. Soc. ii. pl. 45), which is thought to be of the early part of the 7th Century, and in the Vatican MS. of Pope Gregory's Dialogues (Pal. Soc. ii. pl. 81), which. was written, probably at Rome, in the year 800. But in these later centuries Greek uncial MSS. were more usually written in another style.
Soon after the year 600, a variety of the round unclia came into ordinary use—a change similar to that which has been noticed as taking place in the uncial writing on papyrus. The circular letters Ⲉ, Θ, O, C become oval, and the letters generally are laterally compressed and appear narrow in proportion to their height. The writing also slopes to the right, and accentuation begins to be applied systematically. At first the character of the writing was light and elegant, but as time went on it gradually became heavier and more artificial. A few scattered Greek notes are found written in this style in Syriac MSS. which bear actual dates in the seventh Century (Gardthausen, Griech. Palæog., table 1 of alphabets) ; and there are a few palimpsest fragments of Euclid and of Gospel Lectionaries among the Syriac MSS. of the British Museum, of the seventh and eighth centuries; but there is no entire MS, in sloping uncials bearing a date earlier than the ninth Century.
As an early specimen we select a few lines from the facsimile (Wattenbach, Script. Gr. Specim., tab. 8) of the fragment of a mathematical treatise from Bobbio, now in the Ambrosian Library at Milan, which is assigned to the 7th Century.
|Mathematical Treatise.—7th century.|
|τοιουτ[ων] ζητησεων οικεια και— | ως εψην τω δικαιως αν κληθ[εντι]— | υιω προσηκουσα. | Πρωτ[ον] μ[εν] γ[αρ] παντ[ος] στερεου σχημ[ατος]— | προς τι μετεωρον ευχερεστερ[ον]— | χανικ[ης] ολκης οποταν εκ τ[ου] κεντ[ρου]|
It will be seen that in this MS., intended for students' use and dealing with a secular subject, abbreviations are fairly numerous.
In a more compact style, and rather heavier, is the Venetian codex of the Old Testament (Wattenbach, Script. Gr. Specim., tab. 9), which is of the 8th or 9th Century. Descriptive titles are written in round uncials, evidently in imitative style and devoid of the grace and ease of a natural hand, as will be seen from the facsimile.
|Old Testament.—8th or 9th century.|
|καὶ μήτρα συλλήμψεως αἰωνίας ἵνα | τί τοῦτο ἐξῆλθον ἐκ μήτρας· τοῦ [βλέ] | πειν κόπους καὶ πόνους· καὶ διετέλ[εσαν] | ἐν αἱσχύνη αἱ ἠμέραι μου :— | † Ὁ λόγος ὁ ׳γενόμενος πρὸς ϊερεμί[αν] | παρὰ κ[υριο]υ. ὅτε ἀπέστειλεν πρὸς αὐτὸν | ὁ βασιλεὺς σεδεκίας· τὸν πάσχωρ' ϋ[ἱὸν]|
At length, in the middle of the ninth Century, we have a MS. with a date: a Psalter of the year 862, belonging to Bishop Uspensky (Wattenbach, Script. Gr. Specim., tab. 10).
|Uspensky Psalter.—A.D. 862.|
|Εν ονοματι τῆς ἁγιας ἀ | χράντου καὶ ζωαρχικῆ[ς] | τριαδος, π[ατ]ρ[ο]ς καὶ υ[ιο]υ καὶ | ἁγίου πν[υματο]ς· ἐγράφη καὶ | ἐτελειώθη τὸ παρὸν ψαλ | τήριον· κελεύσει τοῦ ἁ | γίου καὶ μακαρίου π[ατ]ρ[ο]ς|
In this specimen further progress is seen in the contrast of heavy and light strokes.
Other MSS. of this character are : a small volume of hymns in the British Museum, Add. MS. 26113, of the 8th or 9th Century (Cat. Anc. MSS. i. pl. 14; Pal Soc. ii. pl. 4) ; a copy of Gregory of Nazianzus, written between 867 and 886 (Silvestre, pl. 71); the Bodleian Genesis (Gk. Misc. 312), of the 9th Century (Pal. Soc. ii. pl. 26) ; a Dionysius Areopagita at Florence, also of the 9th Century (Vitelli and Paoli, Facsim. Paleogr., tav. 17) ; and a Lectionary in the Harleian collection, of the end of the 9th or beginning of the 10th Century (Cat. Anc. MSS. i. pl. 17).
But by this time uncial writing had passed out of ordinary use, and only survived, as a rule, for church-books, in which the large character was convenient for reading in public.
|Ἐῖπεν ὁ κ[υριο]ς τὺν παραβο | λὴν ταυτ[ην] ὁμοιωθη ἡ | βασιλεία τῶν οὐ[ρα]νων | δέκα παρθ[ενοις] : πρ[ο] ἐγρα[φη] σα[ββατω]|
In this capacity it underwent another change, the letters reverting from the sloping position to the upright position of the early uncial, and again, after a period, becoming rounder. This was evidently a mere calligraphic development, the style being better suited for handsome service books. Of this character are the Bodleian Gospels (Gk. Misc. 313) of the 10th Century (Pal. Soc. ii. pl. 7) ; the Laurentian Evangelistarium of the 10th Century (Vitelli and Paoli, Facsim. Paleogr., tav. 7) ; the Harleian Evangelistarium (no. 5598), of the year 995 (Pal. Soc. i. pl. 26, 27) ; and the Zouche Evangelistarium, of 980 (Pal. Soc. i. pl. 154), from which a few lines are given above.
There are also a certain number of MSS. in which uncial writing appears to have been used for distinction, or contrast. Thus, in a MS. at Florence, of A.D. 886-911, containing Fasti Consulares and other matter arranged in tabulated form, the entries are made in a beautifully neat upright uncial (Vitelli and Paoli, Facsim. Paleogr., tav. 13, 25, 31) ; so also in the Florentine Dionysius Areopagita of the 9th Century, referred to above, while the text is in large slanting uncials, the commentary is in smaller up right uncials ; and we have the Bodleian Psalter with catena (Gk. Misc, 5), of the year 950, in which the text of the Psalms is written in upright uncials, while the commentary is in minuscules (Pal. Soc. ii. 5; Gardthausen, Gr. Palæogr., p. 159, tab. 2, col. 4.)
The use of small uncial writing for marginal commentaries and notes in minuscule MSS. is not uncommon during the earlier centuries after the establishment of the smaller style of writing as a book-hand. As a late instance of the uncial being used for the text, a page from a MS. of St. John Chrysostom, which is ascribed to the 11th Century, will be found in Vitelli and Paoli, Facsim. Paleogr., tav. 28. It appears to have lingered on till about the middle of the 12th Century.