Bk 1 xxii.1 Scribal abbreviations – shorthand

from CLM 4541. Link in side bar.


‘Ennius….’ Very little attention is usually given this comment by Isidore.

The ‘Early Latin Writings‘ biography of Quintus Ennius (239 – 169 BC) comments:

Ancient authors also knew of another Ennius, a grammarian, from the late second century. Works concerning grammar and meter attributed to [Quintus] Ennius were likely written by the .. grammarian, not the poet.

E. H. Warmington gives the classical sources.  In his translation for a study published in the Loeb series Remains of Old Latin (Vol.`1: Ennius Caecilius), Warmington says:

“There was a later grammarian, named Ennius (fl. c. 100 b.c.), whom it is difficult to distinguish from the poet. Two books on ‘letters and syllables’ and one (?) on ‘metres’ were generally attributed by later Romans to this grammarian.fn I have assumed that the first development of shorthand writingfn is also to be ascribed to the grammarian. But that the doubling of consonants was begun or established by the poet Ennius (and not the grammarian) as Festus indicates,fn I take to be a true tradition; for in Latin inscriptions the double consonants do not appear (except in one name where the Greek is transliterated) until 189 b.c., as will be seen in the fourth volume of this series. (p.xxvi).

Ornament in Fig.1 (above) – details from Brit.Lib. MS Egerton 2835, a fourteenth century copy of the Etymologies.

(detail) Brit.Lib. MS Egerton 609 f. 79
  • A superb post – a must-read – is  ‘Cracking Codes in Medieval Books‘, by Erick Kwakkal in his medievalbooks blog (Feb.20th., 2015).  *Recommended*.
  • A very simple, easy, basic outline by the University of Alberta [HERE].
  • Litteravisigothica kindly offers a pdf the subject of the origins of shorthand notation in medieval documents.  On page three there is a brilliant table that can be printed off and carried about with you as you work.  All the most common abbreviations are given, arranged by the number of their letters – up to six letters.  I can’t reprint the whole thing here, of course, but here’s a snippet… Another highly recommended.

  • Abbreviations used in Greek manuscripts and adopted in medieval Latin manuscripts. See Allen’s Notes on abbreviations in Greek manuscripts, which can be read or download through the internet archive. [HERE].
  • A clear and basic introduction kindly offered by the keepers of the University of Nottingham’s manuscripts. [HERE].
  • Karl Maurer, ‘Commonest Abbreviations, Signs, etc. used in the apparatus to a classical text’, (Dept. Classics, University of Dallas). Downloadable as PDF.
  • *Recommended* for newcomers to the study.  A very clear, reasonably  concise summary of abbreviation types, their history and classification is found in a paper by Alpo Honkapohja. Don’t be put off by the fact that its intended audience is computer programmers. Alpo Honkapohja, ‘Manuscript abbreviations in Latin and English: History, typologies and how to tackle them in encoding’, VariengVol. 14 –Principles and Practices for the Digital Editing and Annotation of Diachronic Data.
  • Adriano Cappelli’s classic work  The Elements of Abbreviation in Medieval Latin Paleography has been uploaded free to all [HERE] by the University of Kansas (thanks) …
  • You’ll soon notice that most sources mention the Irish monks as having been first and keenest in using the Tironian abbreviations. Some also refer to the Tironian ‘et’ surviving in Irish to this day.  Stan Carey’s post demonstrates the fact, and adds a bit of history too. ‘The Tironian ‘et’ (7) in Galway, Ireland’, sentence first blog, (September 19th., 2014).
(detail) – photo by Stan Casey. ‘sentence first’
  • Michele P. Brown, A Guide to Western Historical Scripts from Antiquity to 1600 (1993).
  • I’m a great fan of David Schap’s book, Handbook for Classical Research. Rigorously practical it’s proven invaluable – here’s a taste:


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