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Latin Palaeography

Abbreviations

The second hurdle researchers face when consulting old documents in Latin is the large number of abbreviations. 

 

To save the time of the scribe and the space available on a manuscript, a system of shortening words was employed.

 

Two main kinds of abbreviation were used: suspension and contraction.

Suspension

A word which has its ending
missed off is called a suspension.

edric[us]

edric[us]

Contraction

A word which has middle letters
missed out is called a contraction.

T[u]nc

T[u]nc

 

One of the best ways to spot whether a word has been abbreviated is by the marks scribes made in addition to the letters.  These can take several forms and can appear above, below and to the side of individual words.  Most, however, like the examples above, occur above the word; we call these superscript marks or superscript letters.

 

At the start of the tutorial the number of abbreviations may seem large, but, as you progress through the ten documents, more and more of them will become familiar.  To help you learn them faster, they have been divided up into categories.

 

By the end of the ten lessons, you will have a good grounding in the most frequently encountered abbreviations, which, together with your knowledge of Latin, will give you the skills you need to tackle new documents more confidently.