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Palaeography is the study of handwriting in classical and medieval documents. The term was coined by Montfaucon (1708), and is derived from Greek παλαιός ‘old’ and γράφειν ‘to write’.

The study of medieval documents by the French benedictine Jean Mabillon, De re diplomatica (1681), is taken to be the first academic contribution in the field. In its widest sense, palaeography deals with reading and dating historical documents. In recent years, codicology has been established as a separate field of study, once also covered by palaeography. The focus of codicology is on books as physical objects, as opposed to the writing contained in them which remains the focus of palaeography.

Palaeography is often considered to be an auxiliary discipline (German: Hilfswissenschaft) for historians, philologists and other scholars working with old sources. For editors of handwritten sources, palaeographical knowledge is essential for the actual analysis of the text and is usually regarded as an integrated skill rather than an auxiliary discipline.

There are numerous introductions to palaeography, both general and language or script specific. One of the most influential introductions is still the one by Bernhard Bischoff, originally published in German (1986) and later in an English translation (1990).


– Bischoff, Bernhard. 1986. Paläographie des römischen Altertums und des abendländischen Mittelalters. 2nd. ed. Berlin: Erich Schmidt Verlag. – English translation by Dáibhí Ó Crónin and David Ganz. Latin Paleography. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
– Montfaucon, Bernard de. 1708. Palaeographia Graeca, sive De ortu et progressu literarum graecarum. Parisiis: apud L. Guerin, J. Boudot et C. Robustel.

In other languages

DE: Paläograpie
FR: paléographie
IT: paleografia
LAT: palaeographia


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