Profile picture
GiorgiaV @ParvaVox
, 30 tweets, 18 min read Read on Twitter
“My name is here presented more to be understood than to be read” said once a #Roman senator.
For my #EarlyMedievalPills, let’s explore what monograms can tell us about changes in political culture & social communication between late antiquity & #Carolingian times.
Monogrammatic culture has its roots in the #classical world. Producers used monograms to mark mass-produced objects such as pottery. We also see them on Hellenistic coins. However, they didn’t encode the name of the issuing authority, but functioned as control marks.
Influenced by Hellenistic models, #Roman emperors adopted monograms on their coins. They were used to encode the emperor’s name thus becoming personal graphic devices that could also mark certain objects the trade of which was an imperial monopoly.
By the 3rdC CE personal monograms were carved on luxury items belonging to aristocrats. From control marks on coins and wares, monograms were evolving into symbols of power and signs of social prestige that became widely popular among the elites.
Used by early Christians, personal monograms became a key feature of #Roman calligraphic culture and epigraphic practice. We find them for instance in the #Roman catacombs where they encode the names of the deceased as well as some standard clauses such as “in pace”.
An impressive calligraphic monogram marks the 1st page of the Calendar of 354: it encoded the dedicatee’s name and a typical #Christian acclamation (Valentine floreas in Deo). It was designed by Filocalus, the #Roman calligrapher who carved the famous epigrams of Pope Damasus.
However, it’s only between the 5th and the 6thC that monograms began to be consistently used by emperors, officials, church leaders, kings and aristocrats. Signs of social prestige, they were displayed on luxury objects and dress accessories.
From the early 6thC onwards, we see monograms consistently used in churches. Monumental monograms were for instance adopted by Emperor Justinian and Theodora as graphic signs of imperial authority. We see them in the churches built in #Constantinople thanks to their patronage.
Church patrons and donors imitated this new imperial practice both in the East & in the West. 6-7thC monograms can still be seen in many basilicas in #Roma, #Ravenna and other cities. Bishops thus openly displayed the authority they had acquired in late antique societies.
Late #Roman traditions, among which monograms, continued to be upheld in post-Roman kingdoms, but by the 7thC monogrammatic culture seems to have lost its appeal as a display of royal authority. Only bishops and public officials continued to use monograms.
Also, we see new political agents claiming this traditions for themselves: cities and monasteries used monograms as a display of their institutional authority. Ostrogothic copper coins show for instance the monogram of #Ravenna.
As the sign of the cross and christograms proliferated in early #medieval material culture, they were also influenced by monogrammatic lettering. The colophon of the famous 7thC Codex Valerianus offers an amazing example of monogrammatic jewelled cross.
Monogrammatic initials can be considered a new visual phenomenon characteristic of early #medieval graphicacy. They are a prominent feature in #Insular #manuscript traditions in which they functioned as both aesthetic and mystical devices conveying extralinguistic meanings.
Monograms also started to appear in early #medieval liturgical manuscripts where the combination of letters in a monogram-like manner was used to highlight key moments in the Canon of the Mass and to convey encoded ideas about God and his nature.
The revival of monogrammatic culture is a #Carolingian phenomenon possibly influenced by both #Byzantine & #Insular models. It's a “reinvented tradition” now used also in manuscripts and charters to visualise the authority of bishops, abbots, scribes and notaries.
Monograms as graphic signs of authority in the #Roman imperial tradition started to be used again by the #Carolingian rulers. Charlemagne’s monogram worked as a highly recognisable logo, a symbol of power & authority. As such it was also imitated in contemporary lawbooks.
Charlemagne’s monogram was a source of inspiration for the notaries working for his sons and heirs: they could thus emphasise dynastic continuity by graphic means. In later #Carolingian times, monograms continued to work as graphic tools of visual legitimisation.
Unlike late antique examples, 8-9thC personal monograms did not appear on dress accessories or luxury objects, but on codices and charters thus highlighting the extent to which the written word was invested with authority in #Carolingian societies.
Familiarity with diplomatic practices could influence a scribe’s decorative style. It's the case in this #manuscript copied by Agambertus possibly a monk at #Fleury: a beautiful monogram encodes the name of the commissioner, an abbess whose name remains an enigma.
Scribal virtuosity could now be displayed through the use of monogrammatic devices. Here, monograms encode a marginal reference to the main text : “Ecce Quomodo Troia Capta Est” can be read next to the passage narrating the fall of Troy.
The #Carolingian fascination with monograms led to the addition of a monogrammatic section to a grammatical treatise known as “De inventione litterarum”. This might allow us to locate the revival of the monogrammatic tradition in the south-eastern areas of the Frankish realm.
A cultural history of monograms allows us to detect changes in the political culture of pre-modern societies. Monograms acquired new connotations in the late antique world: they were symbols, signs of authority & calligraphic devices conveying social prestige.
They were soon appropriated by the Christian elites and the proliferation of episcopal monograms is a testimony to the growing authority of bishops in a world in which #classical civic institutions were disappearing.
Visual badges of elevated social status, monograms were highly popular in the 6thC, while a decrease in their use in the 7thC could be interpreted as a manifestation of the fragmentation of the Mediterranean world and the demise of late antique visual pageantry.
With Charlemagne, personal monograms became again signs of royal authority and as such they were also used to convey claims to dynastic legitimacy. They feature on coins, but also on other essential means of social communication such as diplomas and manuscripts.
The use of monogrammatic lettering and initials in #manuscript culture is a specific early #medieval phenomenon: monograms were now used also as a form of visual exegesis and symbolic interpretation.
Royal courts, episcopal scriptoria and monasteries were the new settings in which the contours of political culture were delineated. In a world very much focused on the written word, books became crucial venues to display visual signs of authority such as monograms.
From dress accessories & domestic utensils to books, the history of monograms thus illustrates some of the key cultural transformations that the Western world underwent in those five crucial centuries during which the #ancient societies evolved into new #medieval ones.
And to close my weekly thread, I leave you here THE REFERENCE on this topic: Ildar Garipzanov’s freshly published OUP book. I condensed in this thread some of its most fascinating pages:…

It goes without saying, if you have questions or want to know the exact reference to the manuscripts or objects you see in the pictures, do not hesitate to ask 😉
Missing some Tweet in this thread?
You can try to force a refresh.

Like this thread? Get email updates or save it to PDF!

Subscribe to GiorgiaV
Profile picture

Get real-time email alerts when new unrolls are available from this author!

This content may be removed anytime!

Twitter may remove this content at anytime, convert it as a PDF, save and print for later use!

Try unrolling a thread yourself!

how to unroll video

1) Follow Thread Reader App on Twitter so you can easily mention us!

2) Go to a Twitter thread (series of Tweets by the same owner) and mention us with a keyword "unroll" @threadreaderapp unroll

You can practice here first or read more on our help page!

Did Thread Reader help you today?

Support us! We are indie developers!

This site is made by just three indie developers on a laptop doing marketing, support and development! Read more about the story.

Become a Premium Member and get exclusive features!

Premium member ($30.00/year)

Too expensive? Make a small donation by buying us coffee ($5) or help with server cost ($10)

Donate via Paypal Become our Patreon

Thank you for your support!