Scribal Timeline

Who scribes were

Monastic Scribes

600 - 1200

Secular/Proffesional Scribes

1200 - 1600


Invention of Paper


The Chinese invented paper somewhere around the 2nd Century. (Scribes & Illuminators, 1992, p.16)

Papyrus still in use

600 - 800

Till the 7th or 8th Century Papyrus was still being used but not in books. It was too brittle and flimsy to withstand a lot of page turning or even the pressure exerted from the sewing thread in a binding, but worked for scrolls. (Scribes & Illuminators, 1992, p.16)

Paper mills become common

1201 - 1600

By the 13th Century paper mills were common in Spain and Italy. The mills became common in France by 1340, Germany by 1390, but not in England until later in the 15th Century. (Scribes & Illuminators, 1992, p. 16)


1300 - 1600

By at least 1300, European paper-makers were twisting pieces wire and attaching them to the wire paper frames to make watermarks. (Scribes & Illuminators, 1992, p. 17)

Paper becomes common in cheap books


By the 15th Century cheap books for clerics and students were more often on paper than on parchment. Other books that commonly used paper include texts books, popular tracts, sermon volumes, etc. (Scribes & Illuminators, 1992, p.16)

Paper infinitely cheaper

1450 - 1600

In the later 15th Century paper is now used in all but the most luxurious books. (Scribes & Illuminators, 1992, p.16)

Calligraphic Tools & Tech.

Iron-Gall Ink

201 - 1600

Made from oak galls and in use by the 3rd Century, it was not explained in manuscripts until Theophilus mentions it in the 12th Century. Most later manuscripts are written with it. (Scribes & Illuminators, 1992, p.32)

Red Ink

401 - 1500

Red was always the secondary ink color, used for heading, running titles, initials, rubrics, & red-letter days. It was sometimes employed to mark mistakes. Use of red ink goes back to at least the 5th Century and flourished till the 15th. Printing killed the use of red (or any other colors for words).

Sometimes blue and green ink would be used as a third and fourth color, but they are not nearly as common. (Scribes & Illuminators, 1992, p. 33)

Switch Reeds to Quills

501 - 700

Sometime around the 6th to 7th Centuries the switch was made from reeds to quill pens. (Bishop Isidore of this era says both are the tools of the scribe.) (

Carbon Ink

600 - 1300

Carbon ink, made of charcoal or lamp black, was common in eastern and ancient cultures. It occurs in all medieval recipes until the 12th Century. Can be rubbed off more easily than oak-gall ink and is more translucent/shiny. (Scribes & Illuminators, 1992, p.32)

Ruling - Dry Point

600 - 1200

Dry point ( a method of scoring with a stylus or back of the knife) was used mainly until the 12th Century. Some scribes pressed so hard they cut through the parchment. (Scribes & Illuminators, 1992, p.23)

Fountain Pens 1st Mentioned


10th Century fountain pens mentioned in Islamic records. (Western Writing Implements in the Age of the Quill Pen, 1990)

Plummet now used for ruling


Around the 12th Century people started using graphite/metallic lead/silver (known as plummet sticks) for ruling lines. (Scribes & Illuminators, 1992, p. 23)

Goose Feather are Best (Theophilus)


In his 12th Century book, Theophilus votes for goose feathers above swan for quills. (Scribes & Illuminators, 1992, p. 27)

Only Extant Pen-knife

1101 - 1400

A 12th to 14th Century penknife found in the 1980s in the Thames is the only pre-16th Century pen-knife that has been found. (Western Writing Implements in the Age of the Quill Pen, 1990)

Use both Plummet and Ink

1201 - 1600

Starting in the 13th Century and continuing till end of period both plummet and pen-ink were used for ruling. Sometimes multiple colors were used for a festive appearance. (Scribes & Illuminators, 1992, p.23)

Printing Begins


In the Rhineland, experiments in printing begin. (History of Illuminated Manuscripts, 1997, p.9)

Movable Type


More advanced printing starts sweeping across Europe, moving from Germany to Italy in 1465. (History of Illuminated Manuscripts, 1997, p.9)

Printing moves across Europe

1470 - 1510

Printing becomes more common as France starts printing in 1470 and is shortly followed by Spain and England. (History of Illuminated Manuscripts, 1997, p.9)

Printing Reigns Supreme

1510 - 1600

Most books in Europe are printed during this time period. (History of Illuminated Manuscripts, 1997, p.9)

Underdrawing Tools & Tech.

Sometimes Drawings instead of Pictures

780 - 1300

Some practical and scientific books in the Carolingian and Romanesque periods used only drawings for pictures and initials.

Paint by numbers

1101 - 1200

Many 12th Century English manuscripts have tiny letters written on the underdrawing by the scribe. These indicated what color went where so that the artist/illuminator could know what the scribe had in mind for the painting. (Scribes & Illuminators, 1992, p.61)

Inking the Underdrawing


The Gottingen Model Book suggests using very thin ink or thin black colour, polished with a tooth so that the lines take paint. (Scribes & Illuminators, 1992, p.51)

Decorative Tools & Tech.

Initials in Antiquity


Antiquity enlarges the 1st letter and color fills. (Scribes & Illuminators, 1992, p.45)

Early Initials


Early Irish initials divide sections and mark them with large pen-work initials that include interlaced patterns and simple animals. The letters next to the initials stepped down to the appropriate sized text from the initial. (Scribes & Illuminators, 1992, p.45)

Signed Work

1300 - 1600

Not a very common practice, but became more accepted during the Italian Renaissance (in Italy). (Scribes & Illuminators, 1992, p. 56)

Initials are Mainstream

1400 - 1600

Now even the humblest texts have enlarged letters in lieu of chapter titiles, and slightly smaller initials for section headings. (Thus following the hierarchy of decoration, where different levels of status are apportioned to different sections because of the amount of decoration.)
(Scribes & Illuminators, 1992, p. 45)

Brush vs. Pen


Gottingen Model Book suggests using a brush everywhere except in checkered backgrounds. There one should use a pen and then heighten it with a brush. (Scribes & Illuminators, 1992, p. 62)



Isidore, Bishop of Serville

560 - 636

Wrote Etymologia and in it says: "the instruments of the scribe are
the reed and quill." (

Laurence, prior of Durham

1149 - 1154

Depicted as a scribe in a contemporary manuscript of his own works. (Scribes & Illuminators, 1992, p.37)

Jacopo da Balsemoof Bergamo

1425 - 1503

Illuminator, who signed his work. Italian Renaissance. (Scribes & Illuminators, 1992, p. 56)

Ambrogio da Marliano

1460 - 1470

Illuminator to the Sforza court in Milan in the 1460s and 70s.

Jean Mielot


A cannon of Lille and secretary to two Dukes of Burgundy, Philip the Good and Charles the Bold. Notable translator and scribe. (Scribes & Illuminators, 1992, p.36)

Simon Bening of Bruges

1483 - 1561

One of the last and most highly regarded manuscript illuminators.(Scribes & Illuminators, 1992, p. 65)