Graphicacy and Authority in Early Europe: Graphic Signs of Power and Faith in the Early Middle Ages (c. 300–1000) (completed)

This five-year project (2012-2017) aims to study the development of non-figural graphic representational signs of authority in early medieval Europe.


Panel from a Roman sarcophagus, c. 350 AD.


About the project

Graphicacy as the fourth “R” (received speech) has attracted a growing interest among specialists in educational psychology and visual literacy in past decades, who have commonly studied the subject as a phenomenon typical of the modern age with its increasing importance of visual media. In contrast to this approach, the project aims to study graphicacy as a specific mode that was used in early medieval communication, and to explore how this phenomenon related to socio-cultural transformation during late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, especially with regard to the evolving perceptions of authority (both political and religious) in this period.

Modern medieval studies have yet to address comprehensively the increasing role of non-figural graphic representational signs (such as monograms, graphic symbols, and monogrammatic initials in religious manuscripts) across a wide range of media in the early Middle Ages. The study of these graphic signs has thus far been fragmented across different disciplines within the humanities according to the type of graphic sign addressed and/or the media in which such signs can be encountered. As such, graphic representational signs on charters have been studied in diplomatics, those on coins in numismatics, those in books, wall paintings, stone sculptures, and other art works in art history, palaeography, historical cartography and the history of science, and those on other material objects in archaeology, while written discourse on various graphic representational signs has been discussed by students of textual history. However, such signs can in fact be viewed as expressions of the same phenomenon—namely graphicacy—which became an important mode of communication in early Europe. This project is intended to contribute towards a better understanding of such signs by placing them in the contexts of related written discourse, concurrent political culture, and the wider socio-cultural milieu.

In this project, early graphicacy has been preliminarily defined as a mode of communicating conceptual information by means of non-figural graphic devices, which may or may not consist of letters, words, and isolated figural motifs.


The project is funded by the Research Council of Norway.

Selected Bibliography

Relevant Links

Published Aug. 28, 2012 12:03 PM - Last modified Apr. 29, 2018 9:43 AM


Project Leader 

Prof. Ildar Garipzanov