Adapting the roman alphabet for writing Old English: evidence from coin epigraphy and single-sheet charters


  • In writing this piece I have benefited from useful discussions of various aspects of the topic with Alaric Hall, Siân Prosser and Sanne van der Schee. I am grateful to Helen Foxhall Forbes and Jo Story for reading and commenting on drafts of this paper, and to the reviewers for Early Medieval Europe, whose detailed comments were extremely helpful in revising it. Any remaining errors are my own. Nicholas Brooks and Susan Kelly very kindly provided me with references to their edition of the Christ Church, Canterbury charters while it was in proof, for which I am very grateful. I also wish to express my gratitude to the British Library and the archives of Canterbury Cathedral for allowing me access to some of the single-sheet charters discussed and the University of Leicester for the study leave that allowed me to complete this essay.


Single-sheet charters and coin epigraphy provide valuable evidence for the development of representations of the Old English dental fricative in the seventh and eighth centuries. This evidence indicates differing Kentish and Mercian practices up to the 780s, when scribes in both areas rapidly adopt <ð> to represent this sound. In Kent, occasional experimentation with this character from perhaps as early as the reign of Eadbald (616–40 ad) may suggest a lengthy period of gradual adoption prior to the rapid increase. Mercian practice instead shows an abrupt adoption, which is perhaps the result of reform according to external (perhaps Kentish) models.