The project

"Latin is a pervasive element in Old Norse manuscripts; the two linguistic components are mutually dependent and relate closely to the manuscript’s individual purpose, use and history."

This assumption constitutes the backbone of the project, which investigates bilingual, i.e. mixed Latin and Old Norse manuscripts. Invisibilia traces the manuscripts’ unknown Latin components and makes them visible and digitally accessible to the scientific community. The project analyses the interaction of the Latin section with their Old Norse context and the correlation between manuscript bilingualism and cultural history. In addition to providing essential tools and texts for scholars of Old Norse and Medieval Latin, Invisibilia sheds new light on the use of a lingua franca in a vernacular environment that has hitherto been regarded as mainly monolingual.

The use of the Latin language in medieval Iceland and Norway had long been ignored, due to both a nationalist and traditionalist interest in establishing these countries as literately independent and genuinely remote from continental Europe. However, in the past two decades, the field has slowly been moving forwards, focussing increasingly on the role that Latin played in a variety of contexts. Current research areas include the production and transmission of Latin texts, the liturgical use of Latin, and the phenomena of intertextuality between Latin texts and their Old Norse derivatives (genre studies, motive studies, translated texts, source studies). Today, the impact of Latin scribal culture cannot be seriously doubted, but its investigation is inhibited by the fact that no larger Latin texts or whole manuscripts survive from either Norway or Iceland.

The remaining traces – such as manuscript fragments, parchment slips and references to lost works have naturally drawn attention to their previous existence. An even larger amount of surviving Latin evidence has, however, been passed by unnoticed and deemed unworthy of investigation, because it is functional writing or notes in the margin of Old Norse manuscripts. In print and on-line manuscript catalogues, these marginalia are almost always omitted. The situation for original Latin manuscript sections is only slightly better, since their content is often summarised or indicated incorrectly.

Despite the variety of approaches to editing, both Latin components and marginalia are excluded from most editions. This does not only apply to 19th and early 20th century editions, which are intended for making the text available for reading, but also to modern, critical editions for scholarly use. Even though marginalia would pertain to the latter type of edition, they are usually considered of no relevance for the main text, and therefore omitted. Paradoxically, the most recent developments in digital editing worsen the situation, especially for Latin marginalia: High-resolution digital images have increasingly taken over the function of facsimile transcriptions, which for this reason lose ground in editing practices. The readers see themselves ideally confronted with digital images, diplomatic and normalised transcription and possibly a translation and study of the text. Marginalia are not mentioned in any of these levels, and thus remain invisible and inaccessible even to those interested in studying them.

The corpus

Invisibilia's corpus comprises all medieval codices in the Arnamagnaean collections in Copenhagen and Reykjavík, which contain both Old Norse and Latin text as clearly distinct entities. By this definition, Latin parts within an Old Norse text, such as loan-words or quotations, are excluded. The same applies to non-medieval Latin entities such as annotations from early modern scholars. From a total of 665 manuscripts, an estimated 60 % contains Latin main text or marginalia and will be subject to closer examination.  

The corpus falls into two groups: originally bilingual manuscripts, in which Latin entities have been conceptually integrated, and bilingually expanded manuscripts, whose Latin component is a later addition. Attribution to the two groups is exclusive and often varies from entity to entity even within one manuscript. The sheer number of bilingual manuscripts supports a more important role of the Latin language within the cultural system, reaching across social strata and a previously assumed divide between laity and clergy regarding the use of Latin. Latin served a diversity of functions, depending on the manuscripts’ individual character. This character is supposedly determined by its content, production and use, and it relates directly to the understanding of Old Icelandic and Norwegian book culture.

Research objectives

Invisibilia has three research objectives, which will be published and made publicly accessible on this webpage from January 2019.

Catalogue: Invisibilia detects the Latin entities contained in Old Norse manuscripts, physically describes these entities physically and makes this information accessible as a supplement to existing manuscript catalogues.

Edition: Invisibilia provides a multi-level edition, translation and identification of the Latin entities to supplement previous editions of the manuscripts.

Study: Invisibilia analyses the interrelation between the Old Norse and the Latin entities. By doing so, the project aims to gain further insight into the production and use of the manuscripts within their socio-cultural system, as well as an understanding of the role of Latin as functiolect in a society that has traditionally been perceived as almost exclusively vernacular.


Detection:  All Arnamagnaean Old Norse manuscripts are checked manually for Latin components. Digitised manuscripts are consulted on-line at, other manuscripts can be flicked through as photographs, and many will be checked from the originals in the manuscript reading room. Manuscript catalogues serve as a first indicator how to prioritise within the corpus.

Description: Invisibilia physically describes both the Latin parts and the manuscript as a whole using the accepted standard of the XML TEI P5 encoding set. Both standards ensure interoperability with other databases and systems. General manuscript descriptions are supplied either from pre-existing manuscript catalogues or internal information from other scholarly projects. Special emphasis is put on the chronology of the Latin vs. the Old Norse entities and their relative layout.

Registration: The information is stored in a custom-made database via this website. From January 2019, it will be made openly accessible. New information produced by Invisibilia will be eventually be exchanged with other database projects.


Transcription: Of the Latin entities, XML TEI P5 compliant transcriptions are made, thus using an agreed standard that has proven successful in different editing settings. The levels of the transcription comprise facsimile, diplomatic and normalised alongside a facsimile reproduction (enriched high-resolution images). Through these four levels, the database can meet a variety of scholarly needs.

Translation: Invisibilia provides an English translation on two levels, i.e. verbatim and interpretative. Thus, the edition will appeal to a wide range of users.

Identification: Invisibilia attempts to identify the Latin entities by conducting searches in databases of scientific editions, in digitised early prints and search-engine based web browsing. It will provide references to editions where possible or to similar texts in other manuscripts, thus indicating traditions and connections.

Registration: All information is stored in the database and will be made accessible on this webpage.


Latin within the manuscript: Invisibilia exploits the functionality of Latin starting with the single item in a manuscript. It correlates content with the rest of the manuscript, with type, layout, chronology and qualitative interrelation. Dimensions to be tested for the content are text-text, text-person and inter-manuscript relations.

Latin within the literary system: As a second step, Invisibilia compares the findings for each manuscript with others that share the same coordinates, thus trying to find patterns of statistical reliability. It relates quantitative and qualitative evidence to different functions of literature, and thus assets function and meaning to the Latin language as a whole.

Latin within the socio-cultural system: Thirdly, Invisibilia connects this information with the social strata involved in the production, dissemination and ownership of the manuscripts, thus providing clues on the Latin literacy of the people connected to them. By comparing these results to medieval England, France and Germany, the peculiarity or commonness of the Icelandic socio-cultural system will emerge more clearly.