Sunday, November 6, 2016

May 5, 2016: before 1377? - Italy

Translator's introduction
(by Michael S. Howard)

On Franco is posting a series of notes examining critically, country by country, old documents that seem to verify the existence of playing cards in particular places before 1377. The first, at in Italian, is on Italy. Comments in brackets are mine; the numbers in the left margin above text are the page numbers of Franco's pdf. I first posted this translation at

Playing cards in Europe before 1377? - Italy
(by Franco Pratesi)


The idea for this study is unusual, because at its origin is simply a quote that can be read in a book by Thierry Depaulis (1): on p. 8, about the arrival of playing cards into Europe, is the following [English translation follows].
Il est couramment admis aujourd’hui, en effet, que les premières mentions des cartes en Europe – sous le nom de naips, naibbe, naibi, etc. – se situent autour de 1370. Les premières références aux cartes à jouer nous viennent de Catalogne (1371, vers 1375), d’Italie 1370-71, puis 1377 à Florence et à Sienne; 1379 à Viterbe), d’Allemagne du sud (1377 à Rheinfelden, près de Bâle; 1378 à Ratisbonne; 1379 à Constance et à Saint-Gall), du Brabant (1379, 1380). La décennie suivante les voit mentionnées dans les Pays-Bas (1381, 1382, 1383 dans le Brabant; 1382 à Lille), en Catalogne toujours (1380, 1382 à Barcelone, 1380 à Perpignan) et en Provence (1381 à Marseille). Enfin, en France à partir des années 1390.

[It is widely accepted today, in fact, that the first mentions of cards in Europe - as naips, naibbe, naibi, etc. - are around 1370. The earliest references to playing cards come to us from Catalonia (1371 to 1375), from Italy (1370-1371, then 1377at Florence and Siena, 1379 Viterbo), from Southern Germany (1377 at Rheinfelden, near Basel. 1378 at Regensburg, 1379 at Constance and St. Gallen), from Brabant (1379, 1380). The following decade sees them mentioned in the Netherlands (1381, 1382, 1383 in Brabant, 1382 at Lille), Catalonia again (1380, 1382 at Barcelona, 1380 at Perpignan) and in Provence (Marseille 1381). Finally, in France from the 1390s.]
I must admit that more than once I was not very attentive to the flow in the period copied above, until, almost by chance, my eye happened to stop at those two years indicated for Italy, 1370 and 1371, that were new. If the author were someone else, I would not have given any weight to the news, even after discovering it, but with that signature they could not be numbers at random. Considering my decades-long friendship with the author, I was going to speak directly to him for an explanation, but it quickly came to my mind that the new source could be the collection of citations of the laws on games present in Italian town statutes edited by Alessandra Rizzi (2). That assumption proved to be correct, I think, because in that book are citations which specifically derive from those two years.

In fact, similar quotes of potential interest can be found in the same book. and we shall therefore examine more
1. T. Depaulis, Le tarot révélé: une histoire du tarot d’après les documents. La Tour-de-Peilz 2013.
2. A. Rizzi (ed.) Statuta de ludo: le leggi sul gioco nell’Italia di comune (secoli XIII-XVI). Treviso and Rome 2012.

cases that have even a slight chance of really going back in time to attest the presence of playing cards in Italy before 1377, the year of the noted provision in Florence (and of the Tractatus of Basel). In any case, it is always and only the book cited (Statuta de ludo which is at the basis of each case studied here.

The desire to find reliable notices before 1377 is felt strongly, because in Florence (and even more at Basel) playing cards, when they appear for the first time, are already in an advanced stage of their diffusion. This ends up being the main reason to investigate further any potentially usable previous notices. However, at the same time, the substrate that can be considered its preliminary is that of a dominant skepticism: a priori, none of all these documents presents itself as secure! There remains a constant doubt whether they are possible interpolations, or successive modifications. doubts that in some cases are immediately transformed into certainty, when the "old" text of interest is verified. it is less ancient than supposed, because it is known only by subsequent copies or even, much later. printed editions, In short, all the "new" news will be critically analyzed one after the other.

Non-selected cases

There are a number of cases which immediately are of very uncertain date: perhaps they could hold the data we seek, dating back to years prior to 1377, but already the manner in which they are presented in the Statuta de ludo does not encourage further study. There are in particular the cases listed below.

Borgo San Martino prob. post 1385 (al.1278-1279) sed exempl. saec. XV-XVI (prob. 1464 to 1483).
Levanto saec. XIV ex. (ed. 1773).
Moncalieri 1209-1482 (i.e. 1386).
Pinerolo 1220 prob.-1529 (i.e. 1434).
Rosignano Monferrato 1306-1342 (cum cap. usque 1444) sed exempl. 1527.
Serralunga d'Alba saec. XIV.

They are all statutes of municipalities that will not be studied here. Despite

the fact that they are excluded from any further investigation, there remains the surprising observation that they are all Piedmontese-Ligurian towns, as will be others among the municipalities to be examined later. It might initially appear a bit heavy-handed, excluding all these possibilities, which might indicate a specific region and allow one to hypthesize the most plausible connected paths; However, the value of these contributions can be easily judged by doing the math and concluding that zero even multiplied six times remains zero. It appears therefore preferable to dwell on the other cases, those which at least initially present themselves as more reliable, as will be done below.

Portovenere 1370
Portovenere does not need any introduction: for the beauty of its territory, the city has been included, along with the Cinque Terre, as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. In the time of interest there had been the unification within a single set of walls of the Borgo Vecchio and Borgo Nuovo. and the harbor was under the rule of Genoa.

The ancient statutes of Portovenere were published by Emilio Pandiani more than a century ago, thanks to the scrutiny of a valuable manuscript in a private library (3). The editor not only described and professionally transcribed the manuscript, but also tracked its passage among the private collections of several noble families of Liguria.

Actually it is not a single municipal statute, but three collections of laws which present themselves as corresponding to the stages before their meeting in a single body of statutory laws. Pandiani notes that this statute is of great interest for its original character: while many statutes, mostly from later periods, present themselves as the result of a common fixed model, with only slight variations from one case to another, this specimen has its own characteristics that demonstrate the direct creation of choices effectuated by the local population in all the various subjects independently.

Also based on my personal experience arising from the reading of many similar statutes, I can confirm that this statute presents itself
3. E. Pandiani (ed.), Gli statuti di Portovenere, anno 1370. Genoa 1901.

differently from the usual case from its very beginning. The headings begin after the statement In nomine domini nostri Jesu Christi Anno MCCCLXX indicione VIII die VII Madii; The first heading is De non blasphemando, the second De non ludendo ad taxillos nec ad cartas, the third De non tenendo ludum in domo sua. A communal statute never begins that way, at least it would not do in the Florence area I know best; It could possibly be a mayor’s statute or a reform to be introduced in the text of a previous municipal statute.

But the originality does not stop there; it is mainly the text of the law that in the second rubric copied below (from p. 74 of the book cited) looks absolutely extraordinary, as the extraordinary rest presents already the title, with those unexpected cartas.
Item statuerunt et ordinaverunt quod aliqua persona non audeat vel presumet ludere ad aliquem ludum tasilorum nec ad ludum cartarum nixi ad ludum rectum pena et banno soldorum quinque Ianuinorum, Si de die fuerit et si de nocte fuerit pena et banno soldorum decem Ianuinorum salvo ad tabulas ved ad Schachos et salvo bastasii a puteis ultra.
Of course, the hardest thing to accept is the date, but there are also elements that make the full story most indigestible. Playing cards do not appear with the term of naibi that is normally there, but we could concede that we are far enough away from Florence to accept the use of the other term. The most delicate point is that while for the first time it will allow card playing, it would already document at the same time one of the games done with the cards, the ludus rectus, which we find more often with its common name of diritta, similarly also permitted, usually, in the Florentine Republic, but of course in later times.

So if this text could actually have been written in 1370 it would be concurrently the first witness for cards in Europe and also for the information that there were already more card games, including one that became traditional, diritta, which could then be assimilated with a few other games, not of cards, deemed worthy of being excluded from the prohibitions. At this point there seems to me necessary an act of faith, or credulity, and personally I do not accept it, ready to "reconsider" only if faced with confirmation arising from other documents, however, secure ones.

Buia 1371

Buja is a small town, in the province of Udine, in which the inhabitants mainly speak the Friulian language. Devastated by the violent earthquake of 1976, it has earned the Gold Medal for Civil Merit for its reconstruction efforts. Perhaps the most important event in its long history was the appearance of the Virgin Mary on a beautiful tree of apples, with frescoes and paintings stored locally in memory of the fact. The statutes of Buja Castle were published by Vincenzo Joppi "For the most auspicious wedding of lawyer Dr Vincenzo Casasola with the most choicewrthy lady Anna Lucia Broili" (4). Like typical occasional editions of the genre, it is a book of a few pages; I read 54, of which the statutes occupy only pp. 14-43. I have searched in vain for a copy in Tuscan libraries and I have not found it necessary to try to get another exemplar in libraries, especially in the Veneto, where it is present. The text of interest, as reported in the Statuta de ludo, is as follows.
Nullus de Buia et villarum subiectarum audeat... ludere ad taxillos sue cartis vel alio ludo pro pecuniis post sonum ave Marie de secundo, nec tenere in domo ludentes..., nec etiam ludentibus vel tenere seu accomodare aut vendere candellas aut aliud lumen pro ludo, sub pena marcharum denarioirum duarum applicandarum pro dimidio ecclesie Sancti Laurentii et aliud dimidium accusatori.
As we see, rather than prohibiting the game, it prohibits play at night, which suggests that during the day the game of cards was permissible. Beyond checking the accuracy of the transcript to the manuscript, we would have to figure out what the correct date might be, and if instead it clearly corresponded to a later insert, or that the whole statute is only present in copies subsequent to the original date.

Not having checked anything personally, I have little to add, except an obvious geographical observation, including the accompanying cultural and commercial aspects. Before Florence in 1377, for the transit
4. V. Joppi (Editor), Il castello di Buja ed i suoi statuti. Udine 1877.

of playing cards arriving in Italy we can possibly imagine Genoa, Pisa, Naples, Venice and a few other big cities, preferably equipped with high-traffic ports. I do not think Castello Buia satisfied the suitable requirements, unless we assume that it represented a transit stop, a staging point south of the Alps, soon after their crossing, following a land route from Austria - a supposition and provenance which also would require something like an act of faith.

Colle del Marchese 1371

The publication of the statutes of three municipalities of Normandy (a name for Italy I learned only now) was made by Giuseppe Guerrini and Mario Sensi (5). The Colle del Marchese statutes are the first in the series and are transcribed on pp. 1-64 of the book. The work shows all the signs of serious scholarship, and the historical context is reconstructed in detail. To us the seriousness and the good level of this study there is very useful... in a negative way: if it were a less serious transcription we would obliged to submit the text to a careful examination; instead, a simple note at the crucial point of this book allows us to skip all the previous and subsequent documentation, and in essence the entire reference.

On pp. 42-43 we read the transcription of the rubric on games:
[XXXIII] De pena ludentium ad ludum taxillorum.
Item statuimus et ordinamus quod nulla persona de dicto castro vel eius districtu audeat vel presumat ludere ad ludum cartarum (b), taxillorum, lumacarum et vergectarum in dicto castro et eius districtu ad penam .XX. soldorum denariorum pro quolibet et qualibet vice et valdarii teneantur et debeant et denumptiare delinquentes in predicto vel aliquo predictorum vicario et notario dicti communis, stetur et credatur accusationi et denumptiationi ipsorum et cuiuslibet ipsorum sine aliqua probatione et habeant quartam partem banni et vicarius non teneatur dare sententias sine diminutione solvi facere; et nulla persona audeat vel presumat ludentes predictos in domo sua receptare ad dictam penam.
Note (b) at the bottom of the page tells us that if we were to see the manuscript in person, the term cartarum, practically our sole interest, is "superscribed [i.e. written on top of what is there already] and by another hand" [“soprascritto e di altra mano”] And with that we can close the matter, without getting into the more general disquisitions of a local nature, from the historical and geographical points of view, which already have left us perplexed.

Norcia 1257-1526

Norcia is an Umbrian town located on a plateau near the border with the Marche, well known to many Italians, whether thanks to St. Benedict or to its precious pigs, from which derives the IGP trademark for the local ham and even the common name for a butcher, "norcino". In the era in question it was part of the Papal States.

If all the cases studied have different individual characteristics, the case of Norcia has a truly unique one: the statute under consideration is not a manuscript exemplar, or a set of copie, as is usual of the genre, but none other than a printed book published in 1526 (6). Among other things, we find as its printer that Bianchino Leone who in Perugia printed the book of Nottorno Napoletano, of considerable interest for playing cards (7).

When a municipal charter can be traced to several successive manuscripts of the rules, the editor of the publication will compile a critical edition, examining the different testimonies preserved and reporting textual variants found in the various cases. Incredibly, in this case the critical edition was published in two volumes, more than 900 pages in all, by the Deputation of the History of the Homeland for Umbria, having in essence an edition already printed (8). Even from just this data it is clear that the curator, Romano Cordella, has committed himself in essence to the reconstruction of the historical context and of the importance of the reprinted text. Among other things, although a printed work, in the edition of 1526 have been preserved exemplars with some variations in the text, which are then displayed and discussed. The part of our interest is the following:
6. Liber primus [-sextus] statutorum Nursie. Perugia 1526
7. F. Pratesi, The Playing-Card, Vol. 17 No. 1 (1988) 23-33. [online at Use "back" and "next" button to read other pages.]
8. R. Cordella (ed.), Statuti di Norcia: vernacular text printed 1526 / critical edition Perugia 2011.

Dechiarando le predicte cose, che nella piaza del communo de Norsia – como è signata per la cruce – et nelle piaze et vie publice delle castella et ville della dicta terra de Norsia, ad niuno sia licito iocare alli dicti iochi, alla pena predicta de libre vinticinqui de denari como è dicto.

Ancora dechiarando che niuno ioche o possa iocare ad ioco de carti o ad nivinaglia, ad deta de mani o ad barva, o ad croce et ad barva, ad pena de quaranta soldi (per ciascuna fiata) che contrafarà senza diminutione alchuna. Et lu accusatore habia la quarta parte della dicta pena et lo resto sia del communo de la dicta terra de Norsia.

Adiongendo che de dicti iochi prohibiti non se possa tenere rascione per alchuno officiale socto la dicta pena, et non vaglia petitione né processe che se faccia.
Here we read ioco de carti, which is precisely what we seek, but there are more reasons that prevent us from taking seriously the news as documentation before 1377. These laws were compiled in Latin, and the vernacular version that came to the press in 1526 was drafted on a date that cannot be determined exactly, but is of the second half of the fifteenth century. The known dates in which several successive drafts of the Norcia statutes were compiled and of significant reforms appear to be 1257, 1280, 1372, 1386, 1520. Only the statute required in 1366 by Cardinal Albornoz and approved by a prelate in 1372 could be of interest, but we have no evidence to associate with that circumstance the text of our interest.

However, there is an internal criteron that also reduces the already minimal chances to find here a useful contribution. An important finding is that the chapter on games Dello ioco delli dadi et altri iochi prohibiti. Rubrica.CXVII is much more extensive than the part copied above. In the first volume of the recent edition it occupies almost two full pages and the three short paragraphs are copied to the last chapter and follow two others, much longer, in which is presented all the essential legislative parts on games, without making mention of cards. One can easily imagine that in the previous Latin texts, if not at the time of the vernacular version, these paragraphs have been added to the end of the existing chapter. The possibility of determining how faithfully that printed in the vernacular in 1526 to the "corresponding" Latin text of 1372, or other dates, is virtually zero. Also in this case, in the end, we can safely ignore the notice.

Casorzo 1375

Casorzo is a town situated on top of a hill in Asti province on the border with that of Alexandria; not surprisingly, considering the district, the main products are wines, malvasia in particular. Casorzo has Celtic origins and memories of the communal age; in the time of interest it was under the Marquis of Monferrato (like several of the "non-selected cases" met before). The 1375 municipal statutes are still preserved in the Casorzo town hall and a photograph of the codex is visible in the official web pages of the same town 9. This manuscript was in its time studied and transcribed by Natale Caturegli 10, and I have considered sufficient for our purposes examining the relevant printed text. The manuscript is described in the introduction of the book, and on p. XI we read that it is 28x28 cm and 125 pages; what interests us most are the dates listed: it began in 1375, ended in 1590. The rubric of interest, De luxoribus, is at p. 114 of the printed edition and is reproduced below:
Item statutum et ordinatum est quod aliqua persona de Casurcio vel ibi habitans vel undecumque sit, non debeat ludere ad aliquem ludum in toto posse Casurcii – videlicet ad taxillos, ad cartas, ad borianas, ad incidendum carnes ad bechariam, ad incidendum caseum – ad appothecas Casurcii vel in posse dicti loci, nec ad aliquam scomissam, ubi denarii vel unniate currant, sub pena sol. X astensium de die; et sol. LX astiensium de nocte.
The same penalties are extended to the owner of the house and to those who make available sets of the game. The main problem facing us is what date to associate with this section on games. To reliably do that we should examine the codex well and check the spelling and any other clues. However, I personally believe it sufficient to examine the printed transcription to rule out any involvement of the text of our interest with the years previous to 1377. To be covinced of this, I rely on two observations that can be drawn from the printed book. The first is the fact that the heading on games is at p. 114 of the book, corresponding to a very advanced stage of the transcribed statute. In short, the section in question has the air of a late addition to the primitive part of the Statute. Second, and related to the first, concerns the topics of sections immediately preceding and following that of our interest. Well, our heading, De luxoribus, is preceded by De bannis ovium et aliarum bestiarum and followed by De non interficiendo bestias to bechariam absque vision earum. In short, on control of herds and slaughterhouses (with personal visual inspection of the beast before and after slaughter). These were typically, together with variations in the composition and election of municipal offices, matters on which laws were recurrently changed slightly everywhere.


The first secure notice of playing cards in Italy begins with the provision of the town of Florence in March 1377. Since the adoption of that law presupposes an already fairly advanced stage of the game diffusion, it seems useful to investigate every possible clue to reconstruct the above path. Here some variously reported cases of Italian municipal statutes of the time were examined, and for each, heavy criticism has been identified about the validity of the text, the date, or both. The path along which playing cards arrived in Florence, where in 1377 they were already widespread, still has to be identified in detail, and all the cases examined here for Italy present themselves as minimally useful to the purpose.

Franco Pratesi - 05/05/2016

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