Playing Card Prohibition
around Florence (1377 - ca. 1500)
The following article is
based upon the studies of Franco Pratesi.
Florence became known as the famous birth place of renaissance. A lot
of cultural achievements of that time started here, mostly they
appeared first in Florence and wandered then to the other cities of
Italia and in later development inspired the rest of Europe.
Florence with its estimated 50000 inhabitants (Milano, Naples and
Venezia had been far bigger) was a republic until the early 16th
century, then being transformed to the Grand Duchy of Toscana with the
capital Florence under the reign of the Medici-family. The overwhelming
influence of this family was established under Cosimo Medici, called
later Pater Patriae, in the 30ies and 40ies of 15th century. In the
20ies of the same century the Medici had been still only the 3rd
wealthiest family of Florence with 1.2 % of the capital of all
The state as republic probably contributed in high degree to the
creativity of the city and its inhabitants, it was a gathering point
for artists, humanists, architects and ingenious men of all
kinds. Dante, Giotto, Petrarca, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and
many others started from here to impress the world with their works.
As many things were invented in Florence, the question, if
Florence also influenced strongly the early development of the first
Tarocchi cards, should be honestly considered, although the friends of
early playing cards do know, that the few old Tarocchi-cards, that
survived from 15th century didn’t originate in Florence, but are known
from Milano (Visconti-Sforza-Tarocchi) and from Ferrara (famous for
many documents about card-producing).
The date of 23.03.1377 (23.03.76 in the time measuring of older
calendars, as Good Friday was the beginning of the new year) was long
time seen as the first sure sign of existing playing cards in Europe,
now the date of 1371 in Spain seems to be secure and another date of
1367 (Bern) is in discussion:
1377: Cards ("Naibbe") are forbidden in Florence by a vote of 98 to
"Naibbe" is an Arabian word, meaning a high militarian leader in the
state of the Mamelucks. From this developed the idea of
"Marshalls", which got the names "Ober" and "Unter" in Germany.
Recently (1989) the documents of the Florentine Archivo de Stato had
been researched for further notes about playing cards or card playing.
From 956 statutes, nearly each of them a big tome written in various
hands in old Italian and/or Latin, 30 codices, occasionally in a bad
state of preservation, were selected with suitable date and origin
(mainly of communes at the border of Florence and federations of
As far I do know, there wasn’t a research comparable to this, so the
great number of entries about playing card prohibition in Florence
doesn’t allow any conclusion, if Florence was more or less than other
Italian cities involved in the prohibition of playing cards. Missing
entries about playing card prohibition from other cities could mean,
that there were no playing cards prohibition, but also mean, that there
simply was no research done or no documents available.
The general result of the investigation was, that the smaller cities
and villages around Florence had their own laws and did follow the
directive of Florence only hesitatingly.
In the early times (1377 – ca. 1405 - 1410) naipes seem to have caused
no serious problems, eventually due to the condition, that the new mode
had only arrived in big cities, but not in the provinces. Later the use
of cartes is seen as less dangerous than dice-games (mostly known under
the general name of “zara” or “zardum”), and, in case of a punishment,
one had to pay a lower fine. The general prohibition is often reduced
to a more specific law, allowing some ways to play with cards or
allowing playing under special conditions.
From 1430 until the late 40ies some dangerous games appeared and the
interest of prosecuting players seems to be raised.
In 1450 there is a sudden change in policy, some games are allowed in
The general political condition of the year 1450 was, that Francesco
Sforza succeeded to become duke of Milano with the strong financial
help of Cosimo de Medici, the inofficial leader of Florence. Francesco
Sforza had been then for a periode of 26 years been a successful
condottieri with the natural problem to guide mercenaries – who surely
didn’t care anything about playing card prohibitions in the local
cities, having their own rules of life. From 1450 on it became
Francescos interest to change his earlier companions from wild men into
normal useful citizens or at least peaceful militaric leaders, stopping
the long periode of wars in Italy (he was successful, together with
Cosimo, in the peace of Lodi in 1454). The last uncalculatable “wild
condottieri”, Jacopo Piccinino, then leader of the rest of earlier
famous “Braccheschi”, unwilling to agree with a peace, in which he did
win not enough, was stopped 1462 by an agreement with the new King of
Naples, Ferrante, who hired him for a high price first and assassinated
him later under the obscure accusation of treachery in 1465.
These soldiers, who had made their lives 30 years long in camps without
great social control and much time for card playing, probably would
have shown great disagreement with prohibitions against that what they
perceived as their normal habits.
Cosimo as friend and money-giver of Francesco Sforza had reason enough
to use the same policy as the new duke of Milano – more tolerance. The
new playing card freedom in 1450 in Florence, after a periode of
stronger prohibition, doesn’t look accidently and seems to appear
according to the new political conditions as a resocialising measurement.
The content of
the documents in the villages around Florence
1408: Games are forbidden
1409: Some laws are added concerning accusations
”, probably a dice game, is strongly forbidden
1416: After the normal prohibition of dice games it is added, that
similar fines will be taken from players of the game of naibi “
… simili pene incontri chi giuchera el giuco
de naibi ”.
1463: games of “ cartarum
” are added to the list of forbidden games;
in an older statute “ scalabrino
” – dice game ? – is noted as dangerous game.
1410: names of forbidden gambling games eventually refer to card games;
games with naibi are forbidden, but the fine is only half of the usual
S. Pietro in Mercato
1398: some games are allowed ( tabulae,
scachorum, pilae, aliossororum, marellarum, sagittarum
), naibi are forbidden at a reduced fine of
20 soldi instead of 30
Santa Maria a Monte
1391: cards are not mentioned
1396: card games are forbidden, the fine is 20 soldi against 3 lira for
other prohibited games
1419: the prohibition against cards of 1396 is deleted
1445: the deletion of the prohibition of 1419 is deleted, cards are
1517: playing near the church is prohibited (meaning, that card playing
allowed at other places)
1459: two kind of card games are allowed, ‘
’ and ‘
1412: all card playing is forbidden
1433: card playing is prohibited in churches and a given distance to
1392: a long chapter against gambling, cards are not mentioned
1442: “ Ludum cartarum seu
naiborum ” is forbidden equal
to zardum, the fine is distributed ½ to the commune, ¼ to
the accuser and ¼ to the podesta; 10 days later it is added,
that the podesta has in each case to respect the social status of the
players, to consider the place and the way of playing.
Borgo San Lorenzo
1374 and 1386: cards are not mentioned, in a later addition chess and
Tavola are allowed cause there old origin
1428: it is regretted, that a card game “alla condennata” has become
the fashion of the village and it is prohibited as dice games.
1437: naibi are explicitly prohibited with the execption of the
standard game of “ alla diritta
e alla torta ”
1396 + 1411: long chapter about gambling without mentioning cards
1443: condannata is forbidden and the the “
lending of cards
1448: a complete discussion with reference to earlier laws; several
card games as “ condennata,
pilucchino o pizzica ” are
considered to result eventually in scandals, all card play are
forbidden except for “diritta e torta.”
1409: An edict prohibits any gambling activity, according to the laws
of Florence, but cards seem to be allowed
1416: any card game is allowed, that doesn’t hurt the first statute
1419: the guards shall do their duty and accuse (gambling ?) players
1427: card games are prohibited, but not for Florentine citizens.
Anybody can accuse and earn a part of the fine.
1432: card playing is allowed at holidays, until the bell rings the Ave
Maria; this law is given to avoid, that the local youth do leave the
commune during the holiday to play “a zara”.
1445: Several dangerous games are spreading such as condennata, and
counter measures should be taken. All card games are prohibited except “
” and “
”. A month later all card games are
The notes in Florence after 1377
: Giovanni di Pagolo Morelli gives advice to
the youth in his “Ricordi”: “Do not play hazard or dices! Do prefer
astralagos (bones similar to dices) and naipes."
: "Carte da Imperatori" were named special
cards which - among other quotations - were bought in Florence. It
seems, that these packs included eight images of emperors and were
available in Florence as early as 1423.
: In Florence a card producer Antonio di
Giovanni di Ser Francesco is known using wooden blocks for holy
pictures and naibi.
1433, 1437 and 1442
: In Florence do appear some laws in addition
to the statutes of 1377 against card playing; not only the
administration is allowed to accuse but also third parties, which are
assured to possess anonymity and will get part of the fines in the case
of success. In 1442 peasants, who do appear at market days in the city,
are threatened with serious legal measures. 3 sorts of criminal acts
are mainly reported: “journeying in the night”, “carrying weapons” and
“playing forbidden games”.
: The court of the d’Este in Ferrara under
Niccolo III. buys 2 decks of playing cards from Florence (“nel 1434 il
Marchese Nicolo III. Faceva pagare a Ser Ristoro e compagni in Florence
sette Fiorini d’oro prezzo di due mazzi di carticelle mandatogli a
: “Jacopo di Ponnaio dipintori di naibi”,
note of another card-producer in Florence.
: In Florence a law allows some card games:
“dritta” (probably identical to “diritta”), “vinciperdi”, “Trionfo” and
“trenta”, the first time the word trionfo appears in Florence.
: In Florence Francesco di Nicolo de Gambassi
is accused to cheat in play: “giuochatore baro … e falsificatore di
naibi overo carte”.
: The games “cricca” and “ronfa” are added to
the allowed games
: In an older reference it is noted, that
Pulci wrote a letter to young Lorenzo de Medici, in which the term
"Minchiate" appears. Considerable research was done to detect the
letter, however, the information was not tracable.
: In Cortono, rather far away from Florence
but belonging at that time to Florence, somebody is accused of heresy
of having played Minchiate in the summer of 1470 (having played in a
church or near a church). The note is written in a
half-Latin-half-Italian version:: "In Dei nomine Amen. Anna domine
nostri Yesu Christi millesimo cccclxxj. Inditione iv, die xx
mensis maij. Bartolomeo di Giovanni di Vaglia de Mugello
provigionato nel cassero di Cortona com'egli e bastemiato Iddio et la
vergine Maria giuchando chon alchuni provigionato et maximamente
giuchava alle MINCHIATE del mese giugno luglio et agoste e molte volte
... etc ...."
: “Pilucchino” and “Minchiate” are also
: After the death of Lorenzo de Medici
the monk Savonarola increases his influence in Florence with
dramatical consequences, especially out of the aspect of playing card
Alexandre Dumas in “The
“The expulsion of Leonard's dei Medici (1494) was a new triumph for
Savonarola, so, wishing to turn to good moral account his growing
influence, he resolved to convert the last day of the carnival,
hitherto given up to worldly pleasures, into a day of religious
sacrifice. So actually on Shrove Tuesday
a considerable number of boys were collected
in front of the cathedral, and there divided into bands, which
traversed the whole town, making a house-to-house visitation, claiming
all profane books, licentious paintings, lutes, harps, cards
and dice, cosmetics and perfumes
--in a word, all the hundreds of products of
a corrupt society and civilisation, by the aid of which Satan at times
makes victorious war on God. The inhabitants of Florence obeyed,
and came forth to the Piazza of the Duoma, bringing these works of
perdition, which were soon piled up in a huge stack, which the youthful
reformers set on fire, singing religious psalms and hymns the
while. On this pile were burned many copies of Boccaccio and of
Margante Maggiore, and pictures by Fro Bartalommeo, who from that day
forward renounced the art of this world to consecrate his brush utterly
and entirely to the reproduction of religious scenes."
Savonarola himself was burnt at the stake in 1498, when the citizens of
Florence couldn't bear it any longer. Pope Alexander VI., himself, as
is reported, a notorious card-player with the help of Ascanio Sforza,
another famous card-player, took a deciding part in the process against
Compare the article: Conclusions about Florence