created since 2003       

The oldest French Reference:
1337 Abbaye of St Victor of Marseilles

« Quod nulla persona audeat nec praesumat ludere ad taxillos nec ad paginas nec ad eyssychum »

"That no one should venture or undertake to play dice, 'pages', or chess."

(From Du Cange "Glossarium mediae et infimae latinitatis" s.v. `PAGINA' (2)

Du Cange (1678), followed by d'Allemagne in 1906, takes "paginas" to mean "playing cards." This opinion has merit and continues to carry weight. Two discussions of the question follow.


This entry, debated a few years ago between Bob O'Neill, Philippe Camoin and Alain Bougearel has been studied recently by Ross Caldwell.

It appears that if Dummett or Kaplan do not mention it, it is accepted by Du Cange and D'Allemagne.

The lexicographer Du Cange (1678 and subsequent editions) is the source for the 1337 entry of the Abbey de St. Victor of Marseille. He gives some of the interdictions made to the monks.

« Quod nulla persona audeat nec praesumat ludere ad taxillos nec ad paginas nec ad eyssychum »

"Let no one dare or undertake to play dice, 'pages', or chess."

« Que personne n'ose, ni n'entreprenne de jouer aux dés, ni aux pages, ni aux échecs ». Du Cange explique le mot « paginas » par jeu de cartes : Folia lusoria ni fa lor « Ludos ad paginas nostris ». Ce « jeu aux pages » semble bien être notre jeu de cartes." [quote; the quote on this webpage is slightly garbled – "... Folia lusoria ni fa lor « Ludos ad paginas nostris »." - should read - "... Folia lusoria, ni fallor. "Ludus ad Paginas", nostris "Jeu de cartes." (in English "Game pages, if I am not mistaken. "Play Pages", our "pack of cards (or: game of cards)")]

Philippe Camoin writes on this subject that :

"In the fourteenth century, in Marseille at the Abbey of Saint-Victor, it was forbidden to the monks to indulge in the game of cards within its walls, because of the frenetic craze of monks and nobles for the game of cards. Also in 1337, in the statutes of the Abbey of St. Victor, mention is made of the interdiction against playing "paginae" (in Latin: parchement, page, paper). This word could be used for the game of cards for, in 1408, the words "paper for playing" and "card" are utilized in the same phrase to designate the same game. This could be explained by the fact that the word naip, which in Spanish was used to denote the cards, could have come from the Flemish word "knaep", that is to say "paper". In fact, the Spanish and the Flemish were in commercial contact that time. The primitive term for playing cards had thus been able to be "paper for playing," sometimes shortened to "paper". This is the hypothesis of the famous specialist in playing cards Henri-René D'Allemagne."

D'Allemagne's suggestion is ingenious, as trying to explain a plausible relation between "paginas" and "naips". But "knaep" as the bridge between them seems to have been ignored by later commentators, without destroying the fact that "paginas" in the 1337 context could very well be cards. Why is it ignored?

It seems it's because "naip" has, or originally had, two syllables.

According to Coromines (5), with ample citations, in the earliest sources, such as the "Diccionari de rims" of 1371, a book called "Spill o Libre de les Dones" by Mestre Jacme Roig in 1460, (compare also the spelling of "nahip" attested in 1382, 1403 and 1476, Coromines art. cit.) the word has two syllables - naïp. The rhyme in Spill (verse 3010) has "nayps" rhyme with "guarips"; it is given as follows -

per ensajar
de bandejar
los seus guarips
joch de nayps
de nit jugàvem"

Thus the pronunciation of "nayps" is na-ips (long i, "ee" in English).

D'Allemagne may not have known that entry, or the spelling "nahips", so for him the one-syllable (at least I think it's one syllable - Ross) "knaep" meaning "paper" was connected to "naip" meaning "deck of cards", and produced a workable etymology, which is not difficult to believe since there was a known trade link between Flanders and Spain.

D'Allemagne's source is a Catalan dictionary -

"Dans le `Dicccionari de la Lingua catalana ab la correspondencia', par le D. Pere Labernia y esteller cette étymologie du mot Naip se trouve également indiquée". (This etymologie for the word Naip is found equally indicated in the `Diccionari...' by D. Pere Labernia.) (2)

(Etymologically, the word "carte", comes from the Latin "charta",and from the Greek "khartès" "leaf of papyrus" which means "feuilles de papier": "carte, issu du latin charta, du grec khartès "feuille de papyrus" signifie "feuille de papier" (4))

Despite the probably flawed etymology proposed by d'Allemagne from "knaep" to "naïp", that "ludere ... ad paginas" means "playing cards" in 1337 nevertheless remains a valid suggestion. What else could "playing papers" mean?

D'Allemagne is sure, since playing cards were also called "feuillets, pages ... papier à jouer" :

"It [the equivalence of "paginae" with "cards"] has a certain probably when we note that, even among us (the French), there was a time when cards were called `sheets', `pages' or simply `playing paper.'" (D'Allemagne vol. I, p. 21 – see link)

("Il aurait là une certaine vraisemblance si nous remarquons que , chez nous même, il fut un temps où les cartes étaient appelées "feuillets, pages et simplement papier à jouer [paginae?]"(1)


The lexicographer Du Cange, the source for the 1337 Abbey de Saint Victor Marseille entry, has entries on this word.

Du Cange is quite categorical about it: "Paginae. Folia lusoria, ni fallor. "Ludus ad Paginas", our "Jeu de cartes" (game of cards or deck of cards). Statutes of the year 1337, ex. Tabular St. Victor,Marseille." ("Glossarium", s.v. `PAGINA'(2))

It would be the most ancient known reference to "cards" in Europe.

Validation of the 1337 entry - Note to an unconfirmed entry from 1310 in Barcelona

1337, Abbaye of St. Victor of Marseille
The editor "R.M." of "La carte à jouer en languedoc des origines à 1800" (Toulouse, 1971), p. 7, quotes J. Amades and J. Colomines, "Els Soldats i altres Papers de Rengles" (Barcelona, 1933- 1936) vol. II p. 7 in the following introductory paragraph:

"After Barcelona, where from 1310 the game of cards (naips) are forbidden by the 'Consell de Cent' (Amades II, p. 7), it is in Marseille that are found the oldest mentions, in the statutes of the Abbey of Saint Victor, which in 1337 forbade this to the monks: 'quod nulla persona audeat nec praesumat ludere ad taxillos nec ad paginas' [D'Allemagne I pp. 16-17].(1) On the 30th of August 1381, Jacques Jean, son of a Marseille merchant, about to embark for Alexandria, promises to abstain from games of chance (3) among which are cited cards: nahipi." ["La carte à jouer en languedoc des origines à 1800" (Toulouse, 1974) p. 7).

If the word "naips" in the 1310 reference remains unconfirmed, the entry of 1381 was also known to d'Allemagne, who cites it in vol. p. 14.

But the above list from "La carte à jouer en languedoc" is not exhaustive: the editor has missed the entry from Jaume Marc's "Diccionari de rims" of 1371, already noted by Brunet i Bellet in 1886.(5) Also mentioned in Brunet i Bellet, is a probition made between 1378-1399 in Barcelona: "joch de daus ni de taules ni de naips"), and an inventory of 1380 - "Ludus de naips qui sunt 44 pecie" - "Game of naips, which are 44 pieces (i.e. cards)".

Another opinion, with a mysterous reference to a "family of Armenians," is given by Maria Aubert (4):

"The game of Naïb seems to have been transmitted in the 14th century from the East into Italy by a family of Armenians, dated precisely by the chronicle of Jean de Collevuzzo: `In the year 1379 was introduced in Viterbo the game of cards, which comes from the country of the Saracens and is called among them Naïb. One of the most ancient decks in Europe, perhaps originally designed for children, appears in Marseille in the minutes of the Notary Laurent Aycardi, dated the 30th April 1381. He relates the history of someone named Jacques Jean, in leaving for Alexandria, being constrained by two friends to swear before the notary that he will not give himself to any game, notably that of Naïb, during his entire trip, under penalty of paying a fine of 15 florins" (4).

("Le jeu de Naïb semble avoir été transmis au XIVe siècle d'Orient en Italie par une famille d'Arméniens, daté précisément par la chronique de Jean de Collevuzzo : " En l'an 1379 fut introduit à Viterbe le jeu de cartes qui vient du pays des Sarrasins et s'appelle chez eux Naïb ". L'un des plus anciens jeux d'Europe, peut-être à l'origine destiné aux enfants, apparaît à Marseille dans les minutes du notaire Laurent Aycardi, en date du 30 avril 1381. Il relate l'histoire d'un dénommé Jacques Jean, en partance pour Alexandrie, contraint par deux amis de jurer devant notaire qu'il ne s'adonnera à aucun jeu, notamment celui du Naïb, durant toute la traversée sous peine d'acquitter une amende de quinze florins."(4))


To sum up - the reference to "paginas" in 1337 appears secure, but its interpretation remains somewhat conjectural. The full entry from Du Cange (or the editors of the 1938 edition of the"Glossarium mediae et infimae latinitatis", vol. 6, p. 92 s.v. `PAGINAE'):

"PAGINAE. Folia lusoria, ni fallor. 'Ludus ad Paginas', nostris 'Jeu de cartes.' Statuta ann. 1337, ex Tabular. S. Vict. Massil.: 'Quod nulla persona audeat nec praesumat ludere ad taxillos, nec ad Paginas, (nec) ad eyssuchum.' F. eyssachum, Echets."

Here "paginae" are interpreted as "game leaves" or "game sheets (of paper)", "ni fallor", "if I am not mistaken." Thus the editor of this entry is making a judgement that the meaning of the phrase "ludere... ad Paginas" - "to play... at pages/leaves/sheets/bits (of paper)", indicates at least something like what we know as a deck of cards.

The discussion above indicates that both Du Cange and d'Allemagne considered the best explanation to be that "ludus ad paginas" means "playing cards."

The entry appears to be unique, however, so that its interpretation remains difficult at best. Subsequent writers on playing-card history have tended to ignore isolated instances such as these, focusing instead on the flood of testimony concerning "naïps" after 1371. But given the savant opinion of both Du Cange and d'Allemagne, We may regard 1337 Marseille as an early, if isolated, testimony of playing cards in Europe.

(Edited by Alain Bougearel and Ross Caldwell, February 2 2004).

(1)D'ALLEMAGNE, Henri-René. Les cartes à jouer du XIVe au XXe siècle. Paris, Hachette, 1906. 2 vol.
Reprint : Bologne, Arnaldo Forni, 1975.
DEPAULIS, Thierry considers D'ALLEMAGNE as a trustworthy authory : ""l'ouvrage monumental d'Henri-René D'Allemagne, Les cartes à jouer du XIVe au XXe siècle, une "bible" justement admirée et indispensable, quoique aujourd'hui un peu dépassée sur certains points."

(2) Labernia y Esteller, Pere
Diccionari de la llengua catalana eb la correspondencia castellana.
Barcelona [1886-1890?]. 2 vol.

(3) J.P. Seguin, "Le jeu de cartes", Paris, 1968, p. 29

(4) Marie Aubert, Conservateur du Vieux Musée de Marseille, "Jeux de cartes et tarot de Marseille"

(5)J. Brunet i Bellet, "Lo joch de naibs, naips o cartas" (Barcelona, 1886).

(6)There is a very long and informative article (6 columns) on the word "Naip" in the "Diccionari etimològic i complementari de la llengua catalana" (ed. Joan Coromines, Barcelona, 1985)
Abbaye of St Victor of Marseilles