by Franco Pratesi, 1989
(The Playing-Card, Vol. XVII, No. 3, pp. 107-112)
8. Italian Cards - New Discoveries.

In most histories of cards attention is devoted to their first diffusion among European countries. In particular, it has been often discussed which must be considered the first documentary evidence; nevertheless, a full agreement among historians has not been reached, see for instance the question of the Basel edict. Maybe the earliest document which is generally accepted as a proof of cards introduction in Europe is the Florentine Provisio of March 23rd, 1376 (actually corresponding to 1377 since the new year began then in Florence on March 25th).
Although many texts cite it, only few provide a transcription of the document. As far as I know, Zdekauer was the first to discover the document and to communicate the essential part of the text(1), although his contribution has not been often acknowledged by following historians. A comprehensive discussion in modern terms about the introduction of Naibi, after many previous suggestions, is due to Novati(2); among other things, the transcription by Zdekauer is reported and used in the discussion. Then, the text can be found again, in more detail, in the fundamental book by Schreiber(3), where the following Latin quotation appears, "Volentes malis obviare principiis, domini priores...audito quomodo quidam ludus, qui vocatur naibbe, in istis partibus noviter innolevit...ordinaverunt et deliberaverunt, die XXIII mensis martii anni Domini 1376, indictione XV, quod in omnibus et per omnia et quo ad omnia eadem pena sis et imponatur omnibus et singulis qui in futurum ludent in civitate, comitatu vel districtu Florentiae ad dictum ludum, seu qui dictum ludum retinebunt, que, prout et quemadmodum imponeretur, seu imponi posset vel deberet, de ludo seu pro ludo adçardi."
This text was extracted from the 'recht weitschweifig' Provisio by Leo Olshki, to whom Schreiber expresses his gratefulness. Recently, Rosenfeld(4) has finally published the whole text together with that of similar contents from the session of the following day. In previous articles that author had already called attention to the relevance of the Provisio(5); it may be recalled that Rosenfeld has been one of the strongest supporters of an Islamic origin of European cards, earlier than that provenance became generally acknowledged; one of the contrary opinions which still deserves to be mentioned is that supposing a Spanish origin of the cards, following a particular variant of four-handed chess(6).
When I began my investigations on the Provisio, I had forgotten, too, Zdekauer's contribution, as well as the indication of the leaves, already contained in Schreiber's book. Moreover, I have only known the article with the full transcription by Rosenfeld when my study was near to the end; fortunately so, since otherwise I would probably not have looked for the autograph documents. After reading the text in Schreiber's book, I decided to control the exact spelling of a document, which appears of so fundamental a value in the history of cards. Obviously, I tried to check the original text, availing myself of the opportunity that the document is still preserved in Florence in Archivio di Stato.
I first leafed through Registri, vol.64, and finally I could understand what precisely was the meaning of Schreiber's 'recht weitschweifig'. The codex is about 60 by 40 cm large, with about 40 lines in each parchment page. The binding is of leather and wooden plates. In particular, the Provisio of interest here is the last but one in the volume, located from leaf 273a to 294b; 44 written pages on the whole, concerning miscellaneous questions from a number of judgments against individuals to directions of general importance. Taking into account the facts, too, that the language and the handwriting are not among the most familiar ones now, I was not much surprised that on first reading I could not find the quotation at all. As a consequence, I was induced to better investigate the whole system of those documents. In particular, in the Archivio guide-book(7) it is explained that the final redaction of a Provisio is only the last of several steps, consisting in preliminary discussions, voting, and so on; moreover, several different copies should be recorded of the final redaction.
In particular, two of the preliminary steps should be separately preserved. In the collection Consulte e pratiche - vol. 14 for 1375/77 - there should be a short description of the posed question, and in Libri Fabarum - vol. 40 for 1371/80 - the corresponding voting should be recorded in some detail. After these two preliminary documents, the different versions of the final Provisio should be represented by: a first one in Protocolli, notes directly written by the notary during the same discussion, a second one in Registri, and a third one in Duplicati collections.
Unfortunately, not all of these sources have proven to be useful, since nothing concerning cards could be detected in Consulte e pratiche and in Protocolli. The former collection reports only a short list of events in correspondence to the sessions of March 1376, something as barely outlined orders of the day; probably only the essential points were recorded and several minor points, such as cards, were not listed.
Plausibly, a discussion on that topic occurred on an earlier date, which could not be identified. Further investigations may provide evidence on preliminary discussions, which should have occurred before the final Provisio was voted, thus reaching even earlier dates with respect to that renowned 23rd March 1377 for the presence of cards in Florence; i.e., in Europe. In any case, no records appear to be reported in this collection for the days of interest here. On the other hand, the series of Protocolli unluckily presents a gap precisely in correspondence to the end of the 14th century: vol.8 of the series reaches the date of January 10, 1372, whereas vol. 9 covers the beginning of the following century, being mainly concerned with the year 1417. Except for this period, a remarkable part of the collection appears to have been preserved, with each volume corresponding to a few years.
Nevertheless, the information gained from the remaining documentary texts has been of a certain interest. Let us begin with the final records of the Provisio. Two writings are preserved which differ only in several minor details. The first is apparently that copied by Olshki and is contained in Registri, vol. 64, on leaves 275b and 276a, near to the end, as point 3 of the Provisio of March 23, 1376. The only modification which can be suggested to the text reported by Schreiber is to add after 'eadem pena': 'sit et imponatur et imponi possit et debeat omnibus et...'. The corresponding text in Duplicati is, first of all, more clearly written. It occurs on leaf 3b, covering also the initial part of leaf 4a; in fact, the Provisio can be found here at the very beginning of the codex. Moreover, the relevant sentence appears to be more correctly written: 'ludus, qui vocatur Naibe, in istis partibus noviter inolevit'. Thus we have, correctly, 'inolevit' instead of 'innolevit' and 'Naibe' - written in firm writing - instead of 'naibbe'.
Obviously one of the essential parts of the information certainly derives from the adverb 'noviter', or very recently. Thus the witness is certain, and verified by several practically identical versions, that the game of cards had recently begun to flourish in Florence. Although it is not explicitly stated, it may be deduced from the text that a real rage of card playing had begun. In fact, if only a few people played cards, certainly the matter should not have arrived to the highest levels of the Florentine legislative power.
We have already encountered two slightly different versions of the common name of cards, and this series is not ended since in the remaining document quoting the same session, Libri Fabarum vol. 40, leaf 244, listing the topics put to the votes - together with the corresponding results - they are quoted as 'na(i)bbj'. Here the relevant line is, '3. provisionem disponentem de pena ludentium ad naibbj. displ. 31'. The letter 'i' is lacking on first writing and appears as inserted later by same hand. A further hint for the foreign provenance of the name may be that it is here used as a plural accusative without any modification due to declension. This third form of that odd word, reported in the three different versions referring to same council, appears to be the first one to have been written, since the recording of the voting results should have occurred during the same session, whereas the final documents were probably written several days later.
"Displ. 31" above represents the recording of the votes against the decision taken in the Provisio. From the mentioned documents the number of voting people can be assumed as 197, which remained unaltered until point 14th of the Provisio, becoming then 206. It may be interesting to consider how these 197 Florentines voted on different points, in order better to understand the weight of the opposition; in our case the consistence of those, who considered cards to represent a legitimate play-tool.
Unfortunately, there is a mistake in the recorded results of the votes. Both records of Provisio report 174 yes and 23 no for naibbe/Naibe, whereas the book of voting records, Libri Fabarum, has, as stated before, 166 to 31. In particular, there is a misfit corresponding to a shift of one place in the sequence between the two documents. The impression is that in Libri Fabarum the second 23, precisely corresponding to cards, was not reported, after having been recorded for the previous point; 31 is reported instead, which should correspond to the following 4th point, and the series continues with the correspondence of numbers shifted by one item. In any case, be it 23, as much more plausible, or even 31, it represents a little opposition: the corresponding numbers for the 14 initial points of the same Provisio are, according to Registri and Duplicati, 52,23,23,31,42,0,57,57,51,61,31,31,27,43. Thus, apart from an unique case of an unanimous decision, both numbers 23 and 31 practically corresponded to a minimum of the contrary side.
In Libri Fabarum it can easily be noted from the following leaf, corresponding to the following day, that most of the already approved questions were again discussed and voted. That appears not to be an usual procedure; maybe it was due to the great number of points that had to be voted the day before. Certainly, the composition of the council was different, at least from a quantitative point of view, and also the three public copysts were different (Conero Spinelli, Bono Salamie and Lupicino Gualberti instead of Mattheo Marchi, Spinello Bandi and Giorgio Cei). To this second session belong corresponding reports in Registri and in Duplicati.
The essential part of the report from Registri has been first indicated and fully published by Rosenfeld (4). In general, the texts of the second session appear shortened and the votings are, if possible, even more favourable to the confirmation of the decision; but on that subject Rosenfeld has already discussed in some detail. Among the considerations discussed by that historian, one is based on reading adçardi as ad cardi, so that an hypothesis is put forth of both naibi and carte being involved. The meaning of the text and the examination of all remaining documents provides, however, much greater support to the common interpretation of players of naibi to be sentenced in the future as gamblers (on the basis of adçardi analogy to gambling).
Rosenfeld already remarked that a different spelling was used for naibi in the two successive sessions, but we now obtain no less than six quotations of naibi with three from each session deriving from Libri Fabarum, Registri, and Duplicati. We can read them all in Fig. 1. The corresponding transcriptions for the successive sessions may be taken as na(i)bbj and naibbj from Libri; naibbe and naibbj from Registri and Naibe and Naibbi from Duplicati. On the whole it would be difficult to find out more variations in writing, a fact indicating how even the public amanuenses had obvious difficulty to find the exact spelling of that name, certainly a far from traditional one. Not only did cards had a foreign provenance, but they had not yet an established name in Florence during that same 1377, when their diffusion as a gambling tool was already as great as to induce the government of the town to discuss and to sentence against them.

Fig. 1 - Reproduction of the original writing of the word Naibi in different records of same sessions; 1 refers to 23.3., 2 to 24.3, L to Libri fabarum, R to Registri and D to Duplicati, see text. From the manuscripts of 1377 preserved in Archivio di Stato, Florence.


(1) L.Zdekauer, "Il giuoco in Italia nei secoli XIII-XIV e specialmente in Firenze" in Archivio Storico Italiano Ser. IV tomo 18 (1886) 20-74.
(2) F.Novati, "Per la storia delle carte da giuoco in Italia" in Il libro e la stampa (1908) 54-69.
(3) W.L.Schreiber, Die ältesten Spielkarten...Strassburg 1937.
(4) H.Rosenfeld, "Zur Datierbarkeit früher Spielkarten in Europa und im nahen Orient" in Gutenberg-Jahrbuch 1975, 353-371; see also H.Rosenfeld, "Das Kartenspiel in Europa im 14. bis 16. Jahrhundert und der Orient" in Der Schlern 60 (1986) 725-732.
(5) H.Rosenfeld, "Die Beziehung der europäischen Spielkarten zum Orient und zum Ur-Schach" in Archiv für Kulturgeschichte (1960) 1-36; H.Rosenfeld, "Zur Vor- und Frühgeschichte und Morphogenese von Kartenspiel und Tarock" in Archiv für Kulturgeschichte (1970) 65-94.
(6) P.Bidev, Die Spanische Herkunft der Spielkarte. Winsen-Luhe 1973.
(7) Ministero per i beni culturali e ambientali, Guida Generale degli Archivi di Stato Italiani Vol. II. Roma 1983, p.49-51.

Side bar pictures and text added by Lothar Teikemeier

King Wenzel in the Wenzel bible
(c. 1390-1400)

Florence till 1376

Florence opposed the return of the papal institutions from Avignon to Italy already in 1372 - the city feared a new expansion of the papal state, endangering Florentine territory. In 1375 the "war of the 8 Saints" started, with Florence in cooperation with other Italian cities at one side and the papal interests at the other. Florentine agents stimulated further revolts in other Italian cities. In March 1376 pope Gregory XI. excommunicated all members of the government of Florence and placed the city under interdict.

Germany / Avignon 1376/77

In July 1376 the 15-year-old Wenzel was crowned as the king of the Romans at Aix-la-Chapelle with his father Emperor Charles IV still living. It's a Trionfi.com theory, that playing cards production had developed in Bohemia since c. 1340 and found some local distribution in this region (the theory is based on the report of F. Hübsch in the year 1849).
Bohemia had ideal conditions, cause the first great wave of plague didn't arrive in Bohemia and with the Emperor in Prague as his capital there were enough resources to develop a "Golden Era" of Bohemia with many cultural achievements (which was easy, as nearly all regions in Europe suffered heavy losses). The triumphal journey of the royal family from Prague to Aix-la-Chapelle in 1376 naturally was accompanied by Bohemian merchants with trading goods of all kind. Trionfi.com assumes, that these goods also included playing cards of Bohemian production in greater numbers.
The pope Gregory XI in Avignon demanded, that the young King Wenzel should visit him to get his approval. Emperor Charles in his letters pointed to practical problems (especially his own age) and the visit didn't take place. Nonetheless it must be assumed, that some notes and likely also playing cards reached Avignon. From the given data it must be assumed, that also the Spanish region had some local distribution at least since the early 1370s.
Pope Gregory XI traveled in winter 1376/77 and arrived near Rome in January 1377. The event was accompanied by the usual triumphal celebrations and festivities. With Gregory likely arrived also a few cultural goods and novelties not common in Italy - possibly also playing cards.

Florence, March 1377

Playing Cards were prohibited in Florence, as described in the older article of Franco Pratesi. A lot of the acts of government, which occurred in Florence in the year 1377 were directed against pope Gregory XI. So it should be suspected, that also the prohibition of playing cards belonged to them (which would possibly mean, that playing cards arrived with the delegations from Avignon and were associated in Florenine eyes with the Pope).
In the period of the war the Fraticelli movement (various groups, which had their origin in the Franciscan orders, but were condemned by the main group of the Franciscans) had been strong in Florence. The Fratecelli opposed the popes since longer time (and so were naturally welcome in the Florence of 1377) and the popes persecuted them. In the later time (15th century) it were mostly Franciscan Observants, who propagated a strict line against card playing and for the prohibition of them (San Bernardino, John Capistran and others). Though these later persecutors of playing cards can't be counted as Fraticelli, it seems, that the first impulse of Italian prohibitions came from the Fraticelli.

Franco Pratesi (Nov. 2011 - Oct. 2012)
* START * TAROT HISTORY * TAROT MUSEUM * ABOUT US * Oldest Tarot * Imperatori * Ferrara 1441 * Trionfi Documents * 5x14 * From 14 to 22 * Boiardo * Mantegna Tarocchi * Iconography * Time Table * Researchers * Locations * News * Play * Playing Cards documents * FAQ * Name Trionfi * Reviews * Free Reading * Links * Franco Pratesi (1) * Franco Pratesi (2) * Persons 1440-1462 *

Franco Pratesi

14th Century Themes 15th Century Themes 16th Century and later Themes
Old Articles Related articles: