New Pratesi essays on Tuscan [was Florentine] card game laws

Franco writes most of his articles now in Italian only (for them all, in either English or Italian, see Some of the ones in Italian only are really interesting and in fact seem like necessary foundational reading on the subject of the early tarot and related games. For myself, my Italian is not so good that I can simply read the Italian and understand with any precision what I have read. I have to go to Google Translate and then, using online dictionaries and my very basic knowledge of the grammar, write down what I think he is saying. Well, I might as well share with others the results. If I have misunderstood anything, perhaps others can tell me. My own comments, hopefully helpful, are inserted into the text in brackets.

Added Dec. 11, 2015: Franco has suggested a few corrections in my translation. I have inserted them into the text at the appropriate places. To go to the corrections only, find the brackets ([ and ]); the corrections are either inside them or just before. Most were minor, with perhaps one exception: Franco says that the phrase "carte a trionfi" in 1444 should not be translated as "triumph cards", as I had done, but rather as "triumph-style cards". Added Dec. 19: He says that the "a" here should be read as similar to the "alla" in "pollo alla diavala", chicken in devil style, or the 1506 Florentine inventory item "trionfi alla franciosa" reported at viewtopic.php?f=11&t=1074&p=16469&hilit ... osa#p16469, meaning "French-style triumph cards". (I will discuss this further in another post.)

In this post I will give my attempt at a translation of an important recent article of Franco's, one that updates an article he published in The Playing Card 15 years ago (, combining what was reported there with information from various sources published since, resulting in some new reflections. I will omit the Italian, except for the title and passages quoted in 15th century Tuscan, as it is readily available online.

First it is helpful to know something of the background for this 2015 article, in the 1990 article ("Carte da Gioco a Firenze: Il Primo Seculo (1377-1477)". For that purpose we can use the abstract in English that was published in The Playing Card in front of the article itself, as follows:
Franco Pratesi – 04.06.1990


[Florentine Cards - The First Century] Many documents of the Florentine commune are kept in Archivio di Stato. Among them several witnesses can be found concerning the first century of cards in Florence. Here only the main sources and the first results obtained by their study are indicated. Several Florentine administrations - essentially Podestà, Capitano del Popolo and Esecutore degli Ordinamenti di Giustizia - kept books with lists of gamblers and corresponding fines. They are not very useful since often the gambler did not give his particulars or else he escaped altogether only leaving his cloak to the guards. The same holds for the cash book of the commune. More information can be found among the sentences passed by Conservatori on gamblers accused by third parties. Other sources of relevant information are represented by revenue books (a maker is found in 1430 using wooden blocks for both holy pictures and naibi), notary deeds, and documents from other places - -as the 1434 record of cards for Niccolo III coming in the renowned Ferrarese court from Florence. Essential information derives from legislative acts. Specific sections of the Florentine statutes are devoted to games and on several occasions the Councils of Florence dealt with problems related to them. In particular, the strict provision of 1377, prohibiting card games, is tightened even further on a number of later occasions. The laws of 1432 and 1437 lay down that not only do the officials of the various town administrations have the power to detain players, but third parties, too, are entitled to bring charges against them, generally under the guarantee of anonymity and sharing the proceeds of the fine. A further restriction dating back to 1442 concern peasants, who went to town on market days and were threatened with serious legal measures. Later, however, when neighbouring communes began to clamp down on card-players, important opportunities appeared in Florence. 1450 saw the first list of permitted games. They were few but the names are important: “dritta”, “vinciperdi”, “trionfo” and “trenta”. The inclusion of “trionfo” is of particular interest. That inclusion means that trionfo had taken on a traditional character and that the people of Florence (and here we cannot yet speak of a Ducal or a prince’s court) had been playing it for some time. In 1463 the law was reiterated with the addition of “cricca” and “ronfa”. 1477 saw the promulgation of another important law, the last of the period in question. It is extremely noteworthy that among the permitted games listed by this law, besides “pilucchino” we find “minchiate”, referred to by this name. This takes the date of origin back by half a century compared to what had been thought hitherto (not counting the untraceable letter from Pulci to Lorenzo the Magnificent, which now takes on a new plausibility). From the same law it can also be inferred that the rules of “minchiate” must initially have been simpler; payment was made directly on the basis of the difference between the cards taken.
With that preamble, here is the 2015 article (

1450, 1473, 1477: Firenze – Leggi sui giochi [Laws on games]

At the origin of this study was the revisiting of an old article which examined various possibilities for deepening our knowledge on the original sources of the first century of the spread of card games in Florence. 1 Part of the initial work will be related here and in most cases will be combined with observations relative to the argument, further developed in this study.

In particular, the focus again will be on some fifteenth century Florentine laws, promulgated in order to regulate the field of forbidden games in as accurate and detailed a manner as possible; one of the main merits of three of these laws against gambling is for the deepening of our understanding , providing significant early evidence about the first card games permitted, and about triumphs in particular.

The laws of 1450

The first two laws examined are of December 1450, while the other two are successive, and thus we can say that what is being studied here is, in practice, only the second half of the fifteenth century.

The Latin text of the first law is preserved in the original registers of the provisions; more precisely, it is the provision approved in the fourteenth Convocation, December 7, 1450; 2 in the Council meeting of the People and the City there were 147 votes in favor and 43 against, and it would be interesting to reconstruct the opinion of the opposition - in particular, if the motivation was because they found the law too strict or rather too permissive, seeing that more games are excluded for the first time from the prohibitions.

Even without reading this Latin text, you can get a pretty good idea of the content by examining the very similar law that was passed in Siena three months later, with the text in Italian reintroduced recently with some
1 F. Pratesi, The Playing-Card, 19 No. 1 (1990) 7-17. (
2 ASFI, Provvisioni, Registri, 141, cc. 198r-199v.

comments. 3 One of the differences is that in Florence the fine set for players was 20 lire, while it was 25 in Siena; but many of the articles of the two laws are virtually identical.

The Florentine law of 1450 is very important for our study, especially because while prohibiting games it provides some key exceptions. Studying the municipal statutes of the time in the Florence area, 4 it is usual that all the card games were prohibited, or only one was permitted, diritta [straight], or at most in the company of another often mentioned with it, called torta [cake] or vinciperdi [won-lost]. Here among the card games appear those two games, out of more than thirty and, in addition, trionfo; these are clearly games well known to the local population and which by now have become traditional, though not enough to "deserve" a corresponding name in Latin: with them, the list resorts to vulgar Italian.
Et salvo quod praedicte pene et condemnationes non habeant locum pro aliquo ludente ad tabulas cum taxillis et seu ad ludum cartarum vel naiborum altero tamen ex infrascriptis quatuor modis videlicet ut vulgo dicitur alla diricta et alla torta et al triunfo et altrenta in ceteris vero modis intelligatur ludus esse prohibitus ut supra.

One’s first impression of these four games is that card games have not yet developed that multiplicity of different families that we know later. This is of course among those games that could be permitted, in so far as they have now entered through time into the local tradition; other types of card games exist for sure, such as to reprise the structure of some previous games of dice and typically betting on the appearance of certain cards. Permitted games seem rather be predominantly trick-taking games, in which players take turns putting a card on the table and the highest wins the trick, until all the cards are exhausted, or at least those distributed.

Trenta (Thirty) could then be the name of a variant in which the target score is selected first. The indication of the game vinciperdi (win-lose) would instead seem to correspond to a similar game in which only the goal is changed: now to take the minimum possible cards, or points.

Comments on trionfi

Before entering into the merits of the issue of trionfi [triumphs], we must
3 [translator's note: At, Franco has given a summary in English of very similar provisions in a town under Sienese jurisdiction . The relevant portion states. that, in Franco's words "all the fines mentioned should not be applied against players of tables with dice, and these cards or naybi games: dritto, vince perdi, trenta, triomfi". I think (based on previous discussion with Andrea Vitali about what "tavole" meant in the context of games) that "tables" refers to board games.]
4. F. Pratesi, The Playing-Card, 18 No. 4 (1990) 128-135. (

focus for a moment on the citation of the game in this law, triunfo or trionfo, in the singular; in the past, it was even suggested that this might have been a different game. In particular, there is the very attractive idea that an earlier game of “trionfi”existed, done with the deck of "normal" naibi, and only later was applied to the new expanded deck of triumphs with its related typical game. The main support for such a situation is the antiquity vaunted by Spanish authors for their national game of "Hispanic triumphs" which was only played with the standard deck. 5 It must be pointed out, however, that it is not possible to argue that the game was written about in Florence with the name in the singular until 1450 and the plural later, because the name of the deck and the game was already in the plural in all the few previous documents known today, beginning with the first in 1440.

Currently, the first evidence known about the game of triumphs in Florence is of 1440. 6 But when in the previous study the law of 1450 was discussed, the news was surprising; here's how it came to be commented on then. In the provision of December 10, 1450, appears the first list of permitted games, few but important: diritta, vinciperdi, trionfo, and trenta. Of particular interest is the presence of trionfo, probably to be identified with tarot [tarocchi], because usually it is believed that the tarot arrived in Florence from its origin in the region of the Po only towards the end of the century.

It is interesting, and also pleasant, to read this comment after a quarter of a century. The years since it was written are not very many, but the reconstruction of the history of the first card games in Florence has made gigantic strides, reinserting this city in the leading position it deserves,in this region that even professional historians usually consider very marginal, if not entirely insigificant. On his part, among the experts on card games, Michael Dummett himself, doubtless the greatest scholar who has devoted himself to the region, did not suppose there existed in Florence the game of triumphs at so early a date, and this is probably the biggest gap that can be seen today in the precious book that he compiled with the assistance of Sylvia Mann. 7

If a document is found in the epoch in question containing the prohibition
5 F. Pratesi, The Playing-Card, 16 No. 4 (1988) 117-125. []
6 T. Depaulis, Le Tarot révélé. La Tour-de-Peilz 2013, pp. 17-18.
7 M. Dummett, The Game of Tarot. London 1980.

of the game of triumphs, it would also have to be thought a game recently introduced; but to insert it among the permitted games, a recent and short-term diffusion would not be so sure. Here is how this situation was deduced, by logic, in the study cited. If trionfo appears in the list of permitted games, that tells us it had taken on a traditional character and that the Florentine people (and here one can not yet speak of a princely court), had played it for some time. The supporting logical reasoning remains unchanged and only leaves in doubt how long that "for some time" could be, already then considered indispensable. To date the time past with certainty, before this date in 1450, there was another decade, but still no one can claim to know the exact date of birth of the game of triumphs.

A significant finding was found recently from two condemnate [sentences] of players with “carte a trionfi” [triumph-style cards] only six years before this law in 1450 that permitted trionfo as a traditional game. 8 As shown, the time one can plausibly reconstruct on the basis of the logic is not well defined; in particular, one would have thought that six years would not be sufficient to turn a game still quite new and formidable - so that those who were surprised at playing came to be sentenced - into one accepted as an innocent permitted pastime. Here we are now in 1450; the question about previous years, and especially those before 1440, we have to leave open, but we can get some information on the situation in the following years, when new laws were needed in this respect.

The second law of 1450

In the same volume of the Registry of provisions in which the law discussed above is entered, we find yet another law on games approved, in the same month as the prevous one, the fourth point of a provision of 23 December 1450. 9 In that case the votes in favor were 161 and 21 opposed. The main reason why the Councils discussed again the same matter is that some clarification was necessary on the penalties to be imposed on offenders. In particular, they add more stringent requirements with
9 ASFI, Provvisioni, Registri, 141, cc. 222r-223r.

regard to prohibition and condemnation of games at home, and punish those convicted of repeat offenses with the doubling of the sentence. In fact for those who keep playing the doubling is only at first, as the succession of the penalties changes from 100 lire for the first sentence to 200, and 600 for subsequent ones, with thsoe associated banned from the commune, from a certain conviction on. In the new law the subject of our interest is not dealt with, the list of card games excluded from the prohibitions: apparently there was no reason to return after such a short time to the decision taken on permitted games.

The law of 1473

In the study cited [the 1990 article], after the law of 1450 came a new law allowing two other card games. In 1463 the law was reiterated with the addition of cricca and ronfa: the details are easily viewed in the collection of Tuscan laws published by Cantini in the early nineteenth century.

In fact, the date specified in that study would seem the result of an error, because the law with "the details easily available" is actually in 1473, here confirmed both in the classical printed work of Cantini 10 and in the original records of the time.11 The law was passed as the second point of the provision of April 23, 1473, by the Council of the Hundred, after the other recommendations were passed in the two previous days. The vote was 170 in favor and 63 against. The text of the law is very long, because various details are examined with many possible circumstances, aggravating or not; however it may be worthwhile to briefly summarize the entire law.

The law begins with a premise that indicates the reasons that make it necessary: games have spread too wildly in the city, necessitating intervention and "raising the confusion of so many laws in such a matter." They prohibit all games of cards and dice with the penalty of 10 great florins for the first conviction, 20 for repeated offense, with a ban on access for two years to the main municipal offices; penalties doubled
10 L. Cantini, Legislazione toscana. Tomo quinto [Vol. 5]. Firenze 1803, p. 240-242.
11 ASFI, Provvisioni. Registri, 164, cc. 38v-40r.

again for more convictions, until after the fourth time, 200 great florins and 15 years of exile out of the commune. Similarly sized penalties, but somewhat more stringent, are listed below for Florentines surprised in playing also outside of the town.

The next part is about how the various courts involved can and must manage the sentences and how they should allocate the money raised with the remainder “sia del monte per la sua diminuzione” [that should be assigned to the Monte (a Florentine fund] for its reduction, Franco suggests with a ?]. Substantial discounts in penalty are granted to those who confess and those who give the names of gaming companions. It is determined that the amounts lost to the game should be returned, even if just at the request of close relatives, and are granted to the judges times much reduced to define the issue in each case.

It adds a distinction for children: for children under 12 years there is no penalty; from 12 to 16 can also be given one month of imprisonment in the Stinche. To the same extent as a player is punished, is one who lends their home or place of gaming. And here we come to the most important paragraph for our interest, transcribed below after comparing it with the original text in Cantini’s book, more easily accessible.
Et non obstante tutte le sopradecte cose in ciaschuno di luoghi di sopra prohibiti pe maschi di maggiore età danni 24 solamente et non minori si possa giucare a trionfi et alla diricta, et avinciperdi alle carti et a chriccha, et rompha non si potendo far posta di più che uno soldino per cosa in ciascuno giuocho senza alcuno invito o condanno, o tenere dacanto al punto o altro, o in altro modo et a simili giuochi et in simil modo possino giucare le donne, et per decti maschi di detta età o maggiori giucar si possa con dadi a tavole non si potendo far maggior posta per giuocho d’uno grossone senza alcuno invito. Et chi a decti giuochi non prohibiti et ne decti modi et di decte età almeno d’anni xxxiiii compiuti et se si giucheranno non incorrino le pene o previdicii soprascripti ma essendo di minor età, o giucandosi per alcuno ad altri giuochi che disopra sia detto si caggia nelle sopradecte pene et previdicii singula singulis congrue referendo.

[Translator's note: what follows is not to be relied on as accurate. It is merely my first impression, from a language that is doubly foreign to me, in that it is Renaissance Tuscan . It is particularly unclear at the end, in the part defining minors and penalties for them; my translation does not fit what Franco says later. Please rely on Franco's anlysis that follows rather than what I have come up with.]

(And, notwithstanding all above-said things whatever places above prohibited and males of more than 24 years of age and not less can play triumphs, and diricta, and avinciperdi of cards and chriccha, et rompha not being able to pledge more than one soldino per cosa [bet] in each game without any invitation or condemn, or keeping beside some point or other, or otherwise in such games and similar[ly] women can play, and by said males of said age or more can play with dice or board-games not being able to do more than one pledge per game of one grossone without any invitation. And whoever in said games not prohibited in said ways of at least said age of years at least XXXIIII and if playing of lesser age, those do not incur penalties or provisions above written, or for playing any other games than is said above is fallen into the above-said penalty and providing singula singulis appropriate referendo.
The text that follows ends quickly, confirming that this law supersedes all previous ones in content and must be applied without exception "et senza alcuna cavillatione" [and without any caviling}.

Of this law, there are some points to discuss. One interesting particular is the distinction of the players by age, evidently considering the greater vulnerability of young people to the dangers of gambling. That card games were permitted to women may

not seem surprising considering the ladies of the princely courts that we know from the chronicles of the time, but here we are in the middle of the city among regular players of which we also have in previous decades long lists with the registration of those sentenced. It is true that in those cases the predominant game was zara; but we would be extraordinarily surprised to find registered among all the players who have been caught in flagrante [in the act] even one woman's name. As for the names of the card games that are permitted, it is in this case a useful and fairly early source. It is a bit surprising to note that the listing of permitted games in this case omits the game of trenta, which was listed among the games permitted in the law of 1450. One possible explanation is related to the fact that that games existed in many variations, sometimes characterized by unusual attributes such as "by force", or "of the Jews" 12; thus it is possible that some only of these variants could be considered legitimate, and it became difficult to go into detail about the relevant rules of the game to decide which to admit.

The technical details associated with these card games are not entirely clear, but they are, however ,indicated in a manner that seems valid in general. Thus the limit of bets [poste] permitted applies equally to all the card games appointed. Technical terms of "invitation" and "condemn", which are transcribed here as an invitation and contro-invitation, recall the "contro" [double] and "surcontro" [redouble] family today in bridge, but could also have been rather different types of bidding [rilancio]. Fewer suggestions can be obtained from “tenere accanto al punto” [holding beside the point], which leaves only vague glimpses of intermediate bets during the game, perhaps betting on certain cards or combinations thereof.

The amounts of the allowable limit for stakes were obvious to the recipients of the law, but we would need a numismatist if we wanted to be precise. The grossone was the silver coin that had for a long time the value of 7 soldi, and probably soldino indicated the one soldo coin, with the diminutive because it is small compared to the other; unless what is meant is the most common coin of quattrino [corrected from "quattriono"}, of less valuable alloys, worth four denari, and thus amounting to only a third of a soldo.
12 F. Pratesi, The Playing-Card, 40 No. 3 (2012) 179-197. (

The law of 1477

Only four years after the law of 1473, another will be discussed and approved, again relative to the prohibitions of games of chance. 13 In as much as it concerns the the specific involvement of trionfi, it is the most significant point for us; the replacement of the incorrect date of 1463 with the correct one of 1473 does not bring major consequences, since the the game had already been permitted in the law in 1450 and whether that permission was renewed after 13 or after 23 years changes little. However, that same difference of a decade may be very important for the Florentine variant of triumphs, minchiate. You will see now that the game of minchiate (which, however, many historians consider different from that known by the same name in the next century) is permitted in the law of 1477. Thus the temporal distance to be taken into consideration for the law of 1473 is less significant if compared to the previous than to the next: now it is recognized that the law in question was in the year 1473, but this implies just a four-year interval before the law in which for the first time minchiate is named as a permitted game. [Franco's suggestion for Allora la distanza temporale da prendere in esame per la legge del 1473 non è tanto quella rispetto alla precedente quanto quella relativa alla successiva: ora si è riconosciuto che la legge in questione era dell’anno 1473, ma ciò la porta a essere stata approvata e promulgata solo a quattro anni di distanza da quella ora in esame, in cui per la prima volta vengono nominate le minchiate come gioco permesso.]

The law in question was passed by three Florentine Councils, of the People, theCommune and the Hundred, from March 18, 1477 (the original documents actually read 1476, counting from March 25 [ab Incarnatione, from the Incarnation, the beginning of the Florentine year]), to final approval in the Council of the Hundred on 20 March 1477. The results of the respective voting in the three councils are 167-22, 134-13 and finally 148-7, favorable-adverse. On the establishment and functioning of these councils there are detailed descriptions, starting with the history by Davidsohn. 14

As in the other cases, we will be limited only to a cursory examination of the entire text. But to dwell on the section dedicated to games considered as exceptions, permitted to be practiced in Florence and its territory, the winnings and losses involved are well within the usual limitations. As for the whole of the law, it is important to observe that it does not intend to treat the subject by introducing a new system of control and convictions. The previous law was very detailed and it had been only a few years since its approval; it is therefore understandable that the
13 ASFI, Provvisioni. Registri, 168, cc. 6r-8r.
14 R. Davidsohn, Storia di Firenze/5. IV I primordi. Parte prima [First part]. Firenze 1977, pp. 109-128.

text of the previous law is taken into account by the councilors, to which they refer. For example, the sensitive issue of the recovery of money lost to the game is only recalled in so far as it was contemplated in the previous law: it is those provisions that they point to specifically, without discussing its merits.

On other points, they often recapitulate the preceding provisions, maintaining and continuing their validity. There are also some slight changes, but we can focus our attention on [di queste ci interessano soprattutto] those relating to games excluded from prohibitions. The text is copied below from its original registers.
E giuochi prohibiti sintendino essere tutti quelli che si faranno con dadi o carte. Salvo et excepti glinfrascripti giuochi cioè ogni giuocho di tavole purché la posta non sia maggior duno grossone, non si passando però fra inviti et rinviti in tutto grossoni sei in uno giuocho. Et piu il giuocho de triomphi non passando pero in tutto uno giuocho la vincita o la perdita un grossone. Et il giuocho delle minchiate non passando uno soldo per ogni carta luno avanzassi l’altro. Et il giuocho della diritta et alla seza vincha et alla seza perdi senza inviti o orinviti non si faccendo più che uno soldo dinvito per carta per uno. Et faccendo senza invito non si possa far maggior posta che duno grossone per uno per giuocho. Chricha et Rompha non si potendo fare se non di soldini et la magior honoranza soldi quattro et doppia si raddoppi, et lonvito et rinvito non possi essere di più che uno soldo per volta per uno. Et più il piluchino non potendo essere posta o invito o rinvito di più duno soldo per ciascuno et ciascuna volta.

[Translator's note: In this case, the Italian is somewhat more readable, but the translation still should not be relied upon.]

(And forbidden games are intended to be all those done with dice or cards. Save for and excepting the games written below. that is, all board games provided the wager is not more than one grossone, but not exceeding among invitations and re-invitations in all six grossoni in one game. And more, the game of Trionfi not exceeding but in all one grossone winning or losing in one game. And the game of minchiate not exceeding one soldo per card that one player wins from the other [A takes 50 cards, B 47 – A cannot gain more than 3 soldi]. And the game of diritto to the seza won and seza lost, without invitations or with invitations, not winning more than one soldo per card for one. And without invitation may not be made more put than one grossone for one game. Chricha and Rompha not being allowed to play if not for soldinis and the highest honors four soldi [non si potendo fare se non di soldini et la magior honoranza soldi quattro] doubled and redoubled, and the invitation and re-invitation cannot be more than one soldo at a time for one. And moreover piluchino cannot be wagered or invited or re-invited more than one soldo each and every time.)
To justify reformulation of the law after such a short period of time we cannot present in the specific case some necessity of having to complete a law delineated in too concise or ambiguous terms, and therefore to be further defined: there already is a law that contained a substantial amount of detailed requirements.

An important difference between the two laws enacted just four yearsapart concerns the limits on the bets in the games, not to be exceeded because the game remained excluded from the prohibitions. In the law of 1473 is indicated a limit of one soldino per trick and forbidding invitations and connter-invitations; four years later they introduce important distinctions among the various games. Here invitations and counter-invitations sometimes become permitted, albeit with limits that depend on the game in question. The distinction between the limits of the items in the various games can also indirectly provide some clues about the type of game.

In short, there is something new in the new law, and also in the section on permitted card games, of our interest. Here the most

important new information for us seems to be the appearance of minchiate, which will be commented on later. Also of a certain importance is finding now among the permitted card pilucchino; a few decades earlier, when two players were found playing pilucchino, their conviction was assured. 15

Additional information is also found on the game vinciperdi, which unfortunately does not help for deducing its precise definition. The game vinciperdi is often cited as vinciperdi with cards, as a game of vinciperdi was also known earlier among those of dice. Once you see a card game among permitted games, usually it is the game of diritta, but this first game is almost immediately associated with another, precisely vinciperdi, also referred to as torta. The immediate assumption is that it was the same trick-taking game played to get more (dritta) or less (torta). Here we find vinciperdi adding "seza" which, instead of clarifyings the meaning, leads to some additional uncertainty. It would appear in fact that vinciperdi here no longer is to be considered in close relation with diritta, but as an independent game that at least now had the distinction of having been played for a longer time. Unfortunately, admitting that the spelling of the word is correct, what is signified by “seza” is not secure [la grafia del termine sia quella, lo stesso significato
di “seza” non è del tutto sicuro

Cricca and ronfa are still considered together and seem like two games in which the competition is over who, in one, or probably more, distributions, with changes in some cards, gets a card combination of the greatest value. If it is permissible to extrapolate back to former times from the more recent ways of playing, one would assume that the difference between the two games was that in cricca one tried to compose trios and in ronfa, sequences.

Comments on minchiate

Minchiate is still absent in the law of 1473 and already present in that of 1477: one could be satisfied to have found a range of time however short, only four years, in which is established the massive appearance of the new Florentine game of minchiate, which remained popular for several centuries. However, the circumstances are not amenable to an effective resolution. One cannot sustain with some plausibility that what made this law necessary had been the initial spread of the new game of minchiate: such an eventuality in general would have been conceivable in the case of a new fashionable game that was to be prohibited. It is not seen that the Councils

of Florence came together to seriously discuss and decide of a new game ... to allow it.

Anyway, the fact that the name of minchiate appears here among the permitted games is very interesting for us, not least because - as already with the paragraph below copied from the study mentioned – it adds verisimilitude to the quotation of minchiate in a letter to Lorenzo Medici eleven years earlier.

Finally, the March 18, 1477, has another provision, very important for us, the last of the period in question. It is of extreme interest that in this law appears for the first time among permitted games, in addition to pilucchino, the game of minchiate, listed by that precise name. Also this date includes an anticipation of half a century than previously generally believed (exception made for the untraceable letter of Pulci to Lorenzo the Magnificent, which now acquires new plausibility).

The game in 1466 evidently had not yet become so popular as to be considered traditional and permitted by law. Indeed, the evidentary notes before its appearance in the provision of 1477 are very scarce; one of these was found only because a regular minchiate player was sentenced in 1471, not for playing the game – to which he was dedicated in Cortona for three months in 1470 along with other persons salaried by the city of Florence - but for associated blasphemy. 16

In reconstructing the evolution from the game of triumphs to Florentine minchiate there are some points that are still to be defined. To begin with, there is no certainty that in Florence the triumphs that preceded the introduction of minchiate were the same tarot deck of 78 cards of which we have reliable information only several decades later. There are indeed signs of a composition of the deck of triumphs with a sort of fifth suit added, with the same number of cards as the others, as can for example also be deduced from a Bolognese testimony of these same years. 17 Even among the first documentations of the name of minchiate and the unequivocal news that we find from the sixteenth century on, there still remains a time interval devoid of documentary vidence. Not surprisingly, some experts claim that the minchiate of the fifteenth century corresponded to a deck and a game other than those documented
16 F. Pratesi, L’As de Trèfle, N. 52 (1993) 9-10. (

from the sixteenth century. Moreover, alongside or instead of the name of minchiate appeared the early name germini, which appears to have characterized the same deck of cards and its game, but also of this identity all is to be proved. It might be two decks, and games, which were to be sure very similar, but that could not be precisely identical and thus came to be indicated, rightly, by different names.

Ultimately, one gets the impression that any supposed differences between minchiate of the fifteenth century on the one hand, and germini and minchiate of the sixteenth century on the other, were very secondarily discerned, or a difference did not exist at all [oppure non esistevano affatto]. Of course, as with all games, one can easily guess, and maintain, that there were also significant changes over time in the rules of the game, while using the same cards. Regarding the game of Minchiate, we know, for example, from the following centuries that the game was practiced prevalently each for himself up to the seventeenth century inclusive, while after then what prevailed was the use of the form of the game between two pairs of players.

In the rules of the game that were accepted more often for minchiate, the aim of winning the most cards possible was rather marginal compared to to trying to capture those of increased value and, even more, those that allowed forming verzigole, or combinations of cards with value so extraordinary as to multiply one’s winnings. The peculiarity that gave great importance to these additional scores in the Florentine game was that in practice it [a card combination, Franco says] could be counted three times, in the distribution of the cards before starting the game, during the game when captured in tricks, and in the final count going over again all the cards won. It is unlikely that such a complicated system was born suddenly and accepted from the start. The same applies to some rules that make the game more attractive by allowing new strategies, especially the different uses of the cards that remained excluded from the initial distribution.

Well, the law of 1477 shows us that minchiate was an easier game when it was played at the beginning, as already reported in the previous study.

The information supplied is clear also that the rules of minchiate must have been
simpler initially; in fact, payment was made directly on the basis of the difference between the cards taken.

If at this point the experts recognize in a game so simplified

nothing more than a distant ancestor of what later became popular - a game that had the same name but was in fact very different and even used the same cards - the discussion is difficult. Nobody would argue that tressette with the accuse is a different game from tressette without the accuse, while the strategy is very different if it is played in twos. On the other hand, to simplify rules for minchiate, to reduce them to a simple game played only for (taking) tricks [di sole prese] would certainly not have given rise to the trend that saw minchiate establish itself in the eighteenth century in the most exclusive circles of many European capitals. So in the end, minchiate falls into a problem of definition and interpretation of its terms, broadly or narrowly, especially to determine the moment when it became necessary to introduce a specific term (or rather two, minchiate and germini) no longer beomg able to understand this game among the triumphs already in use.


Four Florentine laws on forbidden games have been examined, dating back to the years 1450, 1473 and 1477. A special feature of these laws is that in them appeared the names of a number of card games excluded from the prohibition, at least if done with small bets among adult players. These games were dritta, vinciperdi, trenta and trionfo in 1450; dritta, vinciperdi, trenta, trionfo, cricca and ronfa in 1473; dritta, vinciperdi, trenta, trionfo, minchiate cricca, ronfa and pilucchino in 1477. These games were commented on, paying particular attention to trionfi and minchiate, for which there remain several uncertainties, not only on the rules of the game, as indeed happens with most ancient games, but also regarding the special cards that were used.

Franco Pratesi - 07.11.2015

Added later in the day: I attached a short explanatory note to footnote 3 quoting Franco's English-language paraphrase, corresponding to the Latin he quotes in the present essay, of similar legislation at that time in a town under Sienese rule.

Added Dec. 11: I put in some corrections suggested by Franco. To find them, look for the brackets ([ and ] in which I put either the Italian or the English. They are all minor, perhaps with one exception. I had translated "carte a trionfi" as "triumph cards". Franco says it should be "triumph-style cards". I am not at the moment sure why he suggested this change; there is more than one possibility. Watch this space.

Re: New Pratesi essays on Florentine card game regulations

Franco explained to me why "carte a trionfi" in 1440 is better understood as "triumph-style cards" than "triumph cards". Here is my summary of that discussion.

Franco's answer was to the effect that "carte a trionfi" means "cards employing triumphal themes", and not necessarily cards used to play a card game. Another translation might be "triumphal cards". I suggested examples, and the following are not excluded, besides cards for card games: cards that displayed Petrarch's triumphs, virtues (perhaps triumphing over vices), Greco-Roman gods or heroes, and saints, for the purpose of inspiration, instruction, or simply enjoyment, and not designed for use in a game. In general, however, the cards would have been like the special cards in decks of playing cards later called "triumphs"; it is just that we don't know in what ways or to what degree they were like them

However that is just to say that it is not part of the meaning of "cartes a trionfi" that the cards are used to play a game. Actually, it is over 90%, maybe even 99%, sure that the cards called "carte a trionfi" were at that time used to play a game. If so, it is equally sure that not all of such cards were on triumphal themes, because all the games known with triumphal subjects also used ordinary suit cards.

To sum up: since it is not part of the meaning of "carte a trionfi", it is better not to say "triumph cards" but rather "triumph-style cards", at the same time remembering that not all such cards would necessarily have been on triumphal themes; in fact it is very likely that some would not have been.

It was a difficult concept for me to grasp, and I am grateful to Franco for taking the time to explain what he thinks is most probable.

I also asked Andrea Vitali his opinion on what "carte a trionfi" meant. Andrea said he thought it was equivalent to "carte per trionfi", i.e. cards for the game of triumphs. An analogous expression is "vestirsi a guerre", "dress for war". Franco does not exclude that interpretation as possible, but he thinks his own interpretation is more probable: if people had wanted to say "cards for the game of triumphs" they would more likely have said "carte per trionfi" or "carte da trionfi".

Re: New Pratesi essays on Tuscan [was Florentine] card game

Below (after my introduction) is my translation of another Franco Pratesi essay on card game regulations, concerning Siena (for that reason, I changed the title of this thread). I would draw particular attention to his observations at the end, the section "Comments on games excluded from the prohibition". The original is at

At the beginning is the word "giochi", a word that all modern Italian-English dictionaries translate as "games". It occurs to me now that "giochi" is connected with the verb "giocare", meaning "to play" or "to gamble". So perhaps the word "giochi" in the title could be translated either as "games" or "gambling". In English, the distinction is that gambling is "to play a game in which you can win or lose money or possessions", as Miriam-Webster says in its primary definition (; there is a also a more general sense, in which "gamble" means "risk something important", but I don't think that makes any difference. Playing a game, however, does not necessarily involve anything more important than winning or losing, if that (there are games without winning and losing). The laws in question seem to be against games involving gambling, but there seems to be no distinction made in Italian between "playing card games" and "gambling", except by means of context. I do not have enough of the context to say for sure which is meant, or if any need was felt to make the distinction. Perhaps the prohibited games were so simple as to be pointless, hence not done, unless played for material stakes; I do not know.

1451: Siena - New law on games [giochi]


The present study can be considered as a direct continuation of an earlier one that reported the law on games that was declared in Siena and other cities of its territory at the beginning of 1451.1 Of that law, if we have only vague information, its text, transcribed for the first time in full at that time, has represented a valid document of interest for the history of the first card games in Tuscany. However, that text was not from the Sienese municipal archives, but from a statute of the town of Asinalunga (currently Sinalunga); it seemed therefore necessary to confirm the result with a comparison to the original documents of Siena; the research did not happen then, but that purpose was not forgotten and has been eventually satisfied thanks to this study.

The original document

The original wording of the law at issue has been found among the resolutions of the City of Siena; in particular it is located in one of the volumes of the series Deliberazioni [Resolutions of the section Consiglio Generale [General Council]. 2 It is a heavy volume of 348 pages, tied on the axis and large (ca. 40x30x15cm), clearly in correspondence with the particular relevance of its contents. 3 The book contains all the resolutions of the General Council from 4 April 1450 to 12 August 1452; at the date of 12 March 1450 (in the Sienese style of time, corresponding to 1451 in the modern style) is also the law copied below. The pages involved are 129v and 130r, the more recent numbers in pencil, or 118V and 119r and older in pen.
2 ASSI, Consiglio Generale, Deliberazioni, 225.
3 ... 6_archivio

[Translator’s note: I am not going to attempt to translate the 1450 document, as I cannot be sure of accuracy. Afterwards Franco discusses it fairly thoroughly. Only one sentence mentions trionfi, which I highlight in bold.]
Item provviddero che nisuna persona di qualumque stato o conditione si sia dela Città contado o districto di Siena possi o presuma giocare a giuocho di dadi o veramente di carte o Naibi sotto la pena di L venticinque di denari per ciascuna volta che contra facesse da aplicarsi al comune di Siena et facta la decta condepnagione. in mediate qualunque officiale havesse congnosciuta. sia obligato sotto la medesima pena a significarlo in biccherna et allo spechio intendendosi che durante la descriptione a decta condepnagione al decto spechio sia et essere sintenda stractato come gli altri che sono scripti al decto spechio sicondo liordini et statuti del comune di Siena.

Item che ciaschuno el quale giochasse a decti Giuochi prohibiti adalcuno dessi in luoghi secreti o in chase o in altri luoghi occulti debbi essere condepnato per ciaschuna volta nel doppio dela sopradecta pena da essere descripto in Bicherna et allo Spechio ne modi sopradecti et sotto la medesima pena allofficiale che in ciò fusse negligente. Salvo niente dimeno che le predecte pene et condepnagioni non abbino luogho contra chi giochasse a tavole con dadi et a naybi o carte a questi giuochi cioè al Dricto a vinceperde al trenta e a triunfi et in altri modi sintendano essere giuochi prohibiti.

Item che nele predecte cose et contra le predecte cose el podestà Capitano delaiustitia Regelatori et officiali di mercantia dela Città di Siena possino et debbino congnoscere et procedere contra atali giochatori sotto la sopradecta pena. Et di fuore dela Città ciaschuno officiale possi et debbi cognoscere punire et condepnare come di sopra è ordinato intendendosi essere reserbata la congnitione aquello officiale che prima pervenisse o a procedere cominciato avesse et possino congnoscere et procedere per inquisitione et accusa come vedranno essere più conveniente.

Item che dela soprapredecta pena et condepnagione la terza parte sia et essere sintenda dellofficiale el quale farà la decta condepnagione laltra terza parte allacusatore et ellatra terza parte al comune di Siena. Et questo quando el decto officiale la decta condepnagione avrà rischossa et inverità facta venire nele mani del camerario del monte del comune di Siena.

Item che achiaschuna persona sia lecito accusare, et (de)nuptiare quelli che giucherano a decti giochi prohibiti et sielli data piena fede quando tale acussa proverà per due testimoni e quali giurino di veduto avere, veduto giochare et el nome di tale acussatore per li decti officiali sia tenuto secreto sotto pena di L. cinquanta per ciaschuna volta che contra facesse.

Item che qualunque persona giucherà a decti Giuochi prohibiti et accusarà et denunpciarà quello o quelli che collui giuchorono adecti giochi sintenda et sia libero et absoluto dala condepnagione et pena nela quale era incorso per lo decto giuocho et abbia ancora la terza parte dela decta condepnatione come di sopra è decto.

Item che se alcuna persona giocharà al alcuno de decti Giochi vetati et a quello giuocho perderà alcuna quantità di denari o daltre cose che al decto perditore sia lecito et possi intermine di sei mesi dal dì dela decta perdita dinanzi a qualunque de decti officiali quello che arà perduto adimandare al vincitore doversi alui restituire. Et ciaschuno de decti officiali sia tenuto et debba trovato la verità del facto pronuptiare et condepnare el decto vencitore a rendare et restituire le decte cose vinte al decto perditore le due parti et laltra parte sia desso rectore et officiale che ne farà la

executione. Et se achadesse che il decto perditore le decte cose perdute non volesse adimandare che sia lecito al padre madre figliuoli fratelli carnali a la moglie e zii et nipoti carnali desso perditore tali cose perdute adimandare et congnosciuta la verità del facto e decti officiali et rectori sieno tenuti a farle alloro restituire le due parti et laltra sia dessi officiali come di sopra è decto.

Item che qualunque persona per li sopradecti giuochi vetati serà condepnato pagando in termine di quindici dì dapoi serà condepnato possi pagare el terzo meno et se confesserà spontaneamente tale excesso overo giuocho avere commesso pagando infra il decto termine la mettà dessa condepnagione sia libero et absoluto dallatra metà et dal decto termine in là non pagando possi essere constrecto in persona et in avere a pagarsi interamente la decta condepnagione da essere descripta et distribuita nemodi sopradecti per la quale condepnagione non li possi essere conceduto alcuno salvo conducto o altra sicurtà et essendoli conceduto non glivaglia per alcuno modo.

Item che qualunque persona ricettarà alcuno de decti Giuochi prohibiti in alcuna sua casa o in alcuno altro suo luogo proprio o conducto caggia nela pena del doppio di quello che è ordinato di sopra contra quelli che adecti giuochi prohibiti giuochassero da distribuirsi et discriversi come di sopra è decto. Et in simile pena incorra qualunque persona prestarà vendarà o donarà per alcuno modo dadi carte o naibi per giuchare a sopra decti Giuochi prohibiti avendone legiptime prove come di sopra è decto del giuocho.

Et tucte le sopradecte cose così sintendino per li forestieri come per li cittadini di Siena et sottoposti di qualunque grado o conditione si sia.

Et vincendosi et obtenendosi la sopradecta provisione sieno tenuti e Regolatori in termine di xv dì di farla publicamente bandire et insinuata in tucti li statuti che stanno presso a sopradecti officiali. Et in termine di due mesi sieno tenuti di notificarla a tucti li officiali et comitati del contado di Siena per fante propio ale spese del comune di Siena che ciaschuno similmente la faccia bandire et observare ne modi sopradecti.

In this transcript, accents on final vowels, lacking in the original, have been introduced, as well as a few other minor changes, to conform the writing to the current style; further changes in the same direction which perhaps would be desirable have not been introduced, in the belief that the document is not very hard to read and understand. If you compare this text with the one already published by the Statute of Sinalunga there may occur some marginal variations in the spelling, but the content does not appear to be anything significantly different. The important fact remains that this time, finally, the document originates from a more genuine and more authoritative Sienese source.

General considerations on the law in question

The assumption is usually that gambling has found too much following among citizens and it is necessary to put a firm stop to bad habits, ones so sweeping as to assume a certain relevance on the public as well as private level.

It establishes immediate punishment that has a double aspect: first, there is a fine amounting to 25 lire, which proves to be very heavy, so that to be paid by an ordinary citizen would have usually required the involvement and assistance of relatives and friends. What's more, it imposes inscription in the books of the Biccherna and Specchio, which, with the crime, not only finished the decorum and honor of the player, but precluded elegibility to any office and political appointment in the city.

There follow even stricter provisions for special cases: for the player, the penalty is doubled if caught gambling in the city in private homes or in any interior, while if the officer did not impose the sentence, for him is applied the same punishment is applied to him as that provided for the player. However, it excepts from prohibitions some games, which are discussed later. In addition to being caught in the criminal are it also expected sentences following investigations based on allegations, inquiries and miscellaneous information. It is ordered that the fine be divided into three parts, the first for the officer imposing the sentence, the second for the accuser, and the third for the city.

Informing is not only authorized but also awarded a third of the sentence; in addition, the anonymity of the accuser is guaranteed because of the difficulty that an officer revealing the identity has the threat of a penalty of 50 lire; the accusation needs only confirmation by two witnesses under oath (and it can be seen in this context that perjurers were then severely punished). A special case among the informants is of those who give the names of fellow players: indeed they will be given a third of the penalty, as provided for the informers, also the penalty was canceled which they would have had to pay in person.

One particular item concerns the return of gambling debts, a subject that has caused rivers of ink among the jurists of all time. Here it is determined that gambling debts can be obtained not only by the loser, but also the immediate family if the player himself did not intend to request the amount lost. At their request, the officer

is required to verify the case and also has a personal interest in recovering gambling losses, in so far as one third of the sum recovered is reserved for him.

Advantageous conditions are granted to those sentenced who recognize their wrong, confessing the crime and willing to pay the penalty promptly. In those conditions, the penalty is reduced by one third and it is sufficient to pay half, while if the term is exceeded one can count on no reduction. Fixing the penalty for the player, it is determined that a double penalty is imposed on anyone acting as receiver of the game, hosting players in his locale, providing the material needed for gambling. In the application of the new law on gambling there is no distinction between citizens and foreigners.

Within fifteen days of approval, the new law should be posted in public and inserted in the official statutes of the city, and the term is extended to two months for it to be distributed and adopted throughout Sienese territory. After reviewing all of the law, they can comment on some points. Overall, the rules against gambling are presented in a rather conventional manner, and not too different from many laws that have been transmitted and debated by historians for other locations and earlier times; 4 also the increased penalty for playing indoors. and therefore not being exposed to regular checks by town security officers. is relatively common. Here there is no provision to increase the penalty for gambling at night, which is found in other cases. Perhaps the point that most distinguishes this from other similar laws is in the amount of the fine, steeper than average.

As in other cases, the most controversial and sensitive point appears to that of restitution of gambling losses 5, but in this regard there are not enough local records to let us catch a glimpse of the extent to which this law could be effectively implemented.

In regard to our interest in the history of card games, the most interesting point definitely concerns not the forbidden games, but the games that are allowed, and in particular the four games indicated as such in the law in question.
4 L. Zdekauer, Il gioco d’azzardo nel medioevo italiano. Firenze 1993. (Reprint)
5 Ref. 4, pp. 34-41.

Comments on games excluded from the prohibition

The prohibitions of games provide some exceptions where they are not applicable, as follows: "They do not take place against those who play at tables [boards] with cards or dice and naybi [cards], in these games: at Dricto at vinceperde, at trenta, and at triunfi". [“non abbino luogho contra chi giochasse a tavole con dadi et a naybi o carte a questi giuochi cioè al Dricto a vinceperde al trenta e a triunfi.”] The list that we find here for card games is very similar to that approved by the Councils of Florence only three months prior, although being fully independent; the same can be said for the entire provision, which is almost like a version in the common tongue, only slightly reduced, of the Latin text approved in Florence. At the time, Siena was not yet required to follow the laws of Florence, but somehow the spirit of the Florentine law - and largely also the same form - obviously managed to move from the one city to the other.

For card games, the fact must be emphasized that it lists the names of games excluded from the prohibitions and not of a list of forbidden games; the difference is substantial and in fact involves precise consequences. If it were a list of forbidden games, it would be possible to interpret them, preferably, as games recently introduced, such as to arouse suspicion about the dangers linked to large losses of money, of cheating that is difficult to prevent, of crowds and sensational fights; but a game just arrived in town is not named in a a law in order to exclude it from the prohibitions!

In particular, it is seen that the game of triumphs already appears in the Florentine law of the end of 1450; and one could even think that only in Florence that game had acquired the character of a traditional game, such as to allow it as a legitimate pastime. But now we find virtually the same law in Siena, only three months after the approval of the Florentine one, and the consequence of this is immediate: the game of triumphs could not be a game that became traditional within a single city, but now as one that had developed on a much larger scale. Therefore, if we try to get closer to the origins of the game, all that remains is to penetrate as deeply as possible into the first half of the fifteenth century; by the middle of the century the game of triumphs was already widely practiced and accepted by the population, at least in the vast territories subject to both major cities of Tuscany.


There has been reported in full the Sienese law on games of March 12, 1451, as it was written in the original document kept in the State Archives of Siena, in a volume of Resolutions of the General Council. Clearly the importance of the law consists precisely in its subject: the prohibition of gambling, with the prescription of the corresponding punishments. For us, however, the importance is even greater for the exceptions to the rule and in particular the list of games that were excluded from those prohibitions. The text concerned is discussed taking into account a redaction of the same law previously found in a statute of Sinalunga and the Florentine law on games of December 1450, which basically lists among the card games excluded from the prohibitions the same four recorded in Siena: diritta [straight?], vinciperdi [won-lost], trenta [thirty], trionfi [triumphs]. For the game of triumphs it is very important evidence, because not only is it absolutely early, but at the same time shows that the game had already assumed the character of a traditional game among the population, by having been so considered lawful: it is in the territory of Siena as well as in that of Florence, where the exclusion from Forbidden Games was approved three months earlier.

Franco Pratesi - October 31, 2015

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