Yes, we did stray a bit. So, for something more relevant.
I have been researching how playing cards could have gotten to Florence before 1377, or to Catalonia by the same time, from somewhere else, not necessarily the physical cards, which could have been made locally, but the game of cards, i.e. a trick-taking game using pieces of paper that can be shuffled beforehand and distributed to players, divided into four suits with number card and court cards.
The "somewhere else" would seem to be have to have been either the Mamluks of Egypt, or somewhere in contact with the Mamluks, such that the Mamluks also had similar playing instruments.
I can envision three avenues: (a) merchants; (b) soldiers; (c) slaves; (d) prostitutes. I think (d) can be dropped as a separate category, because they were either local women, former (or still) slaves, or would have come with soldiers. In each of these cases, there is an additional question to be answered, namely, why then, a little before 1377, and not earlier, given the likelihood that the Mamluks used playing cards from at least 1250 and probably earlier.
The problem with merchants is finding one that mentions cards. A very long study of one merchant of the proper time-period, Iris Origo's The Merchant of Prato
, in Google Books, does not yield any result when I put in "cards" or "card", but does if I put in "chess" or "dice". Dice, game-boards, and chess pieces are verifiably imported, but cards are not mentioned. One would expect that if the former, then the latter. With merchants there is also the question of how they would have created a demand for cards. Some advertising, with explanations of how to use the products, would have been needed. One would expect a trace of such advertising, in somebody's account somewhere. And the question about the period just before 1377; did something change after around 1350 to make cards spread then and not earlier? The obvious event that affected trade was the Black Death, but that would have decreased trade rather than increasing it.
One problem with soldiers is finding any with likely contact with people who had cards. Another is the question of whether such soldiers would have played cards, as opposed to chess, given Islam's strictures against games of chance. Even the cards that have survived, the two early ones, show signs of intentional mutilation. In this case there is a new book just published (March 2016) which documents that Muslim mercenaries did fight, in the time in question, for the Kingdom of Aragon in the Spanish peninsula--not against other Muslims, to be sure, but in the King's fights against his Christian neighbors. There is a lengthy description of one example from the book, of 1285, at http://deremilitari.org/2016/05/hussein ... b-ditcham/
. An illustration advertising the book at http://www.medievalhistories.com/the-me ... of-aragon/
shows Muslim soldiers fighting together with Christians in the Battle of Puig, 1237. However this was a battle of Christians against Muslims, and the Muslims face a different direction than most of the Christians.
More information is needed, not only documentation about cards but other facts about their life-styles that would indicate whether they or their camp-followers would have played cards, and also about any change that may have occurred after around 1350 to increase the likelihood of cards' spread then. In this case, the Black Death might have increased the need for soldiers, and hence also for Muslim mercenaries. But it seems to me that the Black Death also would have decreased the supply of soldiers on the part of a ruler's enemies as well, thus decreasing the demand to normal levels. I have requested a copy of the book from Interlibrary Loan.
As for slaves, I have multiple confirmations of extensive importation of non-Christian slaves into Florence, starting with a statute of 1364 legitimizing and protecting such purchases. The reason for such legislation seems to have been precisely the Black Death, which affected the poorer population, which supplied the laborers, more than those who needed that labor, those with the means to buy slaves to make up for the labor shortage.
Here is an excerpt from the 1364 Florentine statute, ASF [Archivio di Stato], Provvisioni
, 51, fols. 115v-116r (my source: The society of Renaissance Florence: A Documentary Study
, ed. by Gene Brucker, 1971, p. 222 of 1998 reprint).
...The Lord priors ... have decreed ... that henceforth anyone from whatever place and of whatever condition may freely bring into the city, contado, and district of Florence those slaves who are not of the Christian faith .... and they may possess, hold, and sell them to whoever they wish. And whoever purchases them
may receive, possess, use, and exploit them as his slaves, and do his will with them ...
The lord priors ... with their colleges ... may make whatever provisions and orders they wish concerning the ways that masters treat their slaves, and concerning the protection of the masters against the escape, the wrong-doing, or the disobedience of the slaves, and also concerning those who receive fugitives, and all other things pertaining to these matters. ...
There is also information about who was purchased as slaves, and from where. Brucker gives excerpts from a letter of Messer Rosso Orlandi in Florence to Piero Davanzani in Venice, Feb. 13, 1391, ASF, Conventi Soppressi
, 78 (Badia), vol. 315, no. 348; p. 223 of Brucker):
... If you haven't written to Spalato [in Dalmatia] to Bartolomeo or to others to send you the two slave girls abut whom I wrote yo in other letters, I beg you to write him ... so that he will send you the slaves and the documents of purchase. You can transport them from Venice and send them to me ... These slave girls should be between twelve and fifteen years old, and if there aren't any available of that age, but a little older or younger, don't neglect to send them. I would prefer to have them younger than twelve instead of older than fifteen, as long as they are not under ten. I don't care if they are pretty or ugly, as long as they are healthy and able to do hard work.
To put this letter in a larger context, there is an excellent article by Origo in JSTOR, "The Domestic Enemy: Eastern Slaves in Tuscany in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries," Speculum
, XXX (1955), 321-66. It confirms that girls 10-15 were the most popular purchase. I would guess that it is because they are primarily for women's work and are perceived as more docile than boys. Of course they might also be more treacherous, as anecdotal accounts suggest. There is also the obvious sexual use, not at all prohibited by statute and of which she gives sufficient examples. Children of slaves, if begotten by their owner, were often raised as part of the family, even given dowries. Otherwise they were given to foundling homes. What happened to their mothers is not said.
Surely some of the slaves pregnant with unwanted children, and slave mothers after they gave birth, ended up in brothels, which were not only legal but even, in some cases, run and owned by the Commune, paying rent to what appear to be leading families of the town. Brucker (p. 190) cites a statute of 1415 authorizing public brothels. The Catasto
of 1427 lists one Rosso di Giovanni di Niccolo de' Medici as owning a house at the entrance to the Chiasso Malacucina. The upstairs is rented to a pork-butcher, and six little shops beneath that house are rented to prostitutes. The Catasto
of 1433 mentions one Piero di Simone Brunelleschi and his mother Antonia, who rent two houses and the shops below to prostitutes. They also rent there to a certain Giovanni di Marco of Venice, who with his boys collects the rents (p. 191).
While the slaves in the letter cited were being sought in Dalmatia, that was not the usual case. Dalmatia was predominantly Christian, and a purchaser did not want to find that he had to let his purchase go if she satisfied a priest of her Christian bona fides
. Brucker cites a case of this sort. More often slaves were Tartars, etc. who were i.e. Muslim or pagan, Origo shows, recruited from one of the ports on the north shore of the Black Sea. This is the same stock as the Mamluks.
It is not unthinkable to me that Florentines might have learned about the game of cards from their slaves. Young people 10-15 are typically interested in just such games, and so would have learned them in their native lands. They could, it seems to me, have even devised decks of cards from materials close at hand in their new homes, taking waste paper and putting the suit signs and denomination on them. Some might even have worked for the very artisans that made similar items, although depicting saints or biblical scenes rather than the figures on cards. If so, there cannot be expected to be any surviving record. An artisan would not want to advertise that this was a game of slaves from barbaric lands.