Playing cards in Europe before 1377? Berne
In Switzerland, playing cards have had special developments that are still in use, together with more modern types: the local suits of acorns, bells, shields and roses. Only relatively recently was due attention paid to the history of these Swiss cards and some games in which they were used; their importance for the initials stages of the spread of card games in Europe, however, is noteworthy. It should be kept in mind that in the fourteenth century many of the European states did not exist, Germany and Switzerland in particular.
The act constitutive of the Swiss Confederation is traditionally considered to be the "eternal Federal covenant", signed at Rütli in August of 1291 to the initial three cantons others were gradually added over the centuries; Berne joined in 1353, shortly before the events of our interest. In particular, the dialects spoken in the Swiss cantons from which we have the first notice on playing cards were mainly Germanic. Thus Swiss cards have generally been considered a secondary derivation from German ones, also because two of the four suits are practically the same and in the various Germanic regions decks of more [most?] types of cards were adopted.
However, there are clues that suggest attributing to Swiss cards more importance and antiquity. In this respect there are various threads in the specialist literature and in part also in what will be used in this study. But here the history of Swiss cards remains marginal, inasmuch as what interests us especially is the first notice that has reached us: it is a law of the city of Berne in 1367, a date that is often considered the oldest known today for the presence of playing cards in Europe.
2. Document in discussion
The Berne document of 1367 at issue here is not preserved in a copy of the time, but in a copy made at the end of the century and in others
still later. The oldest copy we have is not preserved in Berne but in Vienna, in the Austrian National Library, in a codex that was only purchased in the nineteenth century, by the antiquarian bookseller Gräffer. The manuscript, of 104 format pages formed similar to our A4, has signature Cod. 12507, and title Der Stadt Bern Satzungen a. 1218-1429. By its dating it is seen to be of the first third of 15th century 1; in the description of the Tabulae codicum is among other things the following Latin indication.
Basically the manuscript presents itself as a collection of laws, updated to the year 1429. In the descriptions and studies about it (also based on watermarks of pages) it is affirmed that the law of 1367 that can be read here would have been written in 1398 or in years very close to that. The manuscript has been recognized as the main source of the oldest Bernese legislation, transcribed and published with care and professionalism by Friedrich Emil Welti, and a reissue of his work 3 can also be accessed on the internet, including p. 114 containing the cap. 83 of our interest 4.Liber incipit privilege civitatis Bernensis dato a Fridrico II. imperator "aput Frankenfurt Anno gracie MCCXVIII, XVIj. Kal. Maii. Sex Idus "et decretis aliisque legibus Auctus ad annum 1429 2.
The indisputable fact that the original document was lost leaves open the choice between conflicting interpretations (cards already documented in 1367, or only in 1398, or in intermediate dates unknown), which could be easily resolved only with the finding of the original 1367 act and any other within this interval. Several historians of playing cards have tried to "read" the page written in 1367, as we shall see in the following review. We understand that the very challenging task of reading insightfully a nonexistent page has affected only those who were very interested in the peculiar history of the first playing cards in Europe; for Bernese chronology in general, and for historians that are concerned with it, the issue has never been put.
2 http://bilder.manuscripta-mediaevalia.d ... 06_jpg.htm
3 F. E. Welti (ed.), Stadtrecht von Bern I und II (Sammlung Schweizerischer Rechts-quellen). Aarau 1971.
4 https://www.ssrq-sds-fds.ch/online/BE_I ... html#p_114
3. Peter Kopp
The document in question was brought to the attention of historians by Peter Kopp, in a long article on the old playing cards of Switzerland, published in an academic journal 5. Kopp stressed, among other things, the professionalism of the scribe Konrad Justinger who three decades after the drafting of the document in question was officially in charge of records and storage in the same environment; in fact dealing with a professional in the field, it would not seem plausible for a copy of the document not to have been fully consistent with the original.
One of the points that indirectly played in favor of Kopp was the confirmation of the previous hypothesis, advanced especially by Sylvia Mann 6, that the typical symbols of roses and shields, which we meet only in decks of Swiss cards, could be significantly older than documented until then. So there would have been a kind of independent confirmation of the plausibility of a very old notice on playing cards from Berne.
The introduction of 1367 at Berne as the first date of a European document on playing cards was a very significant point for the related history. To anticipate by ten years the first known documentation is already a feat in itself worthy of appreciation. But even in that circumstance one is then able to recognize, as we shall see later, a quantum leap in the history of playing cards, in the methods for its study, and in the manner of publishing results. This circumstance was already pointed out at the time of the publication of the Swiss journal: it was an academic periodical, and cards were certainly not a frequent subject. In that case - in very exceptional way, and for the first time - an entire issue of the magazine was printed dedicated to playing cards, with two articles by Kopp and three by different authors, on Swiss playing cards of various periods.
That fact appeared extraordinary, so much so that a page was published by the editorial staff in which they pointed out among other things that in the repertory
5 P. F. Kopp, Zeitschrift für Schweizerische Archäologie und Kunstgeschichte, 30 (1973) 130-145.
6 S. Mann, Collecting Playing Cards. London 1966.
of objects on which to carry out academic research with scientific methods, it was suitable also to include the products of the minor arts. Playing cards were mentioned as a marginal field of art history, which until that time had not yet been studied with scientific methods (welches noch heute bis kaum wissenschaflich erforscht worden ist). The editorial ended the initial page thus: "Ihr besonderer Dank gilt dabei Herrn Dr. Peter F. Kopp, Anregung welchem die sie zu diesem Heft verdankt." Just to Kopp, thanking him, recognizing the merit of having spurred the publication of this special issue. The editors could not foresee the objections and replies that would follow, otherwise you can imagine that the scientific approach to the history of playing cards would have required several years more before making its entrance in a "serious" journal.
4. Hellmut Rosenfeld
The important article by Kopp did not go unnoticed; in particular, several of his statements were harshly criticized by another expert, Hellmut Rosenfeld. Thus began a debate longer and more intense than usual, especially for a "scientific" periodical.
In particular, Rosenfeld published in the Swiss journal a contrary point of view, in which among other things he suggested that even in this case it would be a matter of an interpolation of card games added by the copyist to those of dice present in the original 7; in fact various copies with an addition of this kind are known, perhaps even in the same original document where a note was inserted later in the margin or above the line. Rosenfeld in reconstructing also takes strength from parallel legislation of the canton of Saint Gallen, where in the same period the same prohibition of dice games was repeated several times (1364, 1373, 1377), without the appearance of playing cards before 1379, which is already an early date but easier to relate to other European notes in locations near and far.
7 H. Rosenfeld, Zeitschrift für schweizerische Archäologie und Kunstgeschichte, 32 (1975) 179-180.
The controversy between Kopp and Rosenfeld ended up involving various issues, for us of other interest, but on one of those points you have to give full marks to Rosenfeld, when Kopp ventured to affirm that the testimony of the Florentine 1377 was less secure than that of Berne of 1367. The Florentine public documents in 1377 on naibi are stored in several registers, with copies completed within a few days, kept intact and in good condition. To argue that the reliability of the 1398 testimony for 1367 is higher than that of Florence in 1377 to 1377 seems to me even paradoxical.
Finally, the academic journal had to accept one last reply by Kopp, accompanied by an editorial note that the debate in that forum should be considered closed 8. On that occasion Kopp reported new opinons confirming his formulation, from the editors of the Schweizer Idiotikon, a dictionary that already in 1931 had cited the law in Berne of 1367.
Rosenfeld also had the opportunity to return to the subject 9; in his new analysis of the text of the law, reported now in full with commentary, he lingered more than before on stylistic and grammatical details that would prove that it was a later interpolation; However, it seems that these deductions are then found to be fully convincing only to the one who had proposed them.
5. Stuart Kaplan
A contribution on the subject is also due to Stuart Kaplan; actually to him must be recognized a particular merit for the subsequent history of the tarot, on which he managed to collect the largest possible amount of information and reproductions, even publishing them in an encyclopedia in several volumes. Here we are interested in only the first of those volumes 10, where the 1367 Berne document appears on p. 24 as the first of a list that occupies about ten pages, with the oldest documents on playing cards in general listed in chronological order. Here is how Kaplan presents the document in question.
8 P. F. Kopp, Zeitschrift für schweizerische Archäologie und Kunstgeschichte, 33 (1976) 67-68.
9 H. Rosenfeld, Gutenberg-Jahrbuch 1975, 353-371.
10 S. Kaplan, The Encyclopedia of Tarot. New York 1978.
Kaplan’s merit, however, goes far beyond this simple presentation: the next page of the book also presents a photographic reproduction of the manuscript page with the chapter of the Law on games, in which appear clearly a couple of later additions. The author also helps us to decipher the text, indicating that the prohibition against various games includes playing cards (kartenspil) in the fifth line from the top, while the date MCCCLXVII is reported as present in the ninth line.Bern, 1367. In a list of legal documents dating from about the end of the fourteenth century for the canton of Bern, there is reference to a prohibition against playing cards in the year 1367. The prohibition, believed to have been written by Konrad Justinger, is presently housed at the Osterreichische Nationalbibhothek, Vienna.
All this useful presentation is not accompanied by a discussion on the validity of the document, but the very fact of its presence on this list assures us that Kaplan considered it a sure testimony; other uncertain documents in which playing cards did not yet appear are in fact listed later in the book.
6. Michael Dummett
The notice of playing cards presented in Berne in 1367 could not escape Michael Dummett, and it is very useful for us to know his authoritative opinion also in this particular case 11. In reality, that opinion is expressed in a manner unusually cryptic for this great author, habituated to analyzing the various issues with all the necessary detail; when he reports the notice, he accompanies it with the following comment.
_______________A shift of ten years in the chronology is in itself of minor importance; but if a decade elapsed between the first known reference and the second, then perhaps playing cards had been in use in some localities for ten or even twenty years before the first reference occurred, and the many references from 1377 onwards are evidence only of their wider diffusion rather than of their invention or introduction.
11 M. Dummett, The Game of Tarot. London 1980, pp.10-11.
In essence, one would say that he suspends judgment on the merits and only takes into consideration the consequences of considering if it is a valid document. However, one of his most transparent judgments is found on the previous page, where the date for Berne is the only one to appear with "perhaps". Not only that; in fact, that "perhaps" is not applied to 1367 as would be expected, but to a year that appears evidently to proceed by analogy with that of the same laws known for two other Swiss cantons.
If it were not for the "suggestion" from the other Swiss cantons, I imagine that Dummett would not have written that year even with "perhaps", and - like for Sicily - would have limited the dating to the entire interval between 1367 introduced by Kopp and the 1398 date of the copy. With this, the Solomonic judgment of Dummett is, however, as explicit as if in discussing the issue he had devoted a couple of pages....here is a list of places from which we know of fourteenth-century references to playing cards, together with the dates of the earliest known reference: Florence (1377); Paris (1377); Basle (1377); Siena (1377); Regensburg (1378); Viterbo (1379); Brabant (1379); St Gallen (1379); Berne (between 1367 and 1398, perhaps in 1379); Constance (1379); Barcelona (1380); Nuremberg (1380); Perpignan (1380); Marseilles (1381); Lille (1382); Valencia (1384); Sicily (between 1377 and 1391); Zurich (1389); Venice (1390); the County of Holland (1390); Augsburg (1391); Frankfurt-am-Main (1392); Ulm (1397); Leyden (1397).
7. Detlef Hoffmann
Very important in this discussion is the way in which the subject is then resubmitted by Detlef Hoffmann, who in his turn has been one of the historians of playing cards who has addressed all the material thoroughly and at a high academic level. Hoffmann has addressed the issue on several occasions, but we can limit ourselves to considering his contribution in 1998, which reviews the opinions of many authors who have been occupied with clarifying (or confusing) the first times
of card games in Europe, starting with the problem of reconstructing the very origin of playing cards themselves 12.
As for the plausibility of the presence of playing cards in the law in 1367 in Berne, to Hoffmann Kopp’s vision appears confirmed, and on that date based some of his reflections. An explicit reason why the acceptance of various interpretations of Rosenfeld by Dummett in his 1980 book appears outdated is that when he wrote that part of the book he did not yet know Kopp’s reply. The reply itself was evidently rather convincing for Hoffmann, seeing that he concludes that today we should say that "Berne 1367" has a high probability (Heute wird man sagen müssen, dass "Bern 1367" eine hohe Wahrscheinlichkeit hat.) Note that already Kopp had spoken of "größter Wahrscheinlichkeit" for his proposal, a probability more than likely high.
Now in the physical sciences, too, results are often found valid only in probabilistic terms; we have to get used to it. Thinking in traditional deterministic terms for the truth, one would conclude that the reply of Kopp is not shown to be decisive. The same Detlef Hoffmann in his rich and well documented book 13 still began the list of the appearance of cards in Europe with dates in 1377 and limited himself to enter then, just as an aside, "Möglicherweise gibt es sogar ein Verbot von 1367 aus Bern". [There may even be a Prohibition of 1367 in Berne.”]
According to Hoffmann and other authors, one must, however, presuppose something not yet supportable by documents: on the one hand, in order to arrive at the point of requiring prohibitions, the game must have exceeded a more or less long period of more circumscribed and less exposed practice; on the other hand, to emerge so rapidly and in the same years in many European cities located at significant distances, it must be assumed that already a mass production method of playing cards was in use, made possible by a simultaneous introduction of printmaking techniques.
12 D. Hoffmann (ed.), Schweizer Spielkarten 1: Die Anfänge im 15. und 16. Jahrhundert. Schaffhausen 1998.
13 D. Hoffmann, Kultur- und Kunstgeschichte der Spielkarte. Marburg 1995, p. 48.
8. Reconstruction of the historiography
In the work cited by Hoffmann we find also a concise reconstruction of the early history of playing cards themselves, in which Swiss are included as a special case. It is worthwhile to consider this part, which fits the first Swiss cards better, with due importance to the broader historical context. In his brief review of the literature, Hofmann reminds us that the earliest authors reasoned improperly, utilizing the criteria of the nation states France, Germany, Switzerland, as if they also existed in the late Middle Ages, and as if they corresponded to really distinct nations (which at least in the case of Switzerland would still be improper).
The description begins already with the contributions of the authors of the eighteenth century, the essential data of which can be summarized as follows. Early French writers of the eighteenth century (Menestrier 1704, Daniel 1710, Bullet 1757) attributed, not surprisingly, the introduction of playing cards to France; later, however, the Abbe Rive (1780) preferred Spain. Towards the mid-nineteenth century, with Leber and Chatto (1842 and 1848), there appeared new theories that began to focus attention on the Orient, while then Merlin (1869) introduced among the candidates also Italy, with the hypothesis of a linear propagation to the regions north of the Alps. In the twentieth century, also Wilhelm Ludwig Schreiber, most authoritative scholar of mid-century, in his important work published postumously 14, while bringing much new information, stuck to a spread in Europe that would occur linearly toward the north, as claimed later by Rosenfeld (1956), which, however, insisted on a previous transit from the Islamic world. All these perspectives relegated maps of Switzerland to the background, until Sylvia Mann, in the book mentioned above, advanced the hypothesis that it could be the oldest and most important, as precisely Kopp set himself to show in this issue of the Swiss journal.
A significant part of Hoffman’s more general discussion, with 1367 always in the background, concerns the formulation of the possible paths followed by playing cards in their first difficusion in
14 W. L. Schreiber, Die Spielkarten ältesten und die auf das Kartenspiel Bezug habenden Urkunden des 14. und 15. Jahrhunderts. Straßburg 1937.
Europe. The lines guiding the spread of the cards would have been in a linear fashion from the southern states to the northern ones and secondly from the larger to the smaller (from Germany to Switzerland in this case). To this view was opposed one, expressed by Marianne Rumpf 15 and shared by Hoffmann, of a spread in parallel, not linear, even with possible moves in countercurrent with respect to those previously assumed.
Of particular interest is the reporting of significant changes in the history of playing cards in the seventies. For some time there were studies by amateurs and collectors who had published catalogs illustrating the cards in their possession; entire monographs,on playing cards were also published, but as a rule they contained historical reconstructions with little critical scrutiny, with legendary versions mixed with facts and verifiable documentation. In the early seventies the situation changed. On one side there was a renewal in the active participation of collectors, with valuable initiatives put in place especially by Sylvia Mann, with the foundation of an international association, the IPCS, with its official organ open to studies that improved our knowledge of the field.
In parallel, precisely the 1973 issue of the Swiss journal could really be considered as the prototype of a rising interest in playing cards also from academia and related journals. Personally, I am not in a condition to sufficiently express an impartial judgment on which of the two contributions has proved more profitable during the years following. But it seems to me that the distinction between the two sectors is not so clear after all, even if it is true that overall the history of playing cards has made leaps and bounds since then. Nor is it easy to distinguish who among Kopp and Rosenfeld was most qualified from an academic point of view; as a first approximation, one can equate them. The distinction would then turn by introducing into the environment a single person, when playing cards interested one Michael Dummett, at the maximum possible level of both the academy and of amateur authors
15 M. Rumpf, Schweizerisches Archiv für Volkskunde, 72 (1976) 1-32.
9. further developments?
The discussion that had developed between Kopp and Rosenfeld has also affected many experts, including today. Also in forums on the net topics of the discussion are repeated, for or against. In particular Huck has recently provided Internet users extracts of studies and reproductions from the manuscripts in question.16; of particular interest is the re-proposal by Ross Caldwell and Thierry Depaulis from a previous report, when they reported the article of a Swiss scholar 17, stressing the fact that the date of 1367 was marked with a question mark. The reaction of the two leading experts was: "So the question remains open".
In fact the article mentioned gives a brief review of the history of various popular games in Switzerland over the centuries, and card games in truth appear with a question mark for the starting date of 1367. No specific reason was given to explain why that question mark and thus it can be assumed that it is only in view of the present discussion about it in the literature (which has also been summarized here). I also have been able to get the news directly from the author of the article, who confirmed that the question mark was used just as a precaution, since the written text is later, that Hoffmann did not give a certainty, and that in another manuscript containing the chapter with playing cards the date was not given 18.
To complete the study I sent requests for information on the manuscript and on the question under examination to Vienna at the National Library and to Berne, both to the Burgerbibliothek and the Staatsarchiv (Canton of Berne State Archive). The main result of the assistance obtained is a confirmation of the importance and validity of the manuscript preserved in Vienna and the same Konrad Justinger as a very reliable reporter and editor. To me they have reported several pubblications (but not usually consultable in Italian libraries), and in particular the recent dissertation by Kathrin Jost dedicated precisely to
16.http: //forum.tarothistory.com/viewtopic.php? F = 11 & t = 1097 & p = 16885 & hilit = Justin-ger # p16885
17 C. Engler, Board Games Studies, 7 (2004) 119-125.
18 email 09/22/2016.
Justinger 19. However I have not been made aware of any recent study in which "our" problem of the year 1367 was discussed in particular, which, understandably, can be considered a serious problem only by historians of playing cards.
10. Probabilistic evaluation
The authority of Kopp and Hoffmann does not seem to me sufficient to decide in favor of a documentation of playing cards in Berne in 1367. Similarly, I fail to be convinced by those experts who readily accept the date of 1367 because for them it is one of the rather numerous testimonies (but all fundamentally uncertain!) from an era in which they are firmly convinced that card games were already long in circulation. Anyone persuaded that in 1367 the cards were for decades in Europe has no reason to exercise his critical analysis of the plausibility of yet another proof of a theory, already regarded as sufficiently proven.
Personally I have not found new elements to derive a criterion by which to make a secure choice to identify the correct reading of the document. I would be ready to accept 1367 for Berne - obviously - if original texts were found, or copies from a few years later. However I remain prejudicially skeptical regarding all European testimonies before 1377 and would love it if any discovery of this kind was based not on late copies but on writings of the time, just as are those from 1377 in Florence (a year which in its turn is also not demonstrable as year zero for playing cards in Europe).
If I were to hazard my assessment, I would propose a probabilistic one, following Hoffmann and even Kopp, but for the probability or Wahrscheinlichkeit of Berne in 1367 lower still: not only from the "größte" Kopp to the "hohe" Hoffmann, but down to a "geringe” [little], with, however - if one wants – a "the question remains open".
But I must point out an underlying condition of this assessment: the existence of a question of method in the reading of the text, which
19. K. Jost, Konrad Justinger (ca. 1365-1438): Chronist und Finanzmann in Berns grosser Zeit (Vorträge und Forschungen, Sonderband 56). Ostfildern 2011
was also emphasized to me by an experienced archivist of Berne. If one reads in the manuscript of playing cards in 1367 and takes it as given correctly there is nothing to justify. A "justification" is however necessary if one hypothesizes that there was a copying error: in any case, that the cards were not written in the original of 1367 remains a hypothesis and not a fact. Now, if I accept the interpretation of Rosenfeld, it does not mean that I recognize his authority and I decide for it automatically in his wake. My opinion is based on similar cases that I encountered in my research, and I think I would have arrived independently at the same conclusion ... however I have to acknowledge that it remains speculative.
The manuscript preserved in Vienna looks like a "service" book kept at the disposal of facilities for examination; Even in the chapter of our interest in the Vienna manuscript there are a couple of additions inserted at different times. If a secretary later had copied this text into a new book, he would not make a distinction between the original text and the two additions. Similarly, I suppose Konrad Justinger had copied from a preceding "service" book in which playing cards had been added at a later time to the text of the Law of 1367, leaving the rest unchanged.
This laborious reading between the lines, however brings down a barren decision; It is not of the essence (or on the other hand even possible) to pinpoint the percentage of probability of this 1367. The question becomes much more important only if it is transferred to the points mentioned above, also discussed by Hoffmann: How did the "explosion" of European documentation on playing cards that occurred from 1377 come to be, with the unusual features of new products appearing in significant quantities, in a very short time, in locations far apart?
This note can be viewed as one step in a process undertaken to look for confirmation on the testimonies of card games in Europe before 1377. Previously there had been expressed strong doubts about the documents of other cities and regions. Here the testimony of Berne has been critically analyzed; it would be the year 1367 but it is preserved in later copies of which the oldest is located in Vienna in the Austrian
National Library; the date indicated for the transcription of the law of interest is 1398. In the canton of Saint Gallen, there was similar legislation to that of Berne in the same period, with a repetition of the law against gambling for a few years, but without any trace of card games until 1379, the year in which the playing cards are also forbidden in a law of another Swiss city, Constance.
In this study the main positions have been investigated. As a result it seems that also this witness for 1367 is similar to others reported in Europe before 1377: all or almost all impossible to prove surely false, but also none completely reliable. In this case it seems necessary to consider the hypothesis, advanced among others explicitly by Rosenfeld, that the original document of 1367 really existed, but only referring to games of dice and adding playing cards at a later date.
Franco Pratesi – 24.09.2016