A brief history of early tarot.

#1
Not sure if this will be of any use to anyone.

Playing cards were invented in China, about 1000 AD. There were four suits from the start, representing various denominations of money, the lowest being one copper coin, called a cash. There were cards 1 through 9 in each suit, and no face cards. The cards spread to central Asia and the Middle East, and each suit got three face cards: a king and two male officials. The Chinese characters of the suit names were mis-recognized, so the suits became swords, cups (stemmed goblets), and polo sticks. Only the suit of coins remained unchanged. Cards from Arab lands arrived in Italy and/or Spain in 1377; evidence for an earlier date is debatable. They were called naibi, the Arabic name for them. Except for changing the polo sticks to just sticks, Italy and Spain kept the Arabic suits, but the northern lands made decks with a wild profusion of suits: monkeys, men, peacocks, shields.There could be as many as six suits, or six face cards per suit. Things settled down to four suits everywhere, and standard suit patterns, but a different in each country: Germany, Switzerland, and France each had their own suits. Spain and Italy kept the Arab ones. The face cards settled to three everywhere, but different ones in each country: Germany had a King with two male officials, France has a Queen. Tarot preserves four face cards from the early days, and naturally uses the Italian suits.

Tarot was an ordinary card game for hundreds of years before anyone used it for fortune telling. A version of it is still played. Tarot is a trick-taking game similar to bridge: cards are played, with a rule that you must follow suit: you must play only clubs to a trick of clubs. Trick-taking games were popular, perhaps already in 1377. From an early date the players of trick-taking games wanted "triumph" cards, which could win any trick, and could be played regardless of suit. "Trump" is a shortening of the English (and French) word "Triumph." In Bridge, which suit will be Trumps is different for every hand, and which it will be is determined in play. Early triumph games used this principle, and thus could be played with an ordinary deck of cards. There was a game called Karnoffel, which in German means a scrotum hernia. A hernia triumphs over anyone, even a king – they spend a lot of time sitting. The karnoffel was always a 7, but the 7 of a different suit for each hand. At some point, they made decks with extra cards that were permanent triumph cards. A game where regular cards can become triumph cards, can be played with a regular deck, but a deck with extra cards for the triumphs is a different kind of deck, called a triumph deck. Cardmakers have to make, and merchants now have to keep track of, two different sorts of deck, with different prices. This is a benefit to historians. The Italian word for triumph is trionfi, so we start to see references to naibi de trionfi, triumph decks of cards. The earliest mention is 1440, 63 years after the first naibi in Italy.

A deck called naibi de trionfi in the 1440s and 1450s, might not be the same tarot we know today. There is a theory that the early decks had 14 triumphs, and 7 more were added later. On the other hand, a deck with permanent triumphs may have existed well before 1440. There is a deck described for 1425, where each of the four suits had four cards named for Roman gods; gods would triumph over kings. These may have been 16 extra cards added to the regular deck, but it is also possible that a regular deck (but one with five face cards in each suit, which was common), had the face cards other than the king, play a double purpose, like the 7 in Karnoffel. That is, they could serve as triumph cards for a game of triumphs, but could be ordinary face cards for some other game. Another early game was called Eight Emperors. We know little but the name, but as a speculation, each suit had two emperors above the king. (Europe had two emperors, until 1453). An emperor triumphed over any king.

The early tarot decks were, some of them, hand painted, and richly gilded, for the courts of dukes and lords, while other tarot decks were cheaply printed by woodblocks. No woodblock deck survives from the 1400s. A few printed sheets, printed from the blocks but not cut up into cards, survive, but with no certainty as to date or place. We know about the cheap printed decks from the cash books of little corner stores, the equivalent of the cash registers of today. New work on these cash books, preserved in the city archives, has been done in the last few years; in Florence, we see the very first trickle of cheap trionfi decks around 1445, with a surge around 1452. Card playing was illegal in Florence until 1450, with many prosecutions; then Trionfi was one of four legalized games. I think the work of looking for the cash books in the city archives, has yet to be done for many Italian cities. Italy suffered from the destruction of many archives but a study of even a small city could answer many questions. We may know quite a bit more about cheap printed decks, when and if that work is done. But on what we know now, the gilded decks for the dukes and lords, are mentioned in their letters to each other, a few years earlier than the cheap printed decks show up in the cashbooks. Perhaps a gilded deck was the first tarot, and it was copied to produce the first cheap woodblock printed tarot, but that is not certain. Both the fine decks, and the ephemeral but much more numerous printed decks, played a necessary role in the establishment of tarot, as a game that has survived for 580 years.

Some Italian city-state was the origin of tarot, perhaps Milan, Bologna, or Florence. As a separate question, some Italian city was the first place where woodblock printed decks were made. Tarot could spread from one noble court to another, by visits, and it could spread from a card printer in one city, to a card printer in another city, by the cards being sold in the new city, and plagiarized. Whatever the process, the trump order ended up more or less the same, but slightly different, in three different regions of Italy, by 1500. Once a version of the game was established in a city, the players held on to that version with strong conservatism.

The printed decks did not come with a cheat-sheet, a list of the trumps in order, because movable type had only just been invented, and carving a woodblock with that much writing would have been expensive. The early cards also did not have numbers on them, nor names. Dukes and countesses could write each other letters describing the game rules, so we may guess that getting the order wrong, was mostly something that happened with the printed decks bought by workmen, and it happened because of the absence of numbers and writing on the cards. Since it must have been known in advance that each player of the game would need to learn the trump order, and would not have the benefit of numbers on the cards to do it, there may have been some memory key to the trump order, to make the order easier to grasp and remember. The nature of that now lost key to the order of the tarot trumps, if there ever was one, has been the subject of speculation ever since.

The game was called Trionfi, that is, the Triumphs game, for fifty years. But other games also had trumps in them. This one particular game with trumps stopped being called Trionfi, because there were other games with triumphs. The new name for it was Tarocchi, which seems to have been an Italian slang term for something or other uncomplimentary (although not as bad as Karnoffel). The game was only just spreading beyond Italy then. The French called it Taraux, later Tarot. The Germans, Tarock. France developed in Paris the cards, now familiar, which are called the "Tarot de Marseille" although Marseille was not their origin. France was very successful in exporting both its ideas, and its cards, beyond its borders, especially towards the east, to Brussels, the Rhine valley, Switzerland, and the duchy of Savoy. The early tarocchi of these places, if any, was overrun by the French pattern, and no cards survive. If the Piedmont region hadn't been overrun with French cards, then we still wouldn't have surviving cards from 1500, but at least we would have a game which developed internally from that game played in 1500. Since players are conservative that might tell us a lot about the 1500 game. But all we have for the Piedmont is the Tarot de Marseille. The French cards swept across Europe, erasing what came before.

Italian cards still use swords, coins, cups, and staves. After a thousand years from China, there are still four suits, and one of the suits still shows a round copper cash.

Re: A brief history of early tarot.

#2
Sandy wrote,
There is a theory that the early decks had 14 triumphs, and 7 more were added later. On the other hand, a deck with permanent triumphs may have existed well before 1440. There is a deck described for 1425, where each of the four suits had four cards named for Roman gods; gods would triumph over kings. These may have been 16 extra cards added to the regular deck, but it is also possible that a regular deck (but one with five face cards in each suit, which was common), had the face cards other than the king, play a double purpose, like the 7 in Karnoffel. That is, they could serve as triumph cards for a game of triumphs, but could be ordinary face cards for some other game. Another early game was called Eight Emperors. We know little but the name, but as a speculation, each suit had two emperors above the king. (Europe had two emperors, until 1453). An emperor triumphed over any king.
I understand the 5x14 theory as saying that there were 14 special cards, and that 8 more were added (i.e. the Fool was part of the 14). I gather this from the PMB original cards, which include the Fool. There is also the theory, attested by several unconnected researchers, that the Cary-Yale had 16. (Huck even says that about the Ch. VI.) Even though the Jan. 1, 1441 reference is earlier than the Cary-Yale, the CY is held probably not to have been the only one of its type. If so, the tarot might have been 14 when there were 14 cards per suit. It is unclear which structure came first. We don't know how common 16 cards per suit were. There are female knights as late as the 1490s in Lyon (viewtopic.php?p=5669#p5669). There is also a possible 13 cards per suit, before that, judging from http://trionfi.com/playing-cards-ferrara-1422. It seems to me that the 5x14 theory is really that it varied depending on the number of regular suit cards. So 5x13, 5x14, 5x16. This is Huck's hypothesis, anyway, from what I see on trionfi.com, unfortunately very scattered, with insufficient cross-referencing. Vitali's view as presented in 1987, which I think he still holds, is simpler, and is as you say.

As far as the Marziano suit cards are concerned, it seems to me that Marziano is quite clear that the gods and demigods function in two ways:. First, against each other, they form a hierarchy. The second way is as the highest cards in a particular suit. It is not clear whether number 1 is the least powerful or the most powerful. strangely enough: Number 1 is Jupiter, king of the gods, but even he is felled by Cupid, who is number 16.

As far as "8 emperors": the game was "VIII Imperatori", which in the masculine plural covers both genders. So it might be an Emperor and Empress in each suit. They might have been thought of as different geographical areas, but also different times, we don't know, i.e. Western, Eastern, Chinese, Indian, Persian, Assyrian, Babylonian? It seems unclear whetherf these formed a hierarchy among themselves, or if they triumphed over regular suit cards not of the suit led.

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