1401: Florence - Nuts, waffles and aniseed muffins
Introduction - At the mouths of the square
The present study concerns a Florentine law on games from the beginning of the fifteenth century. We find it at the end of an important diary, recently published in an annotated edition; the authors of this publication critically analyzed the text and concluded that the narration of events is the result of careful attention and personal observation: the author describes and comments on events of which he was an eyewitness.
This diary is of an unusual type among the Florentine chronicles. Usually the writers who have written on the subject address their focus primarily on city government, on decisions of peace and war, on the relations between cities and regions, and on the news that arrived from afar. Probably the greatest importance of this diary derives precisely from its personal news story, attentive to the city events, even minutia, without the commitment of wanting to compile a “serious” history of the city: the author observed with particular attention the daily events in the Florentine squares, and here the various festivities and celebrations find more space than usual. In particular, the frequent festivals that involved the entire city on the most varied occasions are constantly remembered.
When one thinks of the Florentine festivals, Lorenzo the Magnificent immediately comes to mind, and the processions and parades of his time, especially during Carnival time; or the classic holy processions of John the Baptist and the Three Kings. However, in addition to the “mandatory” festivals, the Florentines often took advantage of any opportunities that came their way to have a celebration; it could be the news of a victory in a battle more or less distant, of the arrival in the city of a sovereign or of an ambassador of other peoples, or similar circumstances, even unplanned.
Filarete [Antonio di Pietro Averlino c. 1400 – c. 1469] took the commitment to record all these celebrations and city festivals and his book was the first of its kind to to be declared official. We can find a record there of all events of this kind, but with the inconvenience, for us, that his listings start only in 1450. After that it is easy to follow the course of events, but for the previous decades the situation is not easy to rebuild with confidence. If we try to delineate the situation of the past, we find clues that could support conflicting hypotheses about citizens' celebrations over the years, perhaps especially as regards their greater or lesser frequency. From some chronicles, it seems that tradition was deeply rooted even in previous centuries, but concrete evidence is missing. This lack of reports can lead us to assume, erroneously, a corresponding lack of events.
Thus, in a novella of the Decameron, the present decay is lamented.
[ Ninth story of the sixth day. See also trans. by John Payne, here:So you must know that in the past there were in our city very beautiful and laudable customs, of which not one has survived today, thanks to the avarice that grows with riches, which drives everything. One of these customs was, that in different districts of Florence the generous men of each district gathered together, and counted their numbers, being careful to admit only those able to bear the expense, and so today the one, tomorrow another, and so in order everyone, provided for the table, each on his day, until the whole company had done so; and in that way they entertained also distinguished foreign guests, when there happened to be any, and also guests from elsewhere in the city; and likewise they dressed alike at least once a year, and together the most notable riders rode through the city and sometimes held passes of arms, for the main feasts or when any glad tidings of victory, or other good news came to the city.
https://www.gutenberg.org/files/23700/2 ... 3700-h.htm ]
Here we are precisely in the Decameron, just before the mid-fourteenth century, and the renowned Florentine knightly feasts are presented as things now remote, already practically forgotten, while they seem described as if Boccaccio had instead seen them ... as if he saw them perhaps in a vision of the future, perhaps of the time of Lorenzo dei Medici.
In brackets, starting from the pioneering work of Moakley, there are theories that relate the birth of the triumphs, here understood like special playing cards, with triumphal processions, but birth of the triumph cards took place in 1440 or a few years earlier, and therefore looking for a correlation with Filarete's data is not appropriate for the search for the origin of those cards; even admitting that a correlation with the processions really existed. The diary here in examination, the “Diary of an anonymous Florentine (1382-1401)” as we read in the title, then becomes important in showing us that city festivals they were frequent at the end of the fourteenth century, at the time when playing cards had already just arrived in Italy.
After noting the premise of the possible relevance of the diary for the history of playing cards, we can focus on the law that is reported at the end of it.
The law against gambling
The law on games that we are examining is contained in one of the last paragraphs of the diary mentioned and is reported as follows.
The diary is known only from a copy contained in a manuscript of large dimensions in which numerous others have also been transcribed, mostly known Florentine stories; this book is kept in BNCF and so I considered it useful to verify that the transcription was correct. It is. As it happens, the spelling is much clearer and more legible than usual, so at most the only elements that, if desired, could be transcribed differently are the punctuation marks; the text is just as you see. [As you would see if you were reading the Italian, that is.]Thursdays to the 25th of April there was a law in Florence that no person, of whatever status he may be, may not play nor lead to the playing of any prohibited dice game, by waffles or by aniseed muffins ( “berichuocoli” ), to that penalty that is contained in the statutes. Vinsesi this law between the Signoria and College and the Consul of the People.
Nuts (dadi), wafers, and muffins
In the new game law there are three names associated in a way that is not very understandable; perhaps even less understandable is absence of other names in the list, and in particular the absence of naibi immediately jumps to the eyes. What are nuts we do not need to describe ["dadi" in Italian can mean either dice or nuts]. The farther back we go back in time, the more often we meet in the hands of the players the three dice of the game of zara. The inveterate player who wandered in a shirt waving the three dice in his hand is a classic of iconography and of medieval literature, as well as the main target of anti-gambling laws. But wafers we rarely meet in a game: they are objects that can take different and particular forms, so much so that looking for corresponding names in the other languages one often finds a similar but not exactly the same object, such as the French gaufres or the English waffles. In Italy, the only type of wafer that seems to correspond exactly to those in question is the brigidino, which of all wafers is a type particular characterized by its circular shape of diameter and thickness rigidly fixed by tradition and its pronounced flavor of anise. The wafers in the diary might be a bit different from today's brigidini and not just in the taste; they could be wider or even thicker; they could be non-circular, as are often the French gaufres or the English waffles; or on the contrary they could be even more fine and thin, like communion wafers.
Going back in time we can extend the picture. The wafers normally did not have completely smooth surfaces, but they had a kind of imprint or relief on them that reproduced in a negative way that present in the two iron molds (or at least in one of the two) used to press the dough and cook it on the stove. Whether public or private in origin, usually the wafers were marked with a symbol of the producer or whoever authorized the sale. If it was a convent which produced the wafer, these were marked with a figure in which anyone could recognize that convent, and so on. Thanks to the prestige of the institution indicated by the mark, it could be argued that any use of those wafers, including in a game, had been duly authorized. If re-creating what was meant by wafers was not easy, now we pass on to discussing the muffins, ["bericuocoli" ], and we meet a name that in Italian is not used anymore, not even used in the form of “bericoccoli” that would sound better in today's ears. Nobody in our time can enter a store and buy a bag of bericuocoli. In fact, you would not even know what store to go to, to for ask them. We need to use the major dictionaries, which also report obsolete words. So you can immediately find the shop where our ancestors could buy them, even if they are actually two, the greengrocer and the pastry chef. A meaning you will find, but less frequent and even less suitable for the present context, the word is sometimes associated with a small fruit belonging to the plum family, or perhaps with apricots (with which it also has a clear phonetic affinity, which some authors place at the origin of the name).
The meaning we must consider here is the other, more common one, associated with a dessert. The production of bericuocoli was popular in Siena and in a few nearby centers. From that Tuscan city still comes the sweet today, continuing the ancient tradition: the Siena cavallucci. It is claimed that these cavallucci are nothing more than bericuocoli, which have taken today's name after the shape of a horseshoe that was usually printed on them, or by the horsemen who, passing through Siena, were particularly fond of them. Looking for the origins of today's name of the cavallucci leads us off the road; our interest is limited to being able to visualize immediately, thanks to today's little cavallucci, what was meant by yesterday's bericuocoli. For the precision, however, we do not say that the form has been maintained exactly, given that for the bericuocoli of past centuries we sometimes hear of a diamond shape; always remaining in the Sienese tradition, the appearance could perhaps be recalled better starting from today's ricciarelli. Also the bericuocoli could be produced, like the wafers, with the addition of rather different flavors from one case to another and of these has the flavor of anise prevailed for both.
Objects of play
In fact, the list of three game items begins well, in a manner easy to understand, with dice [dadi can mean either nuts or dice]: if dice games are prohibited, that does not give rise to any amazement or uncertainty, because we do not need to go into the details of the individual types of games possible: all dice games were forbidden. This happened as a rule, and indeed the game of the zara was often mentioned, both with the meaning of that specific game, and also as a term that could also contain other games of the same genre. A distinction that is missing here, but that we find in other cases, is the association of the dice with the tables. In table games, the pieces are moved on the board depending on the roll of the dice, sometimes indeed what was called the royal tables, practically our backgammon with minor differences. Here it is not mentioned, but on the other hand neither is chess mentioned, and as a rule chess was permitted; perhaps here that concession was implied. One thing that can be said unambiguously about dice is that the dice are always only the instrument of the game, and can never correspond to the prize at stake. In children's games of marbles or trading cards, it can happen that the instruments of the game, while indeed being instruments of play, can at the same time represent the stakes: those who win earn them from the opponent. Nothing like that is reasonable for dice. Passing from dice to comment on the wafers, one can't speak with certainty. If today you think of playing with some cookies, you can't see how to make fun games with them, and therefore at first sight they can't represent anything other than the stakes, such as the pennant in the Palio horse race, or the stakes in any childhood game. Even so, if it is play for cookies, you wouldn't call it a gambling game, whatever the specific type of game. There would be scarce motivations to prohibit such a game and to severely punish the players. However, if you have wafers that have images on them, it is easy to imagine a game similar to the games of marbles or trading cards as described. If one guesses the symbol, he takes the wafer, if he does not guess, he “pays” one of his own. If then there are some really avid players, who must try to find a more or less valid substitute for the prohibited dice, then they can bet high stakes on the guess of the symbol on a wafer. With those wafers yes indeed you could also have played something very similar to the game of three card monte, involving high stakes.
But then the strangeness of not finding the playing cards among the forbidden games immediately comes to mind. In Florence then they were not called cards, but still naibi, and usually the naibi games were equivalent to those of dice and therefore prohibited. Although we may easily accept the hypothesis that even if chess is not mentioned, it is a game that would not be forbidden, in the case of the naibi it remains incomprehensible that if they are not mentioned they are allowed.
If for wafers you can advance some weak proposal that they were used as game tools, that suggestion is totally impossible for the aniseed muffins. Playing with aniseed muffins seemingly can't mean anything other than a game, unspecified, in which the muffins are the exclusive stakes. And then the conclusion can only be that the Florentine law makers had gone nuts, in judging the dangerousness of the game. How do you prohibit a game due to the fact that if you win, you earn a muffin?
Checking the original document
Following the uncertainties discussed above, it seemed appropriate to check the law in the original documents. All the laws of the Florentine Republic were recorded in the provision books and can still be read in original in the Provision Collection of the ASFI. The fundamental series in this regard is called Provvisioni Registri. These books are considered so important that you are only allowed to consult CDs, with the loss of much of the already poor readability for those who are not certified paleographers ... and even for them it is not more than a fraction of the clarity. However, there is the possibility of reading the same text, of which the original is in the Provvisioni series, in the Duplicates series instead. That's commonly done. There is also a third option for finding facts about items in the Provvisioni series, which is to look in the Fabarum books, but there, there is only the result of the vote, with a brief indication of which law it is; a special check showed that, as was easy to foresee, the number of votes against is the same as that recorded in the two larger books, but that, strangely, here the law in question is registered as the third heading, instead of the fifth as in the two complete texts.
Let us then examine what has been written in the Duplicates. The spelling of the Latin text would be beautiful and also quite easily readable, if it was not so rich in abbreviations. I did not consider it necessary to ask for help from someone professionally familiar with these documents, because I did not need a complete and faithful transcription; it seemed to me enough to find the nuts, the waffles, the muffins, and to check the text of their prohibition. Now, the law is really a law against gambling and therefore finding the dice was inevitable; however, the dice are not explicitly mentioned; one speaks, as usual, of zardum and similar games, with what was meant the single game zara and all the other dice games, in fact. It was not at all necessary to mention the dice explicitly: zara & similar games could not be played except with dice. Together with the zardum, games in general are similarly prohibited (which at limit could also include naibi, but this hypothesis does not get confirmed here).
It is noteworthy that, as is also found in other legal provisions of this kind, the prohibition admits an exception: on the day of the Calends of May, and the previous days, the first of May and the last of April, are not under the normal prohibitions of games: people are free to celebrate at will, including games. If it is reasonable that the dice were implied, I did not find the association I was looking for with wafers and anise muffins, anywhere in the law. Muffins just did not appear by name at all, if not intended by the “similar objects” generically indicated along with the wafers. Anyway, at least the wafers are here explicitly mentioned. However, the manner in which they appear is different from what was expected; when at the beginning we read the prohibition of zardum and similar games, there is no talk in that part about wafers; they are introduced later, in an additional part, and are introduced, if I understood correctly, as if they were used in the game in the manner of our tokens [poker chips, for example]. There is even talk of a misleading use of wafers, in which the players would pretend to only play for wafers, hiding the sums of money that represented the actual stakes: this was the purpose for which wafers were used, or other similar objects. The text reads among other things that the players “faciunt ludum sub tali velamine cialdarum“. In short, they play under the misleading “veil” of wafers, as a cover that masks the true situation. Then even the aniseed muffins, although not explicitly mentioned here, yes they can be considered present among those “similar objects“.
We have thus arrived at the point where we understand the absence of the term naibi in the list of prohibited games. Even play of naibi might have been included in the games indicated overall like zardum and similar games; or perhaps they only talked about dice and in those years the naibi were not yet forbidden. Whatever it is, it becomes understandable that the naibi could not be found here listed together with the wafers and the muffins, because it would not have been a valid stratagem to use them cleverly instead of money at stake. In the session of 27 April the law is put to the vote and gets 147 votes in favor of 195 total. The number of 48 votes against is rather high, compared to the results of votes of other laws approved in those days. This law is approved as fifth heading in the list of 27 April 1401, but explicit reference is made to an approval by a different council on the previous day, a date which would be in agreement with the diary mentioned at the beginning and it may then be the case that the day before muffins had actually been explicitly mentioned in the formulation of this law. There is another reason why we should not rule out the presence of the muffins in the game law, just because they do not appear in the original text of the law approved on April 27: the wafers and the muffins will be back listed together in laws adopted later, and also in the Florentine statute of 1415. Evidently the tradition of cleverly using waffles and muffins to bet on high stakes was well established among the Florentine players of the time.
Comments on a Florentine law of 1401 that appears among the last items in an important anonymous diary of the time. The law contained a prohibition of nuts, waffles and muffins. A check on the original text of the law has shown that the ban covered the game of the zara and games similarly prohibited, while the wafers and similar confectionery objects were forbidden for their misleading use in place of the coins actually in play.
Franco Pratesi - 09.06.2015