The Medieval Review 15.03.05


Balard, Michel, Laura Balletto, and Christopher Schabel. Gênes et l'outre-mer: Actes notariés de Famagouste et d'autres localités du Proche-Orient (XIVe-XVe s.). Sources et études de l'histoire de Chypre, 72. Nicosia, Cyprus: Centre de Recherche Scientifique de Chypre, 2013. Pp. 395. €16.00 (hardback). ISBN: 9789963081318 (hardback).



Reviewed by:


Jeffrey Miner
Western Kentucky University
jeffrey.miner@wku.edu

This is the seventh work in a series, begun in the 1980s but suspended until recently, intended to edit and publish all of the fourteenth- and fifteenth-century notarial material surviving in Genoa's Archivio di Stato from the island of Cyprus. The volume under review contains around 240 documents written between 1320 and 1452, most in the port of Famagosta, the principal port of the Kingdom of Cyprus. Many acts record specifically Genoese business, but the material is typical of medieval notarial collections in its heterogeneity. It includes administrative documents along with records of private business, gives glimpses of life in a variety of eastern Mediterranean locations, and shows a broad slice of historical actors, from slaves to kings, along with Genoese, Venetian, Provençal, and other Latin merchants.

The edition serves multiple purposes. It makes available to scholars some relatively rare, and therefore precious, documents concerning medieval Europeans abroad in the Mediterranean. It also serves to preserve those same documents from damage or destruction, making this equal parts conservation project and scholarly endeavor. Some of the material is too fragmentary and isolated to offer much analytical purchase on its own, but scholars interested in political, economic, or social aspects of the late medieval Mediterranean will all find valuable or suggestive nuggets contained within.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part contains five clusters of contracts from different notaries, unevenly divided among a wide range of places and times. The second part contains a large run of administrative material produced by a single notary, the scribe of a communal fleet sent in 1382 to install Jacques of Lusignan (later James I), recently released from prison in Genoa, as King of Cyprus. The first part largely documents business between private individuals, giving scattered notices of a wide range of activity, from high finance and the luxury trade through the very ordinary--contracts dealing with collecting unpaid sailors' wages, for example. The second, by contrast, is much more focused on administrative and political issues, with attempts to maintain discipline in communal fleets generating the most material.

The contracts and transactions in the first part are highly diverse, containing a roughly typical mix of loans, sales, procura, wills, quitclaims, recognizances of debt, apprenticeship contracts and other forms, running the full gamut of commercial and social life in Genoa's Mediterranean outposts. This diversity makes the whole assemblage an interesting read, but makes any broad characterization difficult. Finance, for example, is a significant theme, but the range of transactions covers everything from small-scale, straightforward money loans (First part, IV:13, pp. 106-7), through relatively complex arrangements: a Montpellierain and a Genoese exchanging Cypriot bezants in Famagosta for Genoese lire in Genoa to pay the debt of the Genoese to his creditors at home, secured with a shipment of sugar (First part, I:1, pp. 25-6). There are also contracts to buy and sell Genoa's public debt, and to use shares in the Casa di San Giorgio as commercial security (III:2, p. 70, and V:5, p. 159). As with finance, so with the other subjects in evidence--there is wonderful variety and little of a representative nature.

The complexity and variety of financial and contractual arrangements is mirrored in the social world revealed by the documents. One interesting feature of the documents as a whole is the frequency of relations between Genoa and the maritime communities of southern France. With the exception of a few isolated Catalans and Venetians, the impression left by this collection of documents is that Genoa's dominant economic relationships were not with Italians or Iberians, but rather with the French. The volume of acts is insufficient to sustain a major argument by itself, but it is interesting to note that, even before Genoa flirted with French dominion in the late fourteenth century, economic and social ties between the Italian and French Riviera appear quite robust.

In contrast to the first part, the second part offers a vision of the internal organization, financing and activities of an official communal fleet. Although the expedition to install a new Cypriot king ended in failure, we see the working of the fleet up close, from deliberations about its goals and activity, to reviews of different galleys' crews (no. 130, p. 349), to hiring arrangements bringing new galleys into the fleet (no. 59, pp. 286-7), and the imposition of a forced loan on the Genoese inhabitants of Famagosta (no. 86, p. 309). Unconcerned with trade, except indirectly, this run of documents instead offers a case study in the challenges attendant on enforcing discipline in what was clearly a fractious and difficult bunch of individual captains. Thus, we have frequent citations of galley commanders who refused to follow orders (nos. 131-2, pp. 349-350), citations of sailors for theft (nos. 62-3, pp. 288-9), citations for fighting (no. 32, p. 259-260), and even citations of galley captains for stealing and consuming animals offered to the admiral as a gift by a local lord (no. 130, p. 349). In resolving these and other problems, the admiral and his council, interestingly, operated simultaneously as informal arbitrators and peacemakers of some cases (nos. 149-50, p. 359-60), while they also acted as judicial authorities conducting inquests in others (no. 154, p. 363), citing the guilty, calling witnesses and taking testimony, and issuing authoritative judgments. All in all, the documents reveal communal expeditions as an odd mix of advance planning and ad hoc improvisation, private finance and public expense, of formal rules and informal custom.

There are at least a few convergences between the materials in the first and second parts. The documents make clear that slavery, for example, was a ubiquitous feature of eastern Mediterranean life and commerce. The first part contains several examples of slave sales (IV:20, p.118-9) along with a few manumissions (II:4, p. 44). In a similar vein, in the second part we find the commander of the Genoese fleet specifically forbidding galley captains from taking on slaves on Rhodes while the fleet was preparing to attack various Mamluk outposts in the eastern Mediterranean (nos. 124-125, p.346-7). Whether the intent was to prevent galley commanders from engaging in profitable commerce alongside state-authorized warfare, or to prevent slaves from seeking liberation in flight, the edict must have been in vain. The very next contract has the commander sequestering a group of Greek-speakers, reputed to be slaves, discovered on the ship of Luchas Grimaldi until their status can be clarified.

Perhaps the key issue on which both parts converge is the role of communal affiliation and political institutions in protecting and promoting trade. On the one hand, there is evidence that affiliation mattered, and that political institutions took an active role in regulating and protecting trade. In the first part (II:15, p.57-58), we can see Genoese requesting the intervention of consuls from Montpellier and Narbonne in a dispute between Genoese and Provençal merchants. At the same time, however, there is evidence of a high degree of flexibility in actual business ties, as in the First part, V:14 (p.171), when a Venetian inhabitant of Constantinople, at the time residing in Rhodes, petitioned the Grand Master of the Hospitallers there to enforce a contract, written on Maiorca, against a Catalan, on behalf of a Genoese resident of Pera. Difficulties in determining who actually belonged to what group show up as well, as in the second part (nos. 135-141, p.352-356). In this case, the notary recorded a legal process occasioned when a Genoese galley captain, Daniel Pallavicino, attacked a Provençal ship without authorization from the fleet commander. Pallavicino protested his innocence and alleged he had only seized some goods on the ship because the goods belonged to men of Marseilles, against whom he had a reprisal. The scribe of the ship of Narbonne claimed the goods had been falsely written as belonging to the Marseillaise to avoid certain taxes. Unable to determine what to do, the admiral refused to act and referred the case back to authorities in Genoa. Though the state is generally more visible in the second part than the first, it may not be a coincidence that the majority of our evidence for private in Cyprus was recorded by notaries who also served the commune in various offices alongside their business as contractual specialists.

On a more technical level, the book is well edited and comes with a useful set of introductions and indexes that will make consulting it for isolated references substantially easier. The indexes are thorough, including people, places, goods, even the names of ships mentioned in their acts, which will be valuable for scholars interested in consulting Genoa's notaries without traveling there. For those who might use this as a springboard to archival research, the introduction (p.16-17) includes a nice capsule summary and bibliography explaining when, why and how the Genoese notarial archive fell into disorder. This would make a useful preparation for an archival visit, as would the introduction to each section. Each introduction gives as much biographical information is known about its notary, and as an added bonus lists whatever other traces survive of their production. Some of these are very small (the first notary is attested nowhere else in the archive that we know of), while others could be the subject of a research project in their own right. Antonio de Precipiano, for example, was active in the fifteenth century and has around 1250 surviving acts that span an active career of at least sixty years.

Too many of these documents are isolated or fragmentary to suggest that this collection will re-shape our understanding of Mediterranean trade, politics, or social relations on its own. These records are no less precious for all that, however. This edition succeeds admirably at preserving and disseminating unique archival material, a set of rare and fascinating documents offering a kaleidoscopic window onto the complex world of late medieval Cyprus and the Mediterranean.



Copyright (c) 2015 Jeffrey Miner



Give Now

ISSN: 1096-746X | Administrator Login