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Brokers of Public Trust

Notaries in Early Modern Rome

Laurie Nussdorfer

Publication Year: 2009

A fast-growing legal system and economy in medieval and early modern Rome saw a rapid increase in the need for written documents. Brokers of Public Trust examines the emergence of the modern notarial profession—free market scribes responsible for producing original legal documents and their copies. Notarial acts often go unnoticed, but they are essential to understanding the history of writing practices and attitudes toward official documentation. Based on new archival research, Brokers of Public Trust focuses on the government officials, notaries, and consumers who regulated, wrote, and purchased notarial documents in Rome between the 14th and 18th centuries. Historian Laurie Nussdorfer chronicles the training of professional notaries and the construction of public archives, explaining why notarial documents exist, who made them, and how they came to be regarded as authoritative evidence. In doing so, Nussdorfer describes a profession of crucial importance to the people and government of the time, as well as to scholars who turn to notarial documents as invaluable and irreplaceable historical sources. This magisterial new work brings fresh insight into the essential functions of early modern Roman society and the development of the modern state.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

Monetary Units

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pp. xi-

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Introduction

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pp. 1-8

Writing has a history. We know that story: how the ancient Mesopotamians etched marks on clay tablets, the Egyptians drew figures on walls, the Phoenicians invented a phonetic system of signs, and the Greeks added vowels. We know how the Latin alphabet originated, how its various scripts developed and were copied first in lead as movable type and then in electrical charges fired within our computers. We know,...

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CHAPTER 1: The Jurists: Writing Public Words

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pp. 9-31

While public writing as a practice dates back to the dawn of written records, the notion of public words, scriptura publica, was a legal fiction crafted by the jurists of medieval Europe and handed down to their early modern successors. ...

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CHAPTER 2: The Profession: Defining Urban Identities

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pp. 32-73

Roman notaries must have been there earlier, but we see them at their work for the first time only in the fourteenth century. This is late by Italian standards. It is also paradoxical in a place where Europe’s earliest corps of notaries was writing for the popes by the year 600.1 The elusiveness of Roman notaries does not end in the...

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CHAPTER 3: The Laws: Shaping Notarial Pages

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pp. 74-111

Was there something incongruous, even contradictory, about the way the notary straddled the boundary between personal gain and public duty, between profit and truth? In the medieval universe that had created him, the answer was no. The notary was like so many in that world who bore in their persons some small share of...

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CHAPTER 4: The Archives: Creating Documentary Spaces

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pp. 112-146

From the late sixteenth century, the Capitoline notaries presided over a notarial archive of a limited sort, as we saw in chapter 2, and a hundred years earlier had been the first public body to take any responsibility at all for the preservation of notarial acts in Rome. Though they did not sustain this initial effort, both the papal and...

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CHAPTER 5: The Office: Building Scribal Lives

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pp. 147-197

Public writing depended for its existence on a robust apparatus of legal principles and, increasingly, an array of disciplinary mechanisms. Without the bedrock of Roman legal conventions, ideas of proof and public office would not have taken the forms that they took in Italy’s notarial regimes, and without the attentions of those...

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CHAPTER 6: The State: Policing Notarial Practices

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pp. 198-225

Public authority had always had a crucial, indeed a constitutive, relationship to scriptura publica, but the changing forms of what the twentieth century called state power over the period 1350 to 1650 had profoundly altered the ways public writing was made, consumed, and preserved in Rome. Whether through doubling jurisdic-...

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Conclusion

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pp. 226-230

The notary of modern Italy is a recent construction. Until the 1920s the profession was in disarray, rent by regional and economic inequalities, struggling to find its footing in the new conditions of a unified nation.1 Loosed from their moorings in the duchies, republics, and ecclesiastical kingdoms that had depended on and nurtured them for half a millennium, Italian notaries in the late 1800s found they had...

Appendixes

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pp. 231-237

Notes

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pp. 239-314

Glossary

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pp. 315-318

Bibliography

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pp. 319-341

Index

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pp. 343-354


E-ISBN-13: 9780801895098
E-ISBN-10: 080189509X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801892042
Print-ISBN-10: 080189204X

Page Count: 368
Publication Year: 2009

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Notaries -- Italy -- Rome -- History -- 1420-1798.
  • Legal documents -- Italy -- Rome -- History -- 1420-1798.
  • Recording and registration -- Italy -- Rome -- History -- 1420-1798.
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