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During the late Middle Ages, two outwardly opposed tendencies flourished in the provinces of central Italy: world-rejecting Franciscan enthusiasm and international banking. This probably is not a coincidence. By 1340 in Tuscany and Umbria alone, nearly one hundred major credit institutions were extending credit and in doing so, implicating themselves in “usury of the most dreadful sort” (Martin, 1936: 47–53). If not outraged by the situation , many Church-going denizens of the region nonetheless were deeply offended by what they witnessed, even if they benefited indirectly from it. To express their concern, more than a few of them took up the cross of Francis of Assisi. That is, they abandoned material things altogether for a life of chastity, obedience , and poverty. For the far more numerous and less morally adept citizenry, however, this was asking too much. They chose instead to remain in the world and to negotiate the quivering tightrope of Church law without dropping into the fiery pit. The merchants among them sought to remove doubt of their rectitude by confessing to (and being absolved from) their sins by the parish priest. In addition to this, they also began providing accounts to civic auditors, using the “the true forme of bookkeeping” to justify their dealings. The preponderance of evidence suggests that this bookkeeping form was fashioned by public notaries, licensed professionals trained in the art of composing written documents after pre-set, rhetorically engaging figures. This chapter shows how late medieval notarizing came to be infused with the theory of ancient Roman rhetoric. Chapter 7 celebrates the beauty of their work. The oldest account fragments, dated 1155 and 1164, consist of sheets slipped between the pages of a cartulary of a Genoese 55 C H A P T E R 6 The Notary-Bookkeeper notary, Giovanni Scriba (John the Scribe) (Florence de Roover, 1956: 86–90). These detail three partnerships between a sedentary principal and a traveling agent. They attempt to calculate the division of profits (characterized by Giovanni as “tremendous ”) on a basis proportional to the parties’ original investments . The location of the sheets clearly demonstrates that originally, at least, the drawing-up of contracts and the keeping of books were aspects of the same job. Although eventually a division of labor emerged between the drafting of documents and bookkeeping proper, as late as 1494 Luca Pacioli would describe the steps through which owners had to go to have their ledgers certified by notaries so that “they can not so easily lie and defraud” (Pacioli, 1963: 38–39). Pacioli elsewhere mentions one book in particular as having influenced his own ideas about bookkeeping: Liber Abaci (1202), by Leonardo Fibonacci, son of the official notary of the colony of Pisan merchants on the Barbary Coast (Taylor, 1956: 76). Fibonacci states that his intent in writing the book was to teach Arabic notation, as used by his father when keeping accounts for his employers. How is it, then, that notarizing came to be associated with bookkeeping? The story begins in ancient Rome. Roman Law and Notary The “genius” of Roman jurisprudence was its emphasis on proper form (Jolowicz and Nicholas, 1972: 199–201). Max Weber uses this fact to explain why the “corpus juris,” as he prefers to call it, was “extrinsically rational” (Max Weber, 1954: 61–64) and why it was therefore “one of the most important conditions for the existence . . . of capitalist enterprise ” (305). Roman citizens viewed ritual correctness as a kind of “fetish,” according to Weber (124–25, 131), which could magically make things out of nothing—including, in the case of the later Roman Catholic Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ out of bread and wine. For all this, nevertheless, the traditional Roman attitude toward the practical efficacy of 56 Confession and Bookkeeping writing was always skeptical. Until around the second century BCE, civil law recognized only contracts made by the delivery of goods (the prices of which were fixed “by copper and scales”1 ), or those solemnized by ritual exchanges like this: Spondes? (Do you engage yourself?) Spondeo (I do engage myself). Then, as the tongue has spoken, so shall it be law (Uti lingua nunc upssit. Ita jus esto) (Jolowicz and Nicholas, 1972: 279–81; Max Weber,1947: 121, n. 49; Littleton, 1933: 29–30). To effectively govern its barbarian, non-Latin-speaking subjects during the age of the empire, Roman civil procedure was forced to accept the use of written instruments. Predictably , in order to be considered legally actionable...


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