Marseille in 1575. Braun & Hogenberg, Civitates Orbis Terrarum, II-12. Public domain.

The records from the city of Marseille constitute the oldest and currently the richest collection of inventories in the DALME environment. The initial set was identified by Daniel Lord Smail in the course of archival work dating from the 1990s. The collection of images was substantially enlarged by Nathan Melson in 2011–12. Additional inventories were collected in 2018, including a set of inventories previously transcribed and published by Christine Barnel and Juliette Sibon, and further inventories were added in 2019 with the assistance of Ryan Low. Patrick Meehan assisted with the editing of a preliminary set of one hundred inventories.

The Region

Later medieval Provençal inventories have featured prominently in the work of local historians over a half century and more, where they have been used for the study of subjects ranging from kitchen equipment and food history to clothing fashions and tools (consult works in the DALME bibliography by C. Barnel, H. Bresc, N. Coulet, P. Herbeth, Ripert, J. Sibon, and L. Stouff). In Provence, inventories are typically preserved in notarial registers along with many other kinds of acts. A rich body of notarial registers from south-eastern France, some 15,000 in all, makes the study of inventories in the region both viable and fruitful. The demand for inventories varied from year to year (they are more common in years of plague) and the habit of making inventories gradually grew over time. The data from Marseille suggest that notaries typically recorded inventories at the rate of approximately one for every 200-300 acts, suggesting that it may be possible to collect as many as 5,000-10,000 inventories from medieval Provence.

The Sample

The majority of the Marseille inventories have been collected from the city's extant notarial archive, which is the oldest and richest in the territory of modern France, dating back to 1248. Several extant court registers of post-mortem inventories, from the years 1298, 1405, and 1420-22, provided an important supplement, along with several acts preserved in records of the episcopal court. The records of several of the city's hospitals and religious foundations also contributed several dozen inventories of important benefactors, typically in the form of parchment rolls. Within the date range covered by the sample, the current collection may include half or more of all extant inventories from the city and the immediate region, with a probable bias toward the first half of the fifteenth century, a period that was particularly well sampled. The acts in the collection include post- mortem inventories, inventories of insolvent estates, inventories of fugitives from justice, and lists of objects identified in estate divisions.

Goals and Prospects

The team is currently incorporating a recently collected set of inventories, and expects to incorporate more acts from the second half of the fourteenth century. A major goal is to expand the date range to the second half of the fifteenth century.


The set includes some of the earliest lay inventories from modern France and offers a relatively even sample covering nearly two centuries. It boasts several exceedingly rare inventories of Jews as well as inventories of a substantial number of women. Other highlights include several inventories of apothecaries' shops and of very poor individuals. A register from 1420-22, kept by officials charged with distributing the assets of insolvent estates, includes the appraised values of the goods listed. A sub-set of the collection features households in the nearby town of Aubagne and several other villages. Several inventories of churches and canonries round out the set.


Pascal Herbeth and Christine Barnel have published important studies based on inventories. The DALME set features prominently in Smail, Legal Plunder, and in related work, as well as Smail, Pizzorno, and Hay, "Recyclage et ontologie de l'objet."

Collection notes

The inventories in the Marseille collection have been edited following these principles.

  • All abbreviations have been silently expanded, including currency units.
  • Capitalization has been added to personal names, place names, names of months, etc., following modern standards.
  • Periods have been introduced to help demarcate object phrases but otherwise only a minimal amount of punctuation has been added.
  • Line breaks in the original are reproduced in the edition.
  • Object lists are transcribed in full, with the exception of property locations, which have only been selectively transcribed. Other elements of the record that do not list objects, such as the record of any court actions that precede the inventory, have been selectively transcribed, and paraphrases occasionally introduced to indicate the nature of those actions.

Owner and Contributors

The owner of this collection is Daniel Lord Smail. The majority of the records in the collection have been transcribed by Smail, based on images filmed by Smail, Nathan Melson, Ryan Low, and photographers hired by the Archives municipales de la ville de Marseille. Certain records were originally transcribed, wholly or in part, by Christine Barnel, Juliette Sibon, and Henri Villard, and by DALME team members Juliette Calvarin and Ryan Low; their work is credited in the respective records.