Arles in the 18th century. Public domain

On 14 November 1444, Ferrarius, Mosse and Joseph, three Jewish brothers of Arles, appeared before the royal court in Arles to request an inventory of the goods of Jacob Salamon (alius de Ros) and his wife Venguessona of Arles. Six years earlier, Jacob and Venguessona had agreed to a donatio inter vivos of all of the couple's worldly possessions to the brothers after the couple's death, and the making of the inventory itself was occasioned upon Venguesona's death in fall of 1444. One wonders why Jacob and Venguessona chose to bequeath their goods to the brothers through a donatio inter vivos contract instead of, for example, including them in their testament. Occasionally, elderly couples left their goods provisionally to an heir or agent with the proviso that, in exchange, the couple be provided with support in their old age.

But it also may be explained by the presence of an additional mechanism by which Ferrarius, Mosse and Joseph could accept Jacob and Venguessona's estate: if Venguessona predeceased Jacob, the brothers should take the couple's belongings, owing to the fact that Jacob was blind. In the end, Venguessona did die before Jacob, which allowed the brothers to accept the couple's goods while Jacob was still alive.

The inventory of Jacob and Venguessona's belongings depicts a rather austere, almost ascetic existence. Most of their linens were old and of little value, although they had recently acquired a few new bedsheets to replace them. They also possessed a candelabrum and a broken lantern, both made of copper. When it came to dining, Jacob and Venguessona certainly did not host many dinner parties. They possessed two cups for water and two plates made of tin, and little more. Here was a couple who possessed only exactly what they needed and who replaced their household goods only when necessary.

Strikingly, Jacob and Venguessona's wardrobe lacked any color whatsoever. Jacob only had two articles of clothing, a houppelande lined with black lambskin and a black cloak, while Venguessona had three houpplandes, one old and of little value, one new, one with a lining, all of dark cloth. Interestingly, the couple possessed two "Jewish cloaks" (clamides judaycos), which may have been a tallit gadol, a garment worn by particularly pious Jews while praying.

In spite of their simple appearance and devoted piety, Jacob and Venguessona did have a significant amount of money in cash - fifteen florins and ten gros. In addition, the couple were prolific moneylenders. Christian debtors - men and women from various social strata - owed the couple about three hundred florins. The couple also lent more than forty-four florins on pawns, including five silver belts, an assortment of clothing, and one large basin from both Christian and Jewish debtors.

The couple's inventory is one of five voluntary household inventories of Jewish households in fifteenth-century Arles and Aix-en-Provence recently or soon to be added to the DALME collection.