On Sunday, the 16th of April, 1391, Johannes Martini, a fisherman, was having words with a merchant named Anthonius Graciani in a neighborhood known as the Canton of the Master Caulkers, fronting Marseille's harbor. At issue was the lease of a fishing smack, which Johannes was returning to its owner for reasons that are unclear. As the dispute grew heated, Anthonius made a gesture with his hand toward his side knife. Feeling threatened, Johannes drew back his cloak and said to the onlookers words to this effect: "This man is trying to kill me, but take note, all of you, that I carry no knife." At that moment, along came Johannes's son-in-law, a shipwright named Jacobus Lymosini, who also lived in the neighborhood just a few steps away from the scene. Outraged by the threat to his father-in-law, Jacobus grabbed the merchant by his clothing and spoke some threatening words. Drawing his knife, the merchant stabbed Jacobus in the arm, and then, stepping back, fell into the water of the port. Jacobus, his own knife drawn, leapt into the water and stabbed Anthonius, striking a single blow on the right side and penetrating to his vitals. As onlookers drew the body from the water, the knife still in the wound, Jacobus fled with his father-in-law to sanctuary in the cathedral church of La Major. Poignant witness testimony describes how the nephew of the dead man, weeping, clung to the body of his dying uncle. The corpse was brought back to the unfortunate man's house and laid out on a bed, where four surgeons came to assess the wound.
During the ensuing trial for homicide, the court issued several citations to Johannes to appear in his own defense, all of which were met with silence. Later on, we learn the reason for this. Gravely ill with a fever, Johannes had remained in sanctuary in the cathedral for five or six weeks on death's door. He was attended by a priest named Guillelmus Valencia who, in subsequent testimony, described how he had nursed the sick man with water and sugar. In the meantime, the court moved against Johannes's assets in order to hold them as collateral, and following normal procedure, the royal treasurer drew up an inventory of the estate. At the end of the inquest, Johannes was assessed a heavy fine of 200 l. for contumacy and sentenced to banishment. On the 6th of July, having recovered his health, Johannes lodged an appeal against the sentence, seeking to clear his name and recover his goods.
The inventory of Johannes's estate provides remarkable insights into the possessions of an ordinary fisherman in a Mediterranean port city toward the end of the 14th century. Johannes lived with his wife and possibly other family members as well as one or more servants in a five-room house on a street located two blocks in from the harbor. The first room, the hall, contained a dining table, six wooden chairs, and four pavises (a type of shield) which were doubtless hung on the wall. The custom of adorning the dining hall with ornamental pavises, some of which displayed a family's coats-of-arms, had become increasingly common in Marseille toward the end of the 14th century, and their presence here speaks to Johannes's social aspirations. The bedroom contained no fewer than three beds, one of which seems to have been furnished in a manner suitable "for servants" (pro familia), although the ambiguity of the word "familia" means that the bed may have been intended for family members. A chest in the bedroom held clothing and other things belonging to Johannes' unnamed wife. No clue is given as to where the rest of the family kept their clothing. Another room contained twelve empty barrels of the sort used for preserving salted fish and a net for catching sardines, which was described as having little value.
For the most part, we get little sense of the contents of the kitchen apart from a basin and a cauldron, since the people responsible for making the inventory were content to list "other kitchen equipment." The storeroom contained wine-making equipment, including a vat and ten empty wine casks. The storeroom also held several more fishing nets. At the end of the list of Johannes's possessions we find a fishing smack (barca piscandi) with its equipment, a second house located nearby, and a vineyard, no doubt the source of grapes used for making wine. The contents of the second house were not listed, suggesting either that Johannes rented it out or that the house was currently unlived in. Following the devastations wrought by the cycles of plague after 1348, the population of the city had dropped from 25,000 to 10,000 inhabitants. By century's end, many families had inherited surplus property from deceased relatives and had more real estate than they knew what to do with.
As the historian Jeremy Goldberg and others have pointed out, the material profile of wealthy peasant households was very different from that of city folk, displaying considerably more investment in livestock, equipment, and land and much less in the way of household furnishings.✱ Johannes Martini's house also fits this profile, for much of his wealth was caught up in his fishing smack, the two houses, and the vineyard. If the inventory is reasonably accurate — and there is no reason to suspect that the treasurer either missed or deliberately overlooked any items — the near-total absence of clothing (apart from the things that may have been in his wife's chest) suggests that the members of the household possessed only one set of clothes each, a situation not untypical of poorer households. The only items in the inventory that seem surplus to immediate needs, apart from the pavises, were the linens found in a chest in the bedroom: fifteen bedsheets, eight tablecloths, twelve towels or napkins, and four table-runners (longerie). Johannes was clearly a respectable man, holder of three pieces of real estate and father-in-law to a very prominent shipwright. What wealth he had, though, was invested in the equipment that he and his wife and family needed to make a leaving, leaving little to spare for luxury items.