IRHT_085101-p aveugle.jpg

Besançon, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 0579, fol. 15v

In 1423, a woman named Isabel came before the Barcelona notary Simó Carner to ask that he record the inventory of her late husband, Salamó Egascall. Barcelona's rich late medieval archives preserve an enormous volume of inventories and auctions from people coming from all walks of life. Although Simó kindly described his client as "lady Isabel (dominam Isabelam)," she probably counted among the notary's poorer clients, because the record identifies Salamó as "a blind beggar of the nation of the Sardinians."

The inventory records items in a home shared by the couple on the Carrer d'Estruc, not far from the Plaça Saint Jaume. The list, stretching across two pages in the notary's register, leads off with a set of tunics and cloaks as well as a pair of white shoes and similar items. Many of the garments were described as shabby or valueless, suggesting that they may have been castaways given to him by sympathetic passers-by or charitable organizations. In addition to the clothing, the couple possessed a bed with its furnishings, a mariner's chest, two bronze receptacles described as basins, and several other items. Apart from the basins and several earthenware jars, one finds nothing in the way of kitchen utensils or tablewares, or even, for that matter, a dining table. A day later, roughly half of Salamó's goods, including a good deal of clothing and the white shoes, were auctioned off. The auction lists a bronze skillet (paella) that is not otherwise mentioned in the inventory (although it was probably one of the "basins"), suggesting that the kitchen utensils were not as scanty as one might otherwise believe.

From these clues one glimpses a life lived: an aged mariner who had had to abandon the sea years ago, while in port in Barcelona, as blindness descended upon him. Salamó supported himself and his wife in their one-room house by begging for food and spare garments. A reasonable picture, apart from one detail: Simó, the notary, also described Salamó as an amputee, "without fists (Lat. sine pugnis; Cat. sens punys)." The amputation of one or both hands was a punishment commonly reserved for thieves in later medieval criminal statutes and law codes. The fact that such punishments were actually carried out has been confirmed by recent bioarchaeological finds, such as this study from medieval Estremoz, in Portugal. Blinding was less commonly applied to thieves. Even so, it is conceivable that all Salamó's infirmities were inflicted upon the unfortunate man as punishment for his thieving ways.