Ivory casket

Ivory Casket (ca 1415-1425), British Museum number 1878,1101.20 © The Trustees of the British Museum, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license

The inventory of Ambrosius scriba of Genoa, edited and published by the distinguished historian Roberto Sabatino Lopez in 1936, is one of the oldest in the DALME collection. As such, it is interesting not only for the many fascinating items listed in the inventory but also the manner in which its legal form reflects the reception of Roman law. At the outset, the inventory names Paschal Vicecomes as the legal actor, serving in his capacity as guardian for Genuinus, Luchetus, and Paschalinus, the children and heirs of the late Ambrosius, a scribe. But the notary took pains to identify the precise legal capacity under which Paschal was acting for the children. Following the elaborate laws governing guardianship in ancient Rome, Paschal served as curator for the first two boys, whereas for the third he was tutor. The distinction almost certainly arose from differences in the children’s ages: curators were normally assigned to children who had attained the age of puberty (typically twelve years), and tutors to younger boys and to girls of all ages. A further line notes the penalties that might be inflicted upon tutors and curators who do not register inventories of the estates consigned to them. The notary then noted how the act of compiling of the inventory was inaugurated with the making of the sign of the cross.

Following the completion of the inventory there is a gap of a few lines, and below the gap the notary wrote “the space above was left so that if anything further should come to mind it may be written out.” In a second and related act, the three children, with the guardian, indicate their willingness to accept the estate with benefit of inventory. An evocative phrase notes their fidelity to the constitutions of the most sacred emperor Justinian. All this was executed on the 5th of April, 1240. In a third and final act in the series assembled by Lopez, dated 7 November of the same year, the guardian Paschal declares that he knows of nothing else that might pertain to the estate apart from what is written out in the act, although he has heard rumors that Ambrosius might have possessed some small plots of land of little value in the district of Testana. Leaving aside this complication, he declares it to be his wish that the inventory be closed.

The inventory is rich in real estate, including two houses made of wood and another made of stone. Somewhat unusually for inventories from Genoa, whose notaries often chose not to itemize the movable possessions, this one incorporates things, including a marvelous assortment of garments. Other treasures include two small chests or caskets made from elephant ivory (perhaps similar to the casket above), a glossed psalter, a book entitled “De Summis,” two wine vessels and a glass amphora from overseas, and a necklace with seventy-six pearls. A list of articles belonging to Ambrosius that were placed out in pawn, including a number of silver spoons, suggests that the household was short of cash. The inventory draws to a close with a list of precious things that Ambrosius left to his wife Symona, including garments and a diamond ring.