Friday, 12 June 2009

Horrible Handwriting 1,046,148

A tip for posterity; make sure you and / or your scribe / secretary / notary of choice has decent and clear handwriting. I know this is continuing an ongoing theme of this blog but really, I cannot emphasise enough how mind-bogglingly irritating it is to be faced with reams upon ream upon reams of vellum or parchment, packed full of wills, property sales, judicial proceedings, policy decisions or possibly even the answers to world peace and cancer... and not be able to make out a single letter of it.

This has been the lot of the good people of Negroponte, now known as Chalkis on the Greek island of Euboa. The city itself was part of the Venetian “empire” and was one of the first of its protectorates to fall, rather dramatically, to the Turks in 1470. This was not like Venetian Crete in the 17th C when there were loads of warnings that the situation just might end up in favour of the Turks (which it did). This in turn meant time was available to clear the various chancelleries of notarial documents, diplomatic correspondence and various other bits and bobs that collects in administrative drawers over the course of centuries, and ship it all back to Venice.

Not so for poor Negroponte. The locals foolishly bated the Turks by launching a bit of an amateurish sortie against them (burning tents, harrying chickens, that sort of thing... and maybe despoiling the odd Turkish corpse as well) in the spring of 1470: by July it was all over. Definitely no time for bundling up 250 year’s worth of paperwork for posterity’s sake. Although Venetian maritime support did arrive before the final curtain call, due to various degrees of government incompetency (e.g. making a scholar head of the navy. BIG mistake. I can vouch for that.), the galleys held back and the city fell to the Turks. Cue much enslavement of locals, ransacking of buildings and, of course, burning of notarial documents. Nothing destroys a people quite like the destruction of their history and memory.

But back to the 21st C. How does one try and reconstruct life in Negroponte circa 1470? To give the remaining ruins and other artefacts a sort of framework in which to come alive? Hmm... it’s a tricky one. One could try trawling through the thousands of notarial buste in Venice and hope to find something. Or how about a shortcut? Like...the notaries of Candia in Crete? As mentioned above this was another jewel in Venice’s Aegean crown and usefully one with which much trade was done by the Negoponteese. There are not so many notarial buste in the collection as to be nighmarish and Herculean but possibly just enough to get a taster of what the merchants were up to.

Or so you would think. Until thwarted by the truly harrowing and abominable scrawls of Francesco Vlaco (1464-1472), Nicolò Castelfilaca (1467-1497) and Francesco Castelfilaca (1470-1496) that I cannot imagine even passed as handwriting in the 15th C. To the three of you, as punishment for obliterating the posterity of your clients through your horrible handwriting, I condemn you to an eternity of ignominy. To Leonardo Pantaleo (1467-1502) however, I give you a gold star, for being vaguely legible.

And thus mercantile activities of the Negoponteese in Candia are forever lost and I am doomed to languish for an age and more in the notarial archives of Venice. Urgh.

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