Andrea Vitali's Historical Essays on the Tarot

Allowed Triumphs, Forbidden Triumphs

Two new documents


Translation assistance from Michael S. Howard

In this article we will discuss two documents we recently tracked down regarding the Ludus Triumphorum. The first document, dated 1467, concerns the Curia of Mattarella in the time of Sforza domination, the second is a public notice issued by the government of the city of Assisi in 1470.

Allowed Triumphs

In the chronicles of the time, Mattarella is mentioned especially as the seat of a Curia [i.e. a governing body of the Church]. Mattarella was situated in Upper Ossola on a hill, later called Calvary, and included ​​the Curia and a castle. The Ossola Valley, or Val d' Ossola, or simply Ossola, is a broad valley that is currently part of the province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola. In the fifteenth century it was divided into two parts - Upper and Lower - respectively governed by the Spelorci Signoria of the  Vicarate of the Curia of Mattarella, from Domodossola, of Guelph extraction, and that of  the Ghibellines Ferrari from the Vicarate of Vogogna. The first were supported by the Marquis of Monferrato and the second by the Sforza family, lords of Milan. One time when the Ferrari had the upper hand over their opponent's Signoria, Galeazzo Sforza, who had effectively protected and helped them, took possession of the Castle of Mattarella, which from that moment came under his government together with all of Upper Ossola  (1).

The document of interest to us belongs to the Statutes of the Curia of Mattarella (Ossulae Vallis, et Mattarellae Curiae) (2) approved by Bianca Maria Visconti and Galeazzo Maria Sforza in 1467 (Dat Mediolani Septimo die Augusti 1467) (3) and reconfirmed under the Government of Ludovico il Moro (1480-1499). The term "de novo concedimus" listed in the document of approval, indicates that these statutes were enacted and also approved earlier.

The term “Curia”, in the Middle Ages, referred to various bodies, especially in the judicial field, and it was thus also called the place where judgments were handed down. These statutes contain provisions on the legal procedures and ordinances of a civil and criminal character (Statuta Civilia et Criminalia), with an extensive enunciation of the penalties to be imposed on offenders: De poena homicidae, et assassini, De poena derobantium, De poena accusantis false, De poena testificantis false, De falsa moneta, De tributis non dantis nec recipiendis, ecc.

The Ludus Triumphorum is cited in the ordinance De poena ludentium ad taxillos, concerning the penalties to be imposed on players of dice and cards:

De poena ludentium ad taxillos

"Item statutum, et ordinatum est, quod nullus teneat ludum, vel biscalatiam, vel permittat ludere in domo, vel sedimine suo, vel habitationis ipsius scienter, et quid contrafecent solvat soldos centum Imper. et comburatur bislatia: si vero ludatur in domo alicujus, vel sedimine, vel habitatione, cujus est domus, vel sedimen, habitatore penitus ignorante, ludentes ultra poenam suam infranotatam, quam luserunt, teneantur solvere dictos soldos centum imper. pro praedictis domino, vel habitatore domus, vel sediminis: Ludentes vero ad taxillos, vel ad biscalatiam, vel ad alium ludum, in quo poena pecuniaria amittatur, vel amitti possit a soldis quinque imper. supra, exceptis ludo scatorum, tabularum, triumphorum in pubblico, et non in tabernis condemnetur in soldis viginti Imper. mutuans vero pecunias ad ludum in sol. 40. Imper. et inspector ludi in sold. 10. Imper. et praedictae poenae duplicentur de nocte".

The term biscalatia, bislatia or bislacia stood for all games of dice and cards, with the exception of allowed ones, among which are usually found chess and Triumphs, as expressed in the Statutes of Crema, 1483: "And intelligatur bislacia omnis et ludus taxillorum cartarum: et et exceptis ludis Triumphorum schachorum ".

The same applies to the above ordinance, which among the allowed games, to be played only in public, considers, in addition to chess (here Ludus Scatorum) and triumphs, also tabularum (board games), games of skill based on the use of a board, pieces [to move], and dice, characterized by Petrarch as "de ludus aleae et calculorum". All games that in some manner required skill and not just luck ..

Prohibited Triumphs

In the volume Documentazione di vita assisana, 1300-1530 (Documentation of life in Assisi, 1300-1530) (4) by the Franciscan Cesare Cenci, several proclamations issued by the city government concerning the game are given. One of these, dated 1470, has attracted our interest, as Triumphs, together with Boards (5), are prohibited. The title given by Cenci Bando Pubblico contro il giuoco de azara, de carte, nè triomphi ne giuoco de tavole dove se giuochino denari (Proclamation against the game of azara, cards, Triumphs and board games where one plays for money) (6​​) consists in fact of two announcements of the same decision issued on March 22, 1470 (7), the first against  azara, that is, games of chance done ​​with dice (8), the second against card games.

It is interesting to note how in the Lombard territories under Sforza rule, and in another areas ruled by a secular power, triumphs and board games were allowed, but the contrary in f Assisi, where, at nearly the same time, both were prohibited. What was decisive, of course, was the influence of the Church that ruled the city and its territory, the governor of Assisi and Foligno being "Messer Michele", Bishop of Tortona.

The two proclamations in the measure (9) refer to the prohibition of gaming at dice and cards, as described by a note placed in the margins of the first proclamation: "Bandum contra ludentis ne taxillos sive cartas…..” (Proclamation against those who play at dice or cards ....).


                                                        Proclamation against the game of azara, f. 192v

   Assisi 001


                                    Continuation of the Proclamation against the game of azara, f.102v

   Assisi 002

March 22, 1470

f. 102r  "Per parte et comandamento del Eccellentissimo in Cristo pretioso et Signore messer Michele per Dio Gratia et vescovo di Terdona de le cita di Foligno Assisi nostro degnissimo governatore si bandisce et comanda  et comandando espressamente si proibisce et vietano a ciascuna persona maschio et femine et citadino contadino et forestiero o habitante in la cita et contado destrecto de Asisi de qualunque conditione grado dignita o preminenza sia in officio o fore de officio homo publico (f. 102v) o privato ecclesiastico o layco ardisca ne presuma giuocare nisuno giuoco de azara o altro giuoco simile ne la cita o contado et distrecto de Asisi soto pena de sei fiorini a bolognini 40 per fiorino de la quale pena li due parti ne siano dela camera apostolica et laltra terza parte de lofficiale che ne facesse la executione de facto da pagare senza altro presso qualunque casa in contento non obstante”.


f. 102r "By part and command of his Excellency in Christ precious and Lord, Messer Michele by grace of God bishop of Tortona and of the cities of Foligno and Assisi, our worthy Governor, is proclaimed and commanded, and expressly commanding, that it is forbidden and prohibited to everyone, male and female, citizen and farmer, foreigner or inhabitant, in the city and rural district of Assisi, of any condition, degree, dignity, office, private or public (f. 102v) or private clergyman or layman, to dare or presume to play any game of azara or other similar game in the city or country and district of Assisi under penalty of six florins, at 40 bolognini per florin, of which penalty two parts go to the Apostolic Chamber and the other third part to the officer who established the execution of payment in or near any house despite the content [of this proclamation].

In the second act of the proclamation, where cards, triumphs and tables are banned, their condemnation is clear when the game entailed the posting of money. However, the question of whether these games were allowed if only playing purely for fun remains without a precise answer. It can be assumed that the proclamation would take a stand against these games because of the common habit of playing for money. Beside the text appears the note “Contra ludentis ad triumphos et tabulas” (Against gaming at triumphs and tables).


                                  Public announcement against the games of Triumphs and Tables, f.102v.

  Assisi 003

“Item che non sia alcuna persona di qualunque grado o conditione si sia nessuno che ardisca ne presuma giuocare a niuno giuoco de carte ne triomphi ne a giuoco de tavole dove si giuochino denari in palese o in occulto sotto le medesime pene da applicarsi come detto de sopra per le dui parti alla camera apostolica et per laltra a l’officiale che ne facesse la esecuzione".

The same, that no person of any rank or condition dare or presume to game at cards or triumphs or board games, where money is played for, in the open or in secret, under the same penalties, to be applied as mentioned above, with two parties to the apostolic chamber and the other to the officer who made the arrest.

Excluding the condemnation that preacher Roberto Caracciolo of Lecce turned on ludus Triumphorum in a sermon given in Padua in 1455, in line with t convictions widespread in the ecclesiastical sphere but never made  the object of specific measures (10), the document of Assisi is the first known statement against the game of Triumph s in the fifteenth century expressed in a genuine official government act, even if enacted by a temporal ecclesiastical power.



1 - This territorial conquest was agreed upon by Sforza and the Signori of Vogogna, as reported by the texts on the history of that city “Ipsi de Spelorciis et eorum amici  fuerunt conflicti per illos da parte Ferrariorum in servitio vestrae dominationis”.
2 - These statutes were reported by Carlo Cavalli in Cenni statistici-storici della Valle Vigezzo, Tomo III, Torino, 1845.
3 - Carlo Cavalli, Op. cit,. p.118. The  Lords of Milan reserved the right to reform, remove, add, and interpret those statutes in any way, in accordance with their authority and tradition: “…et approbamus, et in quanto expediat de novo concedimus, reservantes in nobis auctoritatem, et balyam Capitula ac Statuta ipsa reformandi, minuendi, addendi, et interpretandi, pro ut expediens fuerit, et nos opportunum consuerimus”.
4 - The work was published in three volumes by Editiones Collegii S. Bonaventurae ad Claras Aquas”, Grottaferrata, 1974, in the series Spicilegium Bonaventurianum.
5 - Game of luck and skill based on the use of a board, pieces and dice. The Libro de los juegos (Libro de ajedrez, dados y tablas), translated from Arabic into Castilian with accompanying illustrations by order of Alfonso X the Wise (completed in 1283), describes 14 games carried out with boards: Las quinze tablas; Los doze canes; Doublet; Fallas; El seys, dos, e as; El emperador; El medio emperador; La pareja de entrada; Cab e Quinal; Todas tablas; Laquet; La buffa cortesa; La buffa de baldrac; Reencontrat. The game consisted of a board divided into 4 segments of 6 cells each, with 30 round tables (pieces) of which 15 were black and 15 white, and 3 six-sided dice. (The fifteen pieces; The twelves dogs; Double; Errors; The six, two, and ace; The emperor; The half emperor;..A pair to enter, Cab and Quinal [Top and bottom?]; All the pieces; Laquet; The courteous buffoon; The buffoon of baldrac; Reencountered).
6 - Volume II, p. 711.
7 - Assisi, State Archives Department, Assisi Historical Archives, Old Fund, Riformanze 20, cc. 102rv
8 - The term “azara”  is here used to indicate the game of chance par excellence, a particular game played with dice, called zara. Pietro Sella in Nomi Latini di Guochi negli Statuti Italiani (sec. XIII-XVI), cites it as “Ludus Zare, Azardi, Ad Zardum, Ad Zarum, Ad Azardum, Ad Azarum”.  It is cited by Dante in the Divine Comedy (Purgatory, VI, 1-9)

Quando si parte il gioco de la zara, 
colui che perde si riman dolente, 
repetendo le volte, e tristo impara;

When the zara game is done and players separate,
he who loses remains, sorrowful,
repeating to himself all the times [ that he lost], and the sad learning


Looking at the online translations, I do not see how he could be learning not to make wrong throws,  since it is a game of chance, but rather either not to play at all, or to bet more carefully—it is left unclear which it is. See Mandelbaum’s translation at
con l'altro se ne va tutta la gente; 
qual va dinanzi, e qual di dietro il prende, 
e qual dallato li si reca a mente;


all the people walked away with the other [the winner];
one goes in front, and one tugs at his back,
and one at his side makes himself known to him.

el non s'arresta, e questo e quello intende;
a cui porge la man, più non fa pressa; 
e così da la calca si difende.

he does not stop, and listens to this and that;
and  each to whom he gives his hand [giving them something], doesn’t press for more;
and so he defends himself from the crowd.

9 - It was possible to study this proclamation thanks to the courtesy of Dr. Paola Monacchia, head of the Division of State Archives of Assisi, who kindly sent us a photocopy.
10 - The game of triumphs, as reported in the statutes of several cities, was generally tolerated in  the fifteenth century. On this subject see note 4 in the article Saint Bernardino and the Cards.