Italian Paleography


Chicago, Newberry Library, VAULT Case MS 6A 34
Register of Criminals Executed in Venice
Venice, around 1775

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Death penalty in the Most Serene Republic of Venice was a public and exemplary punishment for a number of crimes, from homicide and offenses against the common good, to thefts and blasphemy.  Executions, often brutal in method, mostly took place in public squares and affected all sectors of the population: rich and poor, clergy and laymen, men and women. These public spectacles also served as a visible warning of what would happen if someone was caught committing a crime and were therefore meant to serve as a deterrent. Traces of these public executions are left in the many local registers reporting lists and dates of convicts killed on the public squares. Mostly written in the eighteenth century, these official records only account for a partial number of deaths between the seventeenth and the eighteenth century: as Antonio Barbaro underlines in his 1739 volume Pratica criminale, some capital sentences were executed “in secret,” either for political reasons or to avoid dishonoring powerful families.

Newberry Case MS 6A 34 is a fair copy of a register of criminals executed in Venice between 803 and 1774. In an introductory note, the readers are exhorted not to be saddened by the list of names included in the volume, which should, instead, serve as a warning not to commit the same crimes. The following page contains a mention of four fires that destroyed the San Marco Church and the public library, causing the lack of documentation before 803 and between 864 and 1264. Pages 32 and 33 show examples of records generally including 1) a number (in sequence, from 1 to 715); 2) the name of the executed; 3) his/her age at the time of execution; 4) the modes of execution and a description of the crime.  Some entries are anecdotal: Giovanni Maria Montovano, for example, was about to be hanged but the cord broke and he escaped death, falling on the floor and hitting his head (p.32). The causes of convictions were multiple: Mattio Pozzo, for example, was sentenced to death because he attempted to hit the Doge (p.33).


Corsiva (sec. XVIII fine) regolare, inclinata a destra dove permangono abbreviazioni e forme di lettere del secolo precedente.
Da notare: la d che lega a destra mediante il raddoppio della traversa (32, r. 5: bandito); la z che scende sotto il rigo in un solo tratto verticale (33, r. 14: Venezia).

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