The Amalfi Tables: the first law of the sea in Italy

by Federico Quagliuolo

There was a time when Amalfi was queen of the sea and, above all, a true beacon of culture for the whole Mediterranean. The Amalfi Tables I'm there first collection of laws of the sea in Italy: it was a document that for five centuries has remained the reference for all sailors.

Amalfi Tables
The Amalfi tables

Before the Amalfi Tables

Since the time of the Phoenicians Man felt the need to create a regulation of maritime markets and activities: all the peoples who lived on trade, on the other hand, were forced to adapt to thousands of different customs and rules that characterized every city.
We have to wait the sailors of Rhodes, the Greek island famous for, to begin to have the first written laws on the navigation of the sea: at the time ofEmperor Augustus, in fact, the Lex Rhodia de Iactu, which was the first written law in history on maritime law. Centuries later i will take care of it Byzantines in the sixth century to officially codify what were known as "Νόμος 'Ροδίων Ναυτικός" (Nomos Rodion Nautikòs, the laws of the sea of Rhodes: here too the mention of the Greek island well explains its importance), which instead was the first maritime code of the West, more or less contemporary with the Arab one.

«… The most prosperous city of Longobardia, the noblest, the most illustrious for its conditions, the most affluent and opulent. The territory of Amalfi borders that of Naples; which is a beautiful city, but less important than Amalfi. "

Ibn Hawqal, 10th century Arab merchant

We meet around the year 1000 and, while the history of Italy was about to be definitively rewritten by the Normans, Amalfi he was very rich duchy who had found his luck with the sea, trying to escape the continuous battles between Capua, Salerno, Naples and Benevento.
In this serenity and wealth of the city protected by the mountains, the Amalfi culture flourished and gave us numerous inheritances that are still present in our life today: from discussed definition of winds topaper industry, without forgetting the modern compass, which was perfected by an Amalfi navigator. Without to forget the Order of the Knights of Malta, which are born by the hand of a friar of Scala, or all the heraldry of the Campania Region, which is the daughter of the Amalfi tradition.

The Amalfi Tables

The document, which is still preserved in the city today (the copy belonged to Doge of Venice Marco Foscarini), is divided into 66 chapters written at different times and in often confusing terms.
The first 21, in fact, they were in good Latin and they were certainly part of the original document. The others, on the other hand, I am in vulgar Italian and often contain repetitions or even translations of the Latin norms.
The peoples of the sea, on the other hand, shared their cultural knowledge with extraordinary rapidity and in a few years almost all the duchies and kingdoms were endowed with a maritime code. Amalfi itself contends with the city of Trani for primacy over the law of the sea, given that the Trani document is almost contemporary.

Amalfi from the sea
Amalfi from the sea

The content of the Amalfi Tables

The content of the Amalfi Tables is strongly focused on trade and tries to regulate, in a very rigorous way, fairness in the management of money, of the value of the goods and of the relationships in the ship's hierarchy. There were rules also related to the behavior of sailors, such as the obligation to remain on the boat. In fact, the ship's crew and goods were one and every action could increase or decrease the value of the navigation contract.
Sea voyages, on the other hand, were extremely dangerous and attacks by pirates or disastrous events were very frequent, so much so that all the sailors gathered in cooperatives to help each other (emblematic is the case of Pio Monte dei Marinari di Procida, which was an early form of insurance).
On the other hand, the sailors who regretted their voyage, "They were required to pay back double the salary". Or again, in case of life threatening, if it was necessary to throw the goods overboard, the captain had to consult the entire crew. It was also expected the case of the "miserly master" which, in order not to lose money, endangered the lives of the sailors by ordering do not throw anything overboard. In that case he would have replied personally before the Consulate of the city.

Today some rules and some definitions tear a smile, while others have evolved and are still part of the Modern Navigation Law demonstrating that, already a millennium ago, little Amalfi was a beacon of culture and civilization in the Mediterranean.
Time later, precisely in XVIII century, another seafaring people thought about writing a new page of History of navigation: the procidano Michele De Jorio he was in fact the author of the first modern navigation code.

-Federico Quagliuolo

Alfonso Mignone, New Studies on the Tabula de Amapha, Il Franente, Verona

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