By Mark Wayne Steinhoff
PhD Dissertation, New York University, 1976
Introduction: Excluding the profession of the sword, that of the notary was among the earliest, the most self-conscious and certainly the largest in the medieval world. In origin closely bound up with Roman law and. practice, this anicent institution was profoundly transformed by the changing conditions of post-Roman western society. Of course the notary of our period was a transmitter of civilization, preserving knowledge of Roman law and more basically the value of written proof. But he was also creator of a new, and in many ways superior, scribal culture. With the spread of illiteracy the medieval notary was called upon to play a far more important role in the newly emerging civilization than that performed by his Roman ancestor in his more literate world. This transition between ancient and medieval notarial traditions can best be observed at the late imperial capital Ravenna where a rich hoard of notarial documents forms a continuous chain from the sixth through the thirteenth centuries and even beyond. My terminus quo is dictated by the most ancient surviving papyri dating from 489. My terminus ad quem of 1227 is a natural breaking off point because it was when the tabelliones were reorganized into a single society under one maior. The story that we shall tell of cultural pioneers creating a needed institution, and drawing on tradition even as they did so, in order to stabilize relations with their fellow men, is one of the brighter chapters in the history of civilization.