Notarial archives were one of the richest sources of new knowledge about early modern continental European society to be discovered by twentieth-century historians.1 In areas influenced by Roman law even people who could not write or read themselves went to notaries; the notaries’ archives therefore provided unprecedented access to the social and economic life of the past. Only recently, however, have scholars begun to examine the nature of the notarial record and to ask what made it so ubiquitous and what its relation was to the rest of the proliferating documentation of the early modern era.2 Italians of the Middle Ages invented notaries and their unique brand of powerful writing, and notarial records in Italy bear the unmistakable marks of medieval Italy’s commercial dynamism and political fragmentation. Papal Rome, which had followed rather than led these early developments, was able to catch...

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