In 1228 AD, before the Renaissance began, the Notary School of Bologna, Scuola di Notariato, started in Bologna, in northern Italy. The school developed and refined notarial law and practice, and inspired a renewed study of ancient Roman law.
The Bologna “Studium” was founded by students, and for students, in 1088 AD. It is the oldest university in the Western world. The fame of the Studium spread throughout Europe.
Many scholars came to study at the Notary School of Bologna including Thomas Beckett, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Nicolaus Copernicus, Renaissance mathematician and astronomer, and Guglielmo Marconi, the developer of wireless radio telegraphy.
Irnerius, Legal Scholar
At the end of the 11th century, masters of grammar, rhetoric and logic began to apply themselves to teaching law in Bologna. The earliest recorded legal scholar was a man named Irnerius. His activities, cataloging the Roman legal materials, soon ran beyond the boundaries of Bologna.
His Formularium Tabellionum was a directory for notaries. At the Notary School of Bologna, he taught the newly recovered Roman law code of Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I in Constantinople, issued from 529 to 534 AD, known as the Corpus Juris Civilis, Codex Justinianus, or the Code of Justinian.
Notaries in Medieval Europe
The Notary School of Bologna emphasized the legal and technical qualifications of the notary. It drew up procedures for the preparation of notarial acts in a correct form of law. From the notarial studies in Bologna during that era, the concept of the notary as a qualified jurist arose. The school led to the expansion of the notarial system throughout medieval Europe.
During the Renaissance, notaries became less connected to the courts. The independent acts, with a notary seal, gained public trust in their own right. The laws for executing legal instruments became so technical that European courts relinquished power for authenticating documents to highly trained notaries.
In 330 AD, Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Constantinople, now modern-day Istanbul, Turkey, which he founded as a second Rome on the site of Byzantium. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire to barbarians in 476 AD, the Byzantine Empire or Eastern Roman Empire continued the traditions of Roman law until defeated by an invading Islamic army of the Ottoman Empire in 1453 AD.
During the Middle Ages, the conquered provinces of the former Western Roman Empire integrated Roman law into their civil institutions. In the lands that became modern-day Spain, France, Germany and the other nations of Western Europe, notary practices were widely adopted.
Notaries had to complete training and pass an exam, and were often registrars at district courts, recording proceedings. They attached the court seal on deeds and other documents to make them public and authentic acts. These palatine notaries were appointed by the local count palatine, who also appointed judges.
Notary Investiture Ceremony
In a ritual similar to appointing a knight, rather than using a sword, the count palatine appointed notaries in a “pen and inkwell” (Latin: cum penna et calamario) ceremony, the symbol of the evangelist St. Matthew, and administered an oath, sworn on the Bible.
One record of the notary oath reads:
“I swear by the Holy Gospel that I will perform the duties of a notary justly, clearly, faithfully and lawfully. I will not draw up false papers or false documents; I will not falsify old instruments or exchange individual phrases. I will do no harm to the rights of churches, hospices, orphans, widows and other wretched persons but instead, protect and defend them within my power.
I swear loyalty to the Holy Empire, to the Palatine Count, and to everyone in his entourage. If it comes to my attention that anyone has opposed the Palatine Count or attempted to take away his jurisdiction, I commit myself to defend him with all my power and inform him about this either in writing or orally.”
The count palatine then symbolically gave a light slap (alapa), representing authority and the hand of God, to the humbly kneeling notary, and handed him the pen and inkwell, signifying a transmission of authority from the King or Emperor. Then they exchanged a kiss of peace, to seal the contract.
The investiture was announced by the town crier in the town square. The notary would be received at a dinner of notaries, and be enrolled in their art.
Notary Deed of Authority
The new notary received a deed of authority from the notary recording the event, registered his personal signum, (sign, mark, or seal) and adopted the formal title ser or sir.
One deed of authority of an imperial notary investiture reads:
From the Count Palatine, to all who see this public record,
[notary name, of town name] has asked us to grant him this office, having sworn fealty to the Holy Roman Church and Empire, and to duly perform his office, in virtue of the power given to us and our ancestors by the Sainted Emperors, we invested him with the pen, reed and parchment, which we held in our hands, and gave him the kiss of peace.
Granting him the power to make instruments, acts, protocols, and to make copies of, and publish letters, receive and examine witnesses, publish their evidence, make wills and codicils, to take admissions of contracts and all other writings, to take down decrees of judges and arbitrators, and enter appeals in court or out of court, with powers of appointing guardians, and maintenance, of taking emancipations, manumissions and adoptions, and exercising the office of Ordinary, and of performing the said office of Notary throughout the world.
[made by notary name, of town name] (usually written by the new notary’s teacher)
Once the new notary’s name was inscribed in a register of notaries (Matricola), he was able to begin practicing.
There were city notaries with local authority, and imperial notaries, appointed by emperors, and papal notaries appointed by the Pope in Rome, with no territorial restrictions on their authority.
John of Bologna
John of Bologna, a notary of the papal curia, was brought to England by John Pecham, Archbishop of Canterbury. In 1289, he completed a Summa Notarie handbook for notaries in ecclesiastical courts. Its purpose was to instruct them, so the practices of the Roman curia in judicial processes could be imitated in the court of Canterbury.
Today, the University of Bologna has over 80,000 students and continues to offer legal and notary training.
Current notarial studies include:
Civil Law I (Personal, Successions)
Civil Law II (Property, Rights in Rem, Family Law)
Civil Law III (Obligations and Contracts, Real Estate Advertising)
Civil Procedure Law (Voluntary Jurisdiction)
Commercial Law I (Business and Company Law)
Commercial Law II (Credit Securities)
Commercial Law III (Company Law)
Administrative Law (Town Planning and Public Residential Building)
Notarial Legislation and Code of Conduct, and
The Notary School of Bologna had a lasting effect on preserving and teaching Roman law and spreading notary law across Europe, and eventually to overseas colonies.
1. University of Bologna Seal, vectorized by User: Nandhp [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
2. University of Bologna library
[Last-Modified Date 2017-10-02] added new image, Byzantine Empire info