This passage comes from The Sum of the Entire Art of the Notary (Summa totius artis notariae), a handbook or formulary for notaries that gave instructions about how to draw up legal documents correctly as well as a collection of model documents for notaries to imitate. It was composed by Rolandinus Passeggieri between 1255 and 1273 in northern Italy, and it became one of the most popular and widely copied formularies of the late Middle Ages. In this section, Passeggieri explains how to correctly identify and describe the parties to any legal act.

Translated from the Latin by Hannah Barker. Rolandinus Passeggieri, Summa totius artis notariae (Bologna: Arnaldo Forni, 1977), 411-415. This translation CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

Concerning persons and divisions of persons.

Concerning persons, six divisions can be made. The first division is: all people are either male, or female, or hermaphrodite. Males are those who do and beget. Females are those who undergo and conceive and give birth. Hermaphrodites are those who have the instrument of both sexes, namely male and female. But if the female is more heated and prevails, the sex is judged to be female. If, however, the male prevails, the sex is judged to be male.

The second division is: because some people have been born, others are about to be born. The born are those who have separated from the womb of the mother and come forth into the light. The about-to-be-born are those who are still formed in the womb of the mother, and these for now will be held to have been born.

The third division is: because every person is either free (liber) or unfree (servus). The servus is he who is born from a slave woman (ancilla) or who is captured from the power of enemies, which are called servi and mancipia, i.e. manucapta.[1] Again a servus is also [a person] older than 20 years who suffers himself to be sold in order to share in the price, or, not unaware of his condition, [allows himself] to be alienated to another by just title because of a certain profit or other advantage, if the buyer or recipient is unaware of his condition and the person sold truly shares in the price. But also there are many conditions or divisions of servi about which I will say nothing at present. They are called free (liberi) who are born of free relatives or at least of a free mother, because children follow the condition of the mother and not of the father. Some of the free are free-born (ingenui). Others are freed (libertini). Ingenui are those who are free immediately when they are born, or are born from two free-born people, or from two freed people, or from one free-born person and the other freed person. But and if [a person] is born from a free mother (libera) and an unfree father (servus), [that person] is free-born (ingenuus) and free (liber). They are called libertini, however, who are manumitted from lawful servitude (servitus).

The fourth division is: because some people are in their own right (sui iuris). Others are in the right of another (iuris alieni). Those in their own right are free people like fathers and mothers of the family who are made sui iuris by the death of their parents. Those iuris alieni are servi, [or] again the son of the family who was brought forth from just spouses [i.e. from a legal marriage], or obtained the first place of the sons, namely because they were born from us and our wives, or the last place, like grandsons and great-grandsons and then other descendents of the masculine sex.[2] Again, all those people who may be or will have been their sons.

The fifth division is: because some sons are legitimate and natural; others are only legitimate; others are only natural; others are neither legitimate nor natural. The legitimate and natural are those who are brought forth from legitimate marriage. The legitimate [but not natural], however, have been adopted. The natural [but not legitimate], however, are those born from a concubine joined in a single and unquestioned affection. Those neither legitimate nor natural are spurious, born from incestuous sex.

The sixth division is: because all people are either legitimate or not legitimate of age. The legitimate age is above 25 years, and people of that age are called majors [maiores]. The non-legitimate age is from 25 years and below, and people of that age are called minors [minores], and are not of legitimate age. Of the minors, some are called puberes and others are called impuberes. Puberes are from 14 years [and] above for males and from 12 years [and] above for females, and these are called adults and adolescents. Impuberes indeed are below, for males less than 14 years and for females less than 12 years, and these are called boys and girls. If they do not have a father, they are called pupils. Others of the impuberes are infants, and these are from the day of birth, male and female, until the seventh year. Others are near infancy, and these are from the seventh year up to nine and a half years for females and ten and a half years for males. From there indeed up to fourteen for males and up to twelve for females they are called near puberty. And the said things are sufficient concerning the divisions of persons.

[1] Mancipium means slave. Manucapta means captured by hand.

[2] The legal rights of children were restricted in certain respects, even after they reached adulthood, until the death of their parents.

Discussion Questions

  1. In this section, Passeggieri describes six legally meaningful ways to categorize people. What are they? How many of these categories are still legally meaningful today?
  2. In 13th-century Italy, slavery was considered legal and socially acceptable. How did Passeggieri define slave status? In legal terms, what did it mean to be a slave?
  3. In what ways might a person change their status from free to enslaved or from enslaved to freed?
  4. Was all freedom the same, or were there different types of freedom? Why did Passeggieri make a distinction between those born free (ingenui) and those manumitted from slavery (libertini)?

Related Primary Sources


Birth, Captives, Law, Life after Manumission, Self-Sale