Mapping Livorno

In January 1645, the government of Ferdinando II, Grand Duke of Tuscany, promulgated an ordinance for a new tax assessment on properties in the city of Livorno. This assessment, the decima nuova, was assembled from taxpayer-submitted returns by the end of February. The entire process was overseen by the Livornese Dogana, the fiscal administration of the port, which also handled the grand duke’s local property holdings.

The 1645 decima nuova survives in two sets of cross-referenced records. The three registers of portate (ASLivorno, Decima granducale [DG] 57-58) contain property declarations written by owners or their agents; these returns also feature the subscriptions of tenants attesting to the returns’ accuracy. Most portate in these volumes were written out on printed forms, specially created for the decima nuova with spaces left for the declarant’s name, property information, and estimated taxable rents. These were in turn summarized in three volumes of ‘enrolled’ arroti (ASLi, DG 200-202). In both cases, each submission was naturally organized under the name of the taxpayer – either the owner or a tenant who further sublet the property – with some such taxpayers owning or leasing multiple properties.

As the arroti repeatedly state, the decima nuova was assessed at a rate of eight percent on the reported income from a given property. This income was reckoned to be the sum of all rents on that property minus whatever payment might be made by the taxpayer to their own landlord. Besides standard exemptions for religious houses and the like, primary residences were also exempt from this tax. But commercial properties were never exempt, even if they were operated by their owner; given the absence of rents, these owner-operated shops paid tax based on estimated values that were agreed upon in separate negotiations with the Dogana officials.

For example, an owner might owe tax for an apartment rented out to a tenant; the tenant might also owe tax for that same apartment, sublet to a renter, for those rents minus the cost of renting the property from the owner. Both the owner and the primary tenant would have submitted portate, and these documents would have in turn been registered under their own names as separate arroti.

Finally, it is important to note that the decima nuova was a new assessment rather than a specific new tax; the returns submitted in January and February were the basis for future taxation. The arroti were a working registry, and the entries therefore contain updates, cancellations, transfers, and references to addenda in other registers.

From Data Entry to Mapping

In 2021, the DECIMA team began to process the fair copy of the decima nuova – the three registers of arroti (ASLi DG 200-2) – into a relational database, turning to the cross-referenced portate to double-check the spelling of names and places. A customized data entry portal in Filemaker Pro allowed for the quick entabulation of the census information into multiple tables linked by a shared identity key: the property number.

Each of the nearly seven hundred arroti contains one or more properties organized under the name of the declarant; a single arroto can run for a single paragraph or multiple pages. Our database is therefore arranged around properties rather than declarants, each entry containing the data related to a single residential, commercial, or mixed-use property in the city.

The seven hundred arroti entries provided the data for nearly thirteen hundred property entries, each describing the location, use, and value of a particular parcel of real estate in the city of Livorno. These property entries in turn refer to various entities engaged in activities around a given property: owners, residents, intermediary tenants, and even former owners and occupants. Each of the entries for these individuals is linked to the property entry by a shared key. In the same way, each property entry is also connected to multiple other neighbouring properties through a table of contiguities.

In 2022, after our team had prepared the database containing all the property entries and their contiguities, we began the process of linking the 1645 decima nuova to our map of early modern Livorno. We began by producing chains of contiguous property entries – the unbroken line of neighbouring properties stretching along one street, around the corner, and so on – until the last house in the chain neighboured the first. Our design ran parallel, if not contrary, to the purpose of the original document, but nonetheless the streetscape began to take shape.

By early 2023, we were beginning to compare the blocks as they stood in our database to the blocks as they appeared on our three-dimensional map of eighteenth-century Livorno. Although the century of development after 1645 had added quite a bit to the urban fabric, the parts of the city that were also present in our database seemed to feature similar numbers of buildings. As a result, linking the database to the map, although necessarily an abstraction, ended up being a relatively simple task. In some cases, the buildings present on the 3D map had to be ‘sliced’ into multiple parcels, either horizontally or, in the case of houses that were owned by multiple families, vertically.

Describing the Data

Each building selected on our map of Livorno is linked to a property entry in our database. These entries contain data drawn from the 1645 arroti of the decima nuova (ASLi DG 200-202), which, broadly speaking, pertains primarily to the value of a property to the state as a taxable parcel. Nonetheless, as with the 1561 Florentine decima, the document contains a plethora of information about the properties and related individuals not immediately relevant to the task of assessing their worth.

First and foremost, though, the arroti consider a property as a source of revenue or rents. Residences occupied solely by their owners were perforce declared, and such returns seem to have served as proof that the properties were not generating revenue.

Otherwise, the taxpayers were required to list who was paying rent on the property, and they appended the subscriptions of these same tenants to vouch for the veracity of the declaration. Each entry specifically states the tenant’s contract type – generally simple rent, pigione, collected monthly – and rent price. The entry also summarizes the total taxable value, or annual revenue, of the property and derives the eight percent decima tax owed by the taxpayer in question.

Beyond this, the quantity of information on the tenants varies widely, with some taxpayers describing in detail the spatial relationship of the tenants to each other: who rented which floor, or how many rooms – or what kinds of rooms – they held. Some tenants are also named in great detail, with surnames, occupations, ethnicities, or demonyms being fairly common.

As regards the properties themselves, most entries provide a general description of the parcel, whether it was a house, several floors, an apartment, or whether it contained a shop or storage space. If the building contained such commercial real estate, the entry typically describes its function (a bakery, warehouse, printer’s shop, or the like). The taxpayers sometimes include unusual architectural details, such as the entrance being located under a vaulted archway.

Finally, one particularly rich detail provided in many entries is the purchase date of the property, sometimes even the purchase price, or the date upon which the tenant-taxpayer entered into their contract. Since so much of the urban fabric in 1645 was in the process of being sold off by Medici grand dukes, many taxpayers had specific dates upon which they purchased their properties from the Dogana. This would permit a partial reconstruction of the property market in Livorno, particularly after the turn of the seventeenth century, after which most of the recorded purchases are dated. Many of the purchases or exchanges that do not involve the Dogana or the other major institutional landlords refer to marriage contracts and dotal arrangements.

This project is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada

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