A major scholar of the history of gambling, Ortalli brings to light - in this innovative study - a largely unfamiliar tale: the spread of games of chance and their gradual institutionalisation during the Middle Ages. Although they were considered illegitimate, in the social and economic reawakening of that era games based on dice-throwing were tolerated in specific contexts and exploited, in particular, by rulers as a source of revenue (via taxes and subcontracts). This led to the emergence of a group of social outcasts, which are the object of this study: professional gamblers, willing to wager usque ad camisiam et serrabulas, i.e., even their shirts and underpants. Ortalli pieces together this world that lay at the fringe of legality, tracing its development to the 14th century, when gambling assumed different forms: card games and lotteries.
Gherardo Ortalli, an expert on the history of games of chance, teaches Medieval History at the University of Venice.