Thursday, September 4, 2008

Tarot Timeline

This is my comprehensive timeline of the Tarot and related history.  I put this together over several years mostly for myself to assist in my own research.  It is heavy on the early history and contextual history especially connecting the development of the tarot in relation to the Milanese court.

Topical areas listed here include the following:

  • History of paper making and printing
  • Contextual policital, religious and cultural history
  • History of the Visconti and Sforza rulers of Milan
  • Heretical movements in Northern Italy and Southern France
  • History of metaphysical organizations and beliefs relevant to Tarot
  • Metahistory of Tarot (theories and beliefs about Tarot history)
  • Apperance and development of Tarot, Tarocco and Minchiate decks 

8th Century

Paper is invented in China.


The Sung Dynasty in China. Woodblock printing became much refined and flurished at this time in China.


The Cathar heresy (Albigenses) grew in number at this time in the north of Italy.

circa 1057

The Patarini riot in Milan in protest of the privileges of the Milanese clergy, ultimately resulting in loss of autonomy for the See of Milan in deference to the pontiff. Strife continues between the Patarini and the nobles of Milan for another 15 years.


Pope and emperor come into conflict over who has the authority to invest bishops within the Holy Roman Empire. The dispute foreshadows many more such conflicts in the proceeding centuries.


Emperor Henry IV, is excommunicated by Pope Gregory VII and deposed.


Pope Urban II calls for the first crusade.


Arab merchants introduce papermaking technology from China to Europe.


Chinese legend has it that a member of Emperor Hui Tsung's crowded harem invented the game of playing cards in this year.


In his campaign to restore imperial authority in Italy, Emperor Fredrick I (Barbarossa) lays siege to Milan for seven months. After its surrender, he ordered the city be evacuated and leveled.

c. 1170

Peter Waldo of Lyon founds the Waldenses, a sect opposed to the worldly corruptions of the established church.


Barbarossa is defeated by the Lombard League at Legnano, near Milan. He gives in to their demand for increased autonomy among the city states of northern Italy and is made to kiss the foot of Pope Alexander III.


Pope Lucian III at the Council of Verona, anathematizes the Waldenses as heretics, banning them from the church and denying them the sacraments and any association with other Christians.


The Zohar is published by Moses de Leon. Kabbalism sees it heyday in Spain.


Joachim of Fiore, a Cistercian abbot, submits all his writings to the judgment of the Holy See and dies shortly thereafter. His works, and commentaries on his works, propagate widely, spawning millenarian agitation in reaction to his belief that a new age of the Holy Spirit was due to begin around 1260.


The fourth crusade is fought against the Greek Orthodox Christians of the Byzantine Empire.


The Albigensian "Crusade" in southern France extinguishes the Cathar heresy in that region.


Pope Lateran IV condemns Joachim's theology of collectiva et similitudinaria as tritheistic.


Lifetime of Thomas Aquinas who recovered Aristotle to legitimacy by "Christianizing" his pagan philosophy.

1227 1250

Conflict between the pope and Emperor Fredrick II. Two competing factions are formed among the Italian nobility- Guelphs in support of the pope and Ghibellines in support of the emperor.


The Dominican inquisitor, Piero da Verona, is sent to Milan by the Pope with full authority to exterminate the fifteen heretical sects of that city then taken up particularly amongst the aristocracy.


Emperor Fredrick II is excommunicated.


Piero da Verona is assassinated on the road between Como and Milan, his corpse left to be found in the street with his head cloven by a sword. This act is said to have been by design of several Milanese nobles, but with his death, elevated to the level of the Martyrs, the Inquisition redoubled in its terrible efforts.


Pope Innocent IV orders the authorities in Milan to lay siege to the castle of Egidio, Count of Cortenuova, for his crime of protecting heretics, however the Milanese refuse the will of the Holy See for 12 years due to increasing Ghibelline sentiment in that city.


A Milanese noble, Roberto Patta da Giussano, is also accused of harboring heretics. When he confessed in this year, his castle of Gatta is razed, the houses of the heretics are burned and the bones in the cemetery are dug up and burned.


The inquisitor, Rainerio Saccone, admonishes the Milanese public for opposing and deriding the inquisition in the streets, and gave warnings that all who continue to impede the inquisition would be excommunicated.


Pope Alexander IV condemns the teachings of Joachim of Fiore in totality.


Guglielma of Bohemia founds a small millenarian sect in Milan based on the writings and prophecies of Joachim of Fiore.


Upon publicly condemning the popular Milanese podestà, Uberto, for defending heretics, Rainerio Saccone is confronted with an angry crowd and is forced to flee Milan.


Ottone Visconti is elected archbishop of Milan. He is a confirmed Ghibelline.


An alliance of Ghibelline nobles is defeated on the plain of Benevento by the Guelphs in alliance with Charles of Anjou, the campaign being financed by Pope Clement IV.


The first European paper mill is built in Fabriano, Italy. Paper at this time is made by hand from linen rags and scraps. The technology is improved and kept secret among Italian papermakers.


According to Martin Polonus, writing in this year, a woman had been elected pope in 822 under the name of John Anglus, disguised as a man. She is said to have been found out less than three years later, after becoming pregnant. This story became popular but appears to be entirely fictional.


Guglielma dies. Her followers prophesy that she will be resurrected in 1300 and the new age of the Holy Spirit will begin, marked by the dissolution of the old church and the beginning of a new church headed by women popes.


Matteo Visconti rules Milan under the title capitano del popolo. He is a violent Ghibelline.


Marco Polo returns to Venice from the court of Kublai Khan. His memoirs, Descriptions of the World, are written two years later.


Manfreda Visconti is burnt at the stake by the inquisition for heresy after being elected Papess by the Guglielmites of Milan. She is the apparent subject of the Papess trump.


Lifetime of Francesco Petrarch, the Italian poet and humanist, who is said to have suggested the Visconti motto to Gian Galeazzo before his rise to power--A bon droyt. It has been noted that Petrarch made no mention of playing cards in his essay on gambling (Cavendish 1975:11).


Period of the so called Babylonian Captivity in which the papal curia is moved from Rome to Avingon.


Pope John XXII forms a league against the Visconti in Italy.


Milan is put under a papal interdict.


Matteo is called before a tribunal of the Inquisition at Alexandria to answer charges of heresy and crimes against the church. Rather than submit, his son, Marco, is sent there in his stead at the head of an army, but the inquisitors escape and Matteo is excommunicated for heresy along with his sons and his House unto the fourth generation. He dies in the same year, being succeeded by his son, Galeazzo I.


Lucchino Visconti requests that Pope Clement VI investigate abuses by the inquisition. The outcome of the investigation (if any took place) is unknown.


A zealous Franciscan inquisitor is assassinated in Milan in this year.


Bubonic plague in Europe. Approximately one third of the population is left dead.


Petrarch in Milan under patronage of the Viscontis. During this period he travels to Basel and Prague as well as Paris on official Viconti business.


The Catholic Church issues an ordinance forbidding priests from playing dice and other forms of gambling but does not mention cards.


King Charles V of France pronounces an edict prohibiting numerous games but makes no mention of cards.


Appearance of playing cards in Catalonia (Dummett, et al 1996:215).


Venice protects its papermaking industry by banning the export of rags.


A monk named Johannes writes that "a game called a game of cards" came to Brefeld Switzerland in this year.


The game of cards are supposed to have been brought to Viterbo Italy in this year from "the country of the Saracens" according to Giovanni Covelluzzo in his history of the town writen in 1480.


Gian Galeazzo Visconti becomes lord of Milan.


Valencia Visconti, daughter of Gian Galeazzo, marries Louis of Orléans, brother of King Charles VI of France.


Papermaking technology spreads with the first German papermill openning at Nuremburg in this year.


Charles VI commisions the painter Jacquemin Gringonneur to fashion three decks of playing cards "with many colors and devices." However, there is no sure evidence that any of these were Tarot decks as has been claimed by some.


Gian Galeazzo is invested as duke of Milan by the Emperor Wenceslaus. This emperor specifically is a likely subject of the Emperor card.


Early in this century, woodblock printing becomes widespread in Europe.


Gian Galeazzo's hopes of forging a Kingdom of Italy are lost when he succumbs to the plague. Giovanni Maria Visconti succeeds his father.


Giovanni Maria is assassinated and Filippo Maria Visconti becomes Duke of Milan. The Brambilla as well as the Visconti de Modrone packs were probably painted for this duke at some point during his reign (md-5).


A Minchiate pack of 97 cards is thought to have been painted in this year for Filippo Maria by his secretary, Marzia de Tortona.


Roma (Gypsies) first arrive in Western Europe (Dummett, et al 1996:215).


Roma arrive in Italy.


Council of Ferrara. Ancient Neoplatonic manuscripts become newly available in Italy over the following decades.


Venice attempts to protect its playing card industry from plentiful German imports by banning the imports.


Bianca Maria, Filippo's illegitamate daughter, marries Francesco Sforza, a mercenary then in the employ of her father.


First documented referrence to Tarot cards is made in the account books of the d'Este court of Ferrara.


Death of Filippo Maria Visconti without heir and the end of the Visconti dynasty. After his death, the short-lived Ambrosian Republic is declared in Milan. The house of Orléans makes claim to the ducal crown of Milan by right of descent from Valencia Visconti.


Francesco Sforza defeats the Ambrosian Republic and takes for himself the ducal crown of Milan. Though he pleads his case to the emperor on numerous occasions, he never receives the legitamacy of imperial investiture.

c. 1450

Copperplate engraving begins to replace woodblock printing in Germany.

circa 1450-1470

An unnamed Dominican friar in northern Italy denounces Tarot cards and other forms of gaming and gambling but makes no mention of any occult associations with the Tarot. He states in his sermon that "There is nothing in the world so hateful to God as the game of trumps."


Constantinople falls to the Ottoman Sultan, Mehmed II.


Johannes Gutenberg prints bibles on his new press.


Earliest reference to Tarot cards in the city of Bologna.


The Florentine Academy is founded, dedicated to Neoplatonic studies [?] (O'Neill 1986:110-11).


Galeazzo Maria Sforza, son and heir of Francesco Sforza, marries Bona of Savoy. It is speculated that the Visconti-Sforza deck was commissioned for this event (md-13).


A card game known as Triumphe is played in France by this year (md-5).


Leonardo DaVinci comes to Milan in the employ of Duke Ludovico Sforza.


Evidence of playing cards being used for divination. [?]


Expulsion of Jews from Spain. Kabbalism grows in Italy in response. Italian Kabbalism grows more exoteric in style than the earlier Spanish tradition and Christian Kabbalism develops in Italy during this period.


Bianca Maria Sforza, sister of the Duke, is married to the Emperor Maximilian. On her way to the lavish ceremony, she is said to have ridden on a chariot of gold. This is another event for which the Visconti-Sforza deck may have been commissioned.


Charles VIII of France invades Italy as an ally of Milan.


Louis XII of France, a descendent of Valencia Visconti, takes Milan by force, making good his ancestral claim to the duchy. The Sforza dynasty never fully recovers, and Milan is ever after a pawn of greater European powers.


Copperplate etching is invented, greatly speeding the process by which an artist can create a plate to be printed.


Jewish Kabbalists choose to begin printing their cannon.


An Italian poem relates Tarrochi cards with a person's fate.


An act of English law under Henry VIII accuses Gypsies of deceiving people with palmistry but makes no mention of cartomancy.


Francis I of France initiates the massacre of Waldenses.


John Northbrooke writes that playing card are the invention of the Devil originally using ancient pagan idolatry that was later transformed by Christians into the familiar royal images of the court cards (Cavendish 1975:15).


Trial records in Venice associates Tarrochi with witchcraft.


London card maker, Dorman Newman, issues a special deck of cards created for the express purpose of divination.

Before 1750

Found in the Library of the University of Bologna, and written no later than this year (Dummett, et al 1996:50), is a document describing how to perform cartomancy with a deck of Bolognese Tarocco cards.


Secret founding of the Order of the Gold and Rosy Cross (Cavendish 1975: 26).


First known appearance of the Tarot style particular to Marseille.


Kabbalism has a revival in the Hasidic movement founded by the Rebbe Ba'al Shem Tov in Poland.


Adventurer, Giacomo Casanova, notes that his slave-mistress in the Russian city of Catarinoff reads fortunes in layouts of playing cards. He is so disturbed by her "seeing" his unfaithfulness in the cards that he throws her cards into the fire.


Jean-Baptiste Alliette publishes his book, Etteila, ou maniere de se récréer avec un jeu de cartes, describing how to tell fortunes with standard playing cards. In passing, he mentions that everyone knows about divining with Tarot cards. He later publishes his corrected version of the Tarot.


Antoine Court de Gébelin pens Le Monde Primitif in which he makes the claim that Tarot cards are of an ancient Egyptian origin.


Immanuel Breitkopt refutes Court de Gébelin's statement that Gypsies brought Tarot cards to Europe with the observation that playing cards were found in Europe before the arrival of the Gypsies. Breitkopt is mostly overlooked by later writers on the subject.


Frenchman Nicholas-Louis Robert invents the first paper making machine.


Lithography is invented by Aloys Senefelder in Bavaria.


Napoleon Bonaparte's ill-fated Egyptian campaign


Invention of color printing by Thomas de la Rue. Its first use is the printing of playing cards.


The German, Friedrich Keller, discovers how to make paper from wood pulp.


In Les Cartes à Jouer et la Cartomancie, Boiteau d'Ambly promotes the theory that the Tarot were the original form of playing cards, that they were devised for the purpose of divination and that they were brought to Europe from India by the Gypsies.


Alphonse Louis Poitevin of France invents photolithography.


In various publications, Alphonse Louis Constant (AKA Eliphas Lévi) claims that the 22 Trumps have their origin in the Tetragrammaton of the Cabala (Cavendish 1975: 31).


The Joker card appears in the United States, used in Poker and Euchre. It has no apparent relation to The Fool.


Romain Merlin critiques the implausibility of Boiteau's theory in his book Origine des Cartes à Jouer, but his work goes mostly unnoticed.


The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn is founded in London.


Oswald Wirth publishes his version of the Tarot. His designs also illustrate Le Tarot des Bohémiens by Papus.


The Rosicrucian Order is founded by Josephin Péladan.


American, Ira Rubel, discovers offset lithography.


A. E. Waite, a member ot the Golden Dawn, publishes The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, illustrated with his version of the Tarot. He implicates the Cathar heresy as a plausible origin of the Tarot. Over the following nine decades his pack becomes the most widely distributed version of the Tarot.


Alister Crowley publishes his thoughts on the Tarot in The Book of Thoth. He also prints his own version of the Tarot, rife with sexual symbolism.


Sir Steven Runciman champions the Cathar origin theory of the Tarot in his book, The Medieval Manichee.


Roger Tilley, in Playing Cards, theorizes that the Waldensians were the originators of the Tarot.

Cavendish, Richard
 1975. The Tarot. Crescent Books: New York.

O'Neill, Robert V.1986. Tarot Symolism. Fairway Press: Lima, Ohio.

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