1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Consulate of the Sea

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“CONSULATE OF THE SEA,” a celebrated collection of maritime customs and ordinances (see also Sea Laws) in the Catalan language, published at Barcelona in the latter part of the 15th century. Its proper title is The Book of the Consulate, or in Catalan, Lo Libre de Consolat, the name being derived from the fact that it embodied the rules of law followed in the maritime cities of the Mediterranean coast by the commercial judges known generally as consuls (q.v.). The earliest extant edition of the work, which was printed at Barcelona in 1494, is without a title-page or frontispiece, but it is described by the above-mentioned title in the epistle dedicatory prefixed to the table of contents. The only known copy of this edition is preserved in the National Library in Paris. The epistle dedicatory states that the work is an amended version of the Book of the Consulate, compiled by Francis Celelles with the assistance of numerous shipmasters and merchants well versed in maritime affairs. According to a statement made by Capmany in his Codigo de los costumbras maritimas de Barcelona, published at Madrid in 1791, there was extant to his knowledge in the last century a more ancient edition of the Book of the Consulate, printed in semi-Gothic characters, which he believed to be of a date prior to 1484. This is the earliest period to which any historical record of the Book of the Consulate being in print can be traced back. There are, however, two Catalan MSS. preserved in the National Library in Paris, the earliest of which, being MS. Espagnol 124, contains the two first treatises which are printed in the Book of the Consulate of 1494, and which are the most ancient portion of its contents, written in a hand of the 14th century, on paper of that century. The subsequent parts of this MS. are on paper of the 15th century, but there is no document of a date more recent than 1436. The later of the two MSS., being MS. Espagnol 56, is written throughout on paper of the 15th century, and in a hand of that century, and it purports, from a certificate on the face of the last leaf, to have been executed under the superintendence of Peter Thomas, a notary public, and the scribe of the Consulate of the Sea at Barcelona.

The edition of 1494, which is justly regarded as the editio princeps of the Book of the Consulate, contains, in the first place, a code of procedure issued by the kings of Aragon for the guidance of the courts of the consuls of the sea, in the second place, a collection of ancient customs of the sea, and thirdly, a body of ordinances for the government of cruisers of war. A colophon at the end of these ordinances informs the readers that “the book commonly called the Book of the Consulate ends here”; after which there follows a document known by the title of The Acceptations, which purports to record that the previous chapters and ordinances had been approved by the Roman people in the 11th century, and by various princes and peoples in the 12th and 13th centuries. Capmany was the first person to question the authenticity of this document in his Memorias historicas sobre la marina, &c., de Barcelona, published at Madrid in 1779–1792. Pardessus and other writers on maritime law followed up the inquiry in the 19th century, and have conclusively shown that the document, whatever may have been its origin, has no proper reference to the Book of the Consulate, and is, in fact, of no historical value whatsoever. The paging of the edition of 1494 ceases with this document, at the end of which is the printer’s colophon, reciting that “the work was completed on the 14th of July 1494, at Barcelona, by Père Posa, priest and printer.” The remainder of the volume consists of what may be regarded as an appendix to the original Book of the Consulate. This appendix contains various maritime ordinances of the kings of Aragon and of the councillors of the city of Barcelona, ranging over a period from 1340 to 1484. It is printed apparently in the same type with the preceding part of the volume. The original Book of the Consulate, coupled with this appendix, constitutes the work which has obtained general circulation in Europe under the title of The Consulate of the Sea, and which in the course of the 16th century was translated into the Castilian, the Italian, and the French languages. The Italian translation, printed at Venice in 1549 by Jean Baptista Pedrezano, was the version which obtained the largest circulation in the north of Europe, and led many jurists to suppose the work to have been of Italian origin. In the next following century the work was translated into Dutch by Westerven, and into German by Engelbrecht, and it is also said to have been translated into Latin.

An excellent translation into French of “The Customs of the Sea,” which are the most valuable portion of the Book of the Consulate, was published by Pardessus in the second volume of his Collection des lois maritimes (Paris, 1834), under the title of “La Compilation connue sous le nom de consulat de la mer.” See introduction, by Sir Travers Twiss, to the Black Book of the Admiralty (London, 1874), which in the appendix to vol. iii. contains his translation of “The Customs of the Sea,” with the Catalan text.  (T. T.)