Surrounded with the conveniences of a word processor, form book, and facsimile machine, the modern-day attorney might be tempted to equate the advent of sophisticated commercial transactions with the advent of the electronic age. Just as form follows function, it seems only logical to assume that the use of lengthy, carefully-drafted agreements is reflective of successive generations of sharper, more knowledgeable business clients. Curiously, however, the lesson that history teaches us is different. Looking back in time to the year 1511 at a proposal for the sale of alum between the City of Venice and a banker from Rome, one observes much of the same commercial awareness as encountered in today's marketplace. Although the Renaissance merchant and his legal advisor are centuries removed from today's high-tech, fast-paced business environment, their thought processes show the same business acumen of their twentieth-century counterparts. To accomplish this glimpse back in time, Part I of this Essay will examine the historical setting and the events that were taking place. Next, Part II and III will describe the parties to the alum agreement, in particular the deal maker, Agostino Chigi, and the leaders of the city of Venice.' Some of the details of the agreement itself will then be presented through Professor Jensen's translation of a Venetian manuscript containing the proposal. Next, Part IV will outline the course of events that followed Chigi's initial proposal. The Essay concludes by discussing the benefit that pre-modern legal documents can provide the contemporary practitioner. For the attorney, the wording of the Venetian manuscript is noteworthy because of its similarity to modern-day agreements. For the legal scholar, the political and economic events surrounding the manuscript illustrate the interplay of social history and Western legal thought.
George T. Anagnost and Richard C. Jensen, Looking Back in Time: Sixteenth Century Wherefores and Therefores As Part of the Continuum of Western Legal Thought, 18 SEATTLE U. L. REV. 1 (1994).