Records Management in Italy

By Stephens, David O. | Records Management Quarterly, October 1994 | Go to article overview

Records Management in Italy


Stephens, David O., Records Management Quarterly


This edition of "The World of Records Management" takes us to Southern Europe, to Italy, an ancient land with a great recordkeeping tradition that dates back literally thousands of years. We will review the nature and status of records management in both ancient and modern Italy shortly, but first, a word about Italy itself.

The Italian Republic (as Italy is officially called) is a nation of some 58 million persons, which makes it slightly less populous than Great Britain. The country is governed under a parliamentary form of democratic government, and is subdivided into a total of 20 regions and 94 provinces. At the municipal level of government, there are some 8,000 comuni, or cities and villages. These units of local authority are, as we shall see, subject to special recordkeeping requirements under Italian law.

Italy is a relatively young nation--Italian Unification did not occur until 1861--but the origins of records management in this ancient land date back at least 2,000 years, to the days of Roman Republic and its successor, the Roman Empire. Together these governments produced one of the greatest civilizations the world has ever known. They also made great and historic contributions to records management. Although records management in ancient Rome has been previously chronicled in The Records Management Quarterly, this history is worth repeating here, since the discussion serves as a precursor to records management in modern Italy.

RECORDS MANAGEMENT IN ANCIENT ROME

One commentator has written that "recordkeeping in the ancient world reached its zenith in Imperial Rome." The Romans not only established a sophisticated records management infrastructure in Rome itself, but also in Egypt, Greece, and the other colonies that were governed by Rome throughout its empire. In fact, recordkeeping systems were such an essential component of public life that Rome's administrative organizations and systems were built upon the legal foundation of these recordkeeping systems.

The Romans created their records utilizing wood as the primary recording medium (primarily because of the high cost of papyrus), but fragments of pottery called "potsherd" were also used. Roman documents created on wooden tablets were joined together when they became inactive; a group of related documents formed what was called a codex--a collection of records similar to our modern-day file folders. Within each codex, individual tablets were numbered in consecutive order and indexed for subsequent retrieval. Large quantities of these tablets were stored in a building called a tablinum (literally a "house of tablets"), a facility similar to our present-day records centers.

In the year 79 B.C., the Romans built the Tabularium, a facility adjacent to the Forum, which served as a central records repository for the entire republic. In fact, it has been reported that "every record created in the Republic was transferred to the Tabularium"; however, the republican government also administered an Aerarium, which was a separate record office for the records of magistrates and other public administrators under the jurisdiction of the state treasurer. The Tabularium was administered by a total of fourteen quasestores, and during the days of the republic free access to its holdings was granted to every Roman citizen.

As every student of ancient history knows, the Roman Republic was succeeded by the dictatorial rule of the emperors during the days of the empire, which lasted from 27 B.C. until 476 A.D. During this period the Tabularium lost its position as the central recordkeeping repository of the government, because the emperors maintained their own records in repositories called tabularium Caesaris. During the days of the Empire, separate "decentralized" records centers were established in each province, which contained the records of both the central and the provincial governments, and there were municipal record centers as well. …

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