Olga Shutova. Again about Skaryna in Padua: New possibilities of reading the old documents. Time, context, circumstances and attendees

Padua. Аrontispiece inside the front cover. Bernardini Scardeoni, canonici Patavini, De antiquitate vrbis Patavii, & claris ciuibus Patauinis, libri tres, in quindecim classes distincti. Eivsdem appendix De sepvlchris insignibvs exterorvm Patavii iacentivm. Basileae: Nicolaum Episcopium Iuniorem, 1560. Libri III.
Published in English and Belarusian in Belarusian Review – Winter 2014, vol. 26, No. 4. P. 17-23; Spring 2015, vol. 27, No 1. P. 23 -28; Summer 2015, vol. 27, No. 2. P. 21-28.


The story of probably the most famous documentary evidence about Francysk Skaryna’s life – the 1512 records of his doctoral degree defence at the University of Padua –was for a long time a classic of Skaryniana: the discovery of the Paduan documents by the Polish scholar Stanisław Windakiewicz in 1892, their publication by I. Šliapkin (Braha 1964, 13-4)[1], as well as a sensational addition to them made by Jan Sadoŭski in 1960 – a copy of the archival records of the Episcopal Curia in Padua, in which Skaryna is called secretarii regis Datiae (Sadoŭski 1969, 25-8).

Since Sadouski’s painstaking work, half a century has passed with editing, translating and interpretating of these documents.[2] It seemed that this page of Skaryniana had  been fully studied and became almost banal. And yet, in my unwitting French ‘reclusion’, while again and again turning my thoughts to Skaryna, the first Belarusian ‘expat’, I was lucky enough to find a book – The Acts of the Doctoral Degree Defences at the University of Padua 1501-1525 (Acta Graduum Academicorum ab anno 1501 – ad annum 1525, Forin 1969). Here, in the midst of a long list of doctoral defenses, I saw the records about Francysk Skaryna.

Undoubtedly, the book edited by the Italian Renaissance historian and Latinist Elda Martellozzo Forin would include such records. However, I was surprised by the fact that all conventional accounts of these acts, known to a wider audience through the publications by Sadoŭski, Tatarynovič, Daraškievič and Parecki differed from the texts published by Forin.

This observation provided the impetus for a long research venture and its results are presented in this article.

I must admit that while starting to work on “the Paduan episode” of Francysk Skaryna’s life, I had not had the opportunity to study the article “Skaryna in Padua” by Vitaŭt Tumaš. In it the author highlighted many aspects which – independently of him – I am addressing in this text; due to various reasons these aspects, however, were actually omitted by the “official” Belarusian historiography both before and after the collapse of the Soviet Union. These until presently omitted aspects comprise the history of the University of Padua and its liberal atmosphere, the personalities who attended Skaryna’s defence, the emphasis on Skaryna’s proper medical qualification, and the notion of Gratie.

When I got the opportunity to consult Tumaš’s work, the basic framework of the present article had already been developed. However, it turned out that though the certain dimensions of our research were quite consistent, the main details and arguments differed. The key differences were not only the clarification of the time of Francysk Skaryna’s defence and the names of its attendees (for instance, Bartolomeo Sanvito and others), but the very approach to the text “within the context”, a consideration of new details against the background of the documents of other defenses which have provided me with the opportunity to compare Skaryna’s case with others, and thus try to expand the picture of the Paduan episode of Skaryna’s life. I believe that this text will be interesting for a wider readership and enrich the Skaryna Studies.



The history of Francysk Skaryna’s documents in Padua had started much earlier than Vitaŭt Tumaš once reported (Braha 1970, 38-9). Indeed, in the 18th century Giuseppe Minato and, independently from him, Francesco Dorighello started to collect and classify the data to compile a collection of acts from the University of Padua Archive and a chronological list of all people who had been awarded a doctoral degree at the University of Padua. However, even earlier in 1654 a famous Italian scholar, historian and Bishop Giacomo Tomasini wrote the first history of the University of Padua using the acts of defenses (Tomasini 1654). Later in 1726 a historian and lawyer Niccolò Comneno Papadopoli (born in Crete, then moved to Italy and taught at Padua) published his Historia gymnasii patavini. It referred to the work by Tomasini and significantly extended it. The book contains brief biographies of the Paduan students and lecturers (Papadopoli 1726). In fact, his Historia triggered various controversies and disputes (for example, a record of Copernicus Nicolaus: vol. 3, liber secundus, p. 195, No. 66, under the year of Copernicus’ death in 1543 declares his national affiliation as Polonorum). Papadopoli’s Historia was extended by Jacopo Facciolati whose book on the University of Padua history starts from 1517, i.e. after Skaryna left Padua (Facciolati 1757).

Already in the early 20th century Italian historians Gasparo Zonta and Giovanni Brotto from the Institute of History at the University of Padua referred to the documents from the university archives and published Acta graduum academicorum gymnasii Patavini ab anno MCCCCVI ad annum MCCCCL (Zonta, Brotto 1922).

In 1969, an Italian Latinist Elda Martellozzo Forin continued their work, overcoming such typical traces of time as water stains, scratches, abbreviations, handwriting errors, etc. She brought together, transcribed and publshed original Latin records from the University of Padua Archive (Archivio Antico dell’Università di Padova), the Episcopal Curia Archive (Archivio della Curia Vescovile), and the State Archive of Padua (Archivio di stato di Padova) dated by the period in question. However, as the author admitted, the “technical” difficulties were the slightest obstacles for the publication, as the main problem caused the omission of whole years. For example, volumes 45 – 57 of the documentary records of Episcopal Curia (known as the so-called Diversorum) cover the period from January 1501 to January 1533 (it is Diversorum vol. 49 that contains the record discovered by J. Sadoŭski). This problem apparently emerged due to the hostilities that took place during the war of the League of Cambrai (1508 – 1516) in which Padua was involved as a Venetian vassal.

Additionally, according to Forin, a researcher faces here very illegible handwriting, omissions and abbreviations of both terms (for example, nem. pen. diss. – which is very important in Francysk Skaryna’s case as it means nemine penitus dissentiente, a formula of an outstanding defence when “no one in the audience had objections”)[3] and personal names (Forin 1969, XII).

Forin’s goal was to properly decrypt the old records and names and “restore” their meaning by comparing the acts that are stored in the archives of the University of Padua and the Episcopal Curia. As a result, our four Paduan documents can be viewed in new terms.

Firstly, we have got the opportunity to verify the Latin cursive through a complex decryption made by Forin. Secondly, it led us to the possibility to improve our knowledge about the time and circumstances of the examinations, their details, names of the persons who attended these examinations, as well as to gather biographic details about these personalities. Moreover, in the Skaryna’s case it was particularly important to examine these documents within the context of other doctoral defences that had been taking place in Padua at that time.




Francysk Skaryna’s Paduan texts traditionally begin with a typical for all defenses form: ‘1512 nov. 5. Padue in eccl. S. Urbani hora XVII. Gratie in med. amore Dei mag. Francisci Rutheni q. d. Luce’ (Forin 1969, 226) – “On Friday, November 5, 1512 in Padua, in St. Urban Church at 5 pm…” (Braha 1970, 68).

The defence scheduled at 5 pm is literally eye-catching. This is, of course, a bit late, but still acceptable, since it can be assumed that the members of the Sacro Collegio could take their decision on the Skaryna’s admission to the mock exam (trial exam) quite quickly.

The second meeting of the Sacred Collegio on Skaryna’s case poses more questions. According to all publications,[4] this second meeting (i.e. Skaryna’s mock / trial exam) took place in the same location on November 6 at 10 pm (hora XXII). A Trial Exam that starts at 10 pm! Even if we assume that the first meeting (on November 5) that started at 5 pm was quite short, such a late start of the second meeting devoted to the trial defense which usually lasted for hours seems at least strange.

Actually, while reading the records of the defenses’ archive of the University of Padua, one can observe an obvious trend: the vast majority of defenses took place precisely in such rather “late” time. What was the reason?

In fact, there is quite simple explanation for it: the Italians of the Renaissance measured daytime differently than we do now. Indeed, they divided the day into 24 hours, but their 24-hour division started at the sunset! In other words, the sunset was the hour 0; 1 am – the first hour after sunset, 2 am – two hours after sunset, etc.

One should also consider, that the academic year in the Italian universities in this period began on October 18 but classes usually started after the All Saints’ Day, i.e. about November 2. While emphasizing that the sunset in early November in Italy took place at 6 pm, the famous American researcher of the Renaissance Paul F. Grendler demonstrated compliance of classes schedule of the Italian university’s  at the time with the contemporary counting of daytime (Grendler 2002, 147).

Thus, hora XVII (5 pm) in our first Paduan record on Francysk Skaryna’s admission to the defense and hora XXII (10 pm) in the second document on Skaryna’s trial exam are in fact 11 am and 4 pm respectively!

Hence, a careful reading of our allegedly “jammed into holes” Paduan texts has opened the way for new research which in particular focuses on the context and circumstances of Francysk Skaryna’s exams in Padua.



A comparison of the texts of acts of doctoral defenses at the University of Padua at Skaryna’s times (i.e. in 1501-1525), as confirmed by a number of special studies (Verger 2003, 144-6; Frijhoff 2003, 360-2; Grendler 2002, 175-178; Forin 1969), demonstrates that that the process of obtaining of a doctoral degree in this and in many other European universities took place in three stages:

1) a candidate’s appeal to the Sacred Collegio (Sacro Collegio) for the so-called request of grace (Gratia);

2) trial / mock exam (Tentativum);

3) personal exam (Privatum) and obtaining  doctoral dignity signs (Insignia).

The first stage was the candidate’s request to the Sacred Collegio – Gratia.

The Sacro Collegio was in fact an independent from the university authority and consisted mainly not of the university professors but of local celebrities who had got doctoral degrees in the relevant field. Sometimes, but not necessarily, university professors of great fame were also parties to the Collegio (Grendler 2002, pp. 174-75).

The candidate had to contact the Sacred Collegio with a request of the so-called “grace” (gratia) which was a mandatory initial stage for any doctoral candidate.  In the period in question all applicants, including Francysk Skaryna, had to pass through this procedure. We focus on this aspect because up to present it was out of sight for the the most scholars dealing with Skaryna.[5] According to them, the gratia of the first lines of Paduan document No.1 was translated as “by the name of the love to the Lord” and explained as a special favour granted only and exclusively to Skaryna, the candidate who was a poor and came from far away, in order to enable him to take the exam for free (obviously, this tradition was established by I. Šliapkin’s interpretation of Gratia as “free”). We show that in fact, the term gratia meant a stage of the procedure compulsory for all candidates. Although, during this stage Gratia, the candidantes had the opportunity to discuss the terms for the payment “reduction” (and in case of granted fees, “free payment” examinations were called “gratis”, “amore Dei” – what we will review below).

At this first stage, a candidate should be brought before the Sacred Collegio in person (or authorize one of its members to represent him before the Collegio) in order to prove his ability to pass the exam. A candidate had to provide evidence  that he had already studied for a certain number of years (at least for four years, in some cases for seven years) in a public educational establishement, participated in public debates in person (at least in one and often in two disputations). Additionally, candidates for the degree of doctor of medicine needed to certify that they had worked with a practicing doctor (Grendler 2002, 175) and provide a guarantee of the exam payment which was quite high.

One of the documents Acta graduum academicorum (No. 860) contains a very detailed list of fees that a doctoral candidate needed to pay. An in-depth overview of this document will be made below. At this stage, it should be emphasized that these payments ranged from university to university. For example, Ferrari describes the fees for the doctorates at the University of Pavia in the late 15th century as truly luxurious: 600 lire per exam and a solemn ceremony, in addition a candidate had to buy ceremonial clothes for a large number of people, as well as to pay for food, Malvasia wine, etc. (Ferrari 1899, 32—33).

During the period in question the fees in Padua averaged 20 ducats (120 lire). However, if a doctoral candidate was famous for its origin and wealth, the payments to the Sacred Collegio members and the award ceremony sometimes reached 300 lire (1 lira was 20 soldi, 1 ducat was 6 lire 4 soldi, i.e. in total 124 soldi – Chambers 1992, 461).

Often, however, the candidates requested to deduct at least half or the fee or fully excempt them from paying it. In this case many candidates referred to the distance from home, their special achievements, difficult economic conditions due to war or flood, or, as usual, used their contacts and presented a letter of recommendation (Forin 1969, XI). The Collegio gave its concent by voting. Only during this first meeting was it possible to request grace and present all “mitigating circumstances”. It was at the first meeting when while requesting Gratia Skaryna referred to his povery and the distance he made to reach Padua. Francysk Skaryna’s request fully complied with the established form which also can be found in cases of other candidates: ‘art. doctor pauper qui a longinquissimis partibus forsam per quatuor millia milliaria et ultra ab hac’.

The second stage, Tentativum or Trial (mock) exam, was the most important one. At this stage it was decided whether a candidate deserves to be awarded a doctoral degree. A candidate could appear at the trial exam when he was helped by the promotores which he had already chosen. However, in many cases promoters were appointed by the Collegio during its first meeting. Approximately twelve hours before the exam,[6] and possibly, even earlier, as in Skaryna’s case, a candidate had been provided with the examination themes – puncta (Forin 1969, XI). As a rule, these were two to four extracts randomly chosen from the main statutory texts on the defence subject. For a doctoral degree in medicine the excerpts from the texts by Avicenna, Galen and Hippocrates were chosen (Grendler 2002, 177).

In fact, everyone knows that in the Paduan documents Francysk Skaryna is twice called artium doctor. It is therefore obvious that he previously had somewhere passed an examination in arts. At that time, as in the majority of applications for the artium doctor degree, Skaryna had to be offered puncta from Aristotle works (Grendler 2002, 176), particularly because Aristotle teachings comprised philosophical foundations of the medical knowledge during the Medieval and Renaissance eras.

We know that Skaryna brilliantly presented himself during his Paduan defense of punctis: art. doct. d. mag. Franciscus q. d. Luce Scorina de Poloczko Ruthenus in med. supra punctis hoc mane sibi assignatis et, quoniamelegantissime se habuit, ideo nemine penitus dissentiente, fuit idoneus iudicatus etad examen suum privatum in med. – admissus – (Doctor of Arts and Magister [of Medicine – VS] Francysk son of the defunct Luka Skaryna from Polack, Ruthenian, commented with elegance the aforementioned themes (puncta) in medicine, which he had received this morning,– no objections – and  thus, was found eligible for personal examination in medicine). This fact gives us a reason to ponder the questions: what knowledge should a young doctor obtain? What was studied at the medical faculties? What were the medical practices of that time?



The topic of university medical knowledge of the Middle Ages and Renaissance in Europe has not attracted significant attention of the Belarusian scholars, and certainly needs more thorough research than the cursory glance that could be afforded in this article. However, one cannot ignore such an important moment of Francysk Skaryna’s biography as his career as a doctor (it was no accident that he emphasized the fact of his doctoral title!).

To the time of Skaryna’s defense, medical knowledge went a long way from antiquity, medieval scholasticism to the “return” of ancient authors to the Christian Europe mediated through Arab authors and their Latin translators and commentators (Siraisi 1990, X).

Like all universities in the Renaissance Europe, the medical knowledge at the Faculty of Arts and Medicine in Padua had inherited an authoritative set of ancient and medieval texts that were used for training of future physicians. As a rule, the teaching was organised in three main areas: theory of medicine, practice of medicine and surgery. Medical curriculum at the Faculty at that time relied on the authority of the three autorities ancient, medieval and Renaissance medicine – Avicenna, Hippocrates and Galen. Their works were the main texts for teaching. Already V. Tumaš addessed few lines to subjects taught at the University of Padua (Braha/Tumaš 1970, 52). However, today we have a chance to look it in the curriculum.

Among the medical disciplines taught in Padua the “ordinary theoretical medicine” (Ad theoricam ordinariam medicina) was considered the main one. It was taught to  students for two hours in the morning and was based on Avicenna’s “Canon” for freshmen, Hippocrates’ “Aphorisms” for sophomores, and Galen’s “Tegni” (Galen’s work Art of Medicine or Techne iatrike was more commonly known in the Middle Ages as Tegni or Ars medica) for third year students. These two morning hours were followed by the “ordinary practice of medicine” (Ad practicam ordinariam medicina), which also lasted for two hours and were based on the De febribus for freshmen, De morbis particularibus ad capite usque ad cor (Specific diseases between the head and the heart) for the sophomores, and De morbis particularibus a corde infra (Specific diseases below the heart) for third year students, all taken from Avicenna’s “Canon” (Andrés 2010, 4).

After lunch, the students were engaged in the “extraordinary theoretical medicine” (Ad theoricam extraordinariam medicina) and the “extraordinary medical practice” (Ad practicam extraordinariam medicina). The former was based on the same texts of Avicenna, Hippocrates and Galen, but in the reverse order (‘Tegni’ for freshmen and ‘Canon’ for the third year students respectively), while the latter – on the Book IV of Avicenna’s “Canon” and Book IX of Rhazes’[7] “Almansor” (Andrés 2010, 5).

In fact, all three compendia (“Tegni”, “Canon”, and “Aphorisms”) repeated the same theoretical principles. Students’ training (and, hence, the requirements for candidates at the exam) consisted of memorization and repetition. Moreover, Avicenna’s theory of liquids and temperatures, as well as his description of the diseases were based on the teachings of Galen, which, in turn, developed the ideas of Hippocrates. The advantage of Avicenna’s texts was in the clarity of presentation and its systematization, making his “Canon” an ideal textbook (Andrés 2010, 6).

It should be noted that the surgery and anatomy (Ad chirurgiam et anatomiam) were mandatory subjects in University of Padua. They were read by the same professor who mainly referred to the “Anatomy of the Human Body” (Anathomia corporis humani) by Mondino de Luzzi (or Mundinus), written in beginning of the 14th century (Andrés 2010, 8). Only after famous Andreas Vesalius joined the university in 1537 (much later after Francysk Skaryna’s defense) Mondino’s texts were replaced by the more modern ones.

Indeed, it is not possible to mention all the texts that were commented by the professors during the classes. Handwritten, and from the late 15th century, printed legacy of medieval and Renaissance medicine contains hundreds of treatises, summaries, comments, consilia compilations – special cases of patients’ consultations (Siraisi 2001, 37-62; 63-78). A future doctor should know a lot of them, and in addition, master the methods of conducting a scientific disputation.²²

Obviously, when it comes to the basic settings that a future doctor of Skaryna’s time should know, the lessons about the four temperaments known from school seem quite vulgar because they represent only the top of the iceberg Avicenna – Galen – Hippocrates, which had formed the basis of natural philosophy from antiquity to the Renaissance.

In fact, the physiology of that time involved a comprehensive review of the human body, which started with the “natural”: constitution, fluids (humors) and systems.[8] Body constitution (temperament) consisted of balance of body’s characteristics: hot, humid, cold and dry. When all four qualities are balanced, the person is healthy. Thus, there was no absolute criterion of “correct” physique (such as normal body temperature 36.6°C nowadays); for some people the “proper” was the dominance of “hot”, while for others – “cold”. The cause of the disease was viewed as a body qualities’ misbalance defined by a physician in each case based on the observation of the patient and his secretions. The task of the physician was to restore the balance. For this end, he prescribed a certain diet, medication or, for example, bloodletting, in order to clean the body from excessive amounts of a certain humor, or to add “hot” to the constitution.

Four fluids (humors) were considered central to the functioning of a human body: blood (the most important one), phlegm (all colorless or whitish secretions, most likely brain fluid), bile (red or yellow bile from the gallbladder) and black bile (spleen). It was their circulation that determined a complex balance in the human body.

The major organs and systems associated with them were identified in the human body. However, the followers of Aristotle and Galen disagreed on priority and understanding of these organs’ functions. As it has already been noted, the works of Aristotle also formed the basis of medical education at the time, because the medicine was indivisible from natural philosophy and medical knowledge was considered in the philosophic context (Schmitt 1985, 1-15). According to Aristotle, the heart controlled the whole body, while Galen taught that the heart, brain and liver each managed a certain part of the body. In addition, the physiological principles of Galen actually included a separate circulation systems – venous (related to the liver’s functioning) and arterial (linked with the heart’s activity and controlled blood) and spiritus – the main criterion of the body’s life).

Therefore, a physician was to determine the complex human condition according to his own observations – listening to the heart, studying excrements (dozens of shades were distinguished depending on a person’s age, sex and status), color of the face, cheeks, tongue, nails, etc. Moreover, the most important quality of the medical profession was the ability to predict the desease’s course and outcome. The presence of certain symptoms was compared with the calendar of the prognosis, their evolution and outcomes, while the doctor had to predict the course, timing and outcome of the disease. A university graduate, holder of the doctoral degree was given the right to teach throughout the entire Christian world in the name of the Catholic Church (Grendler 2002, 7). Thus, a medical scientist entered the high medical “society”. He was not a practicing physician (patients often were treated by pharmacists, midwives, witches, and even hairdressers; in Padua, however, the latter was not as spread as it was in the rest of Europe), but namely a scientist. He belonged to the highest intellectual world, being involved into intensive research in medicine, but also mainly in logic, philosophy and theology.

Not surprisingly, in the Italian universities of the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance teaching of logic and philosophy formed the basis of medical education, as evidenced not only by treatises of the distinguished scientists such as “Matching contradictions between medicine and philosophy” (Conciliator differentiarum quae inter philosophos et medicos versantur) by Pietro d’Abano (1472), but also by the statutes of universities in Florence, Bologna, Padua, or Pisa (Schmitt 1985, 4).

Dr. Francysk Skaryna should be considered in a broader context, which was summarised by N. Siraisi: ‘… medieval and Renaissance learned physicians participated fully in the intellectual movements as well as the social and cultural environment of their age. They were scholastics when scholarsticism was the intellectual mode, and humanists when humanism represented up-to-date learning.’ (Siraisi 2001, 1-2).

One of the main requirements for a future doctor was not only medical knowledge – diagnostics and treatment, – but the ability to reason, to carry out the so-called disputations. Doctoral defense was also organised in the form of a disputation. The same puncta, which a candidate had received the day before his defense, were given to the scientific community to discuss. Thus, each of the attendees of the examination could ask the candidate to comment, challenge or reason certain aspect of the proposed topic. Such disputes could last for hours: the longer a candidate could argue, the worthier his defense was evaluated. While describing the defenses of that time, Ferrari stressed that they could sometimes continue for twelve hours. In fact, it was the evidences that provided me with an opportunity to ponder the exact time of the Skaryna’s exam, as 10 pm, as it was previously thought, could not be an appropriate time to start examining disputations! As Ferarri admits, “those who could speak six to ten hours without getting tired and still could find the word were glorified. [Those were] amazing tournaments that could only be finished by night. Judges and participants of the battle left desolated and enthusiastic of themselves…” (Ferrari 1899, 29).

The third and the last step in the process of receiving a doctoral degree was Privatum (personal examination) and obtaining doctoral dignity signs (Insignia). That was a pro forma exam, as its outcomes had been determined at the previous stage. If the examiners had already recognised the candidate’s satisfactory knowledge during the trial / mock exam (Tentativum), the result of the Privatum was predetermined to be successful.

A reader should be reminded that in the time when Francysk Skaryna came to Padua for his defense, the city was exhausted by the military hostilities caused by the war of the League of Cambrai (1508 – 1516) in which Padua took part as a Venetian vassal. The war had directly affected the life of the university, as Paduan citizens used military failures of Venice to overthrough its rule. These troubles and restoration of the Venetian domination were marked not only by the outflow of students and teachers (for example, such distinguished scholars as Pietro Pomponazzi and Carlo Ruini left Padua for the University of Bologna), but even by executions of the most active participants of the uprising against Venice (Grendler 2002, 31). Teaching was suspended during the war and doctoral defenses were very rare. In this period the practice of ceremonial awards of doctoral dignity signs, which had previously been a separate step of the procedure, was considerably simplified.

In the previous century, the award of doctoral dignity signs had been very pompous. A description of these festivities can be found in many sources, such as F. Platter (Gaudin 1892, 99-100). As Ferrari describes: ‘The candidate rode to the cathedral on an ornated horse with musicians. Then the professors and students came, and while the bells were ringing, the entire procession marched through the city.  The candidate made a speech in Latin in the cathedral on a special dais before a huge crowd of spectators. Than he received dogtoral insignia from the bishop according to a special ritual: a medicine book, first closed (a symbol of knowledge it contains) and then open (symbolizing that the new doctor medicine will teach this knowledge to others); gold ring that symbolized his marriage with science; doctoral beret and “the kiss of peace”. After the ceremony, a young doctor, surrounded by musicians, professors, students, representatives of the city administration, gave a feast with lots of food and dancing’ (Ferrari 1899, 32).

During the war, economic and political problems had led to the fact that this ceremony was merged with the third stage, Privatum, and became its logical consequence. Thus, at the beginning of the early 16th century and further on, the Privatum exam and the award of doctoral dignity signs coincide. Hence, in this period the phrase рrivatum examen et doctoratus becomes a typical formulation in the “Acts of the doctoral defences of the University of Padua” (Forin 1969, IX ).

However, the translation of Privatum examen requires closer attention. In the Belarusian Soviet (and post-Soviet) Skaryniana this term is usually translated as “special” exam. This translation is inaccuatate as it impliase certain uniqueness of Francysk Skaryna’s case. When Skaryna’s Paduan documents were published in the Soviet period, the Belarusian scholars somehow adopted the meaning of Privatum as “special” [osobyi] exam, and even did not pay attention to the fact that J. Sadoŭski in his English translation of Privatum, referred to it as “private examination”, which in fact means a personal examination (Sadoŭski 1969, 26). In the Latin original privatum examen means individual, personal”, and it is found everywhere in the Acts of the doctoral defences” as absolutely ordinary formulation for all doctoral candidates who “individually” appeared before the Sacred Collegio.

On the other hand, although the translation of privatum as “special” is inaccurate, as it implies certain “uniqueness” of Skaryna’s defence, some peculiarities in the Skaryna’s Paduan records could be observed: Skaryna was presented already during the first meeting when requested for Gratia as a poor candidate who had traveled thousands of miles. Below, in a special section focused on the defense’s circumstances this fact will be addressed. As for now, we will focus to the question why despite all obstacles, including poverty, war, and distance, Francysk Skaryna was heading to Padua to obtain his doctoral degree in medicine?



From the 15th century the Faculty Arts and Medicine of the University of Padua was famous throughout Europe as the best one of its kind. In this era, the majority of European universities had each its own specialisation – theology in Paris, law in Bologna, medicine – in Padua and later in Montpellier (Ferrari 1899, 12).

Even in such a “narrow” aspect as dissection, the medieval Italian universities were ahead of their northern counterparts. Already in 1240, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire Frederick II issued a decree on the need to include study of human anatomy into the course of medical education. Dissection for educational purposes and autopsy held in Italy were fully documented already in the end of the 13th – beginning of the 14th centuries. Initially, dissections of a human body were performed by a Professor before a small group of selected students. However, already prior to the beginning of the 15th century the university statutes of Padua, Florence and Bologna had contained a mandatory requirement the dissection sessions (called “public anatomy”) must be attended by students (Grendler 2002, 329).

During the 15-17th centuries, the University of Padua’s heyday enjoyed a growing prestige due to various factors. Unlike other Europe’s oldest universities, such as Bologna, Paris, Oxford or Cambridge, the University of Padua was not established in accordance with a special order of the Pope or other ruler. It was founded rather spontaneously, as a result of students’ meetings around the famous lecturers and lawyers. This created a democratic atmosphere of the studentship. The days were still remembered, when the students themselves adopted statutes, paid for their professors’ work, selected deans (Bortolami 2007, 181—204). Moreover, despite the fact that the University of Padua was a Catholic one, specific religious restrictions were not imposed on its students, which particularly contributed to the penetration of the Renaissance ideas to the student and faculty environment.

On the other hand, from its very foundation the University of Padua was characterized by an international character. As of 1331 at least eight student nations were represented at the University of Padua: Teutonici, Boemi, Poloni et Ungari, Provinciales, Burgundionis, Anglici cum Scotis, Cathalani cum Hispanis, Ultramarini, as well as ten other natio Italici. Moreover, this figure had been steadily growing, and by the beginning of the 15th century students born not in Padua and its environs represented more than 87% (Bortolami 2007, 202). Because of the hostilities in beginning of the 16th century these numbers fell. However, already between 1540 and 1609 6,493 students of the Germanica nation were matriculated in Padua, comparing to 3,090 at the Univesity of Bologna. Even in the early 17th century. An Englishman Thomas Coryat testified: “Padua has more international students than any other university in the Christian world” (Bortolami 2007, 202).

During the 15-16th centuries such distinguished persons as Nicolaus Copernicus, Francesco della Rovere (later Pope Sixtus IV), Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Leon Battista Alberti, Paolo Toscanelli, Francesco Guicciardini, Pietro Bembo, Tommaso Campanella, William Harvey, Gerolamo Cardano, Sperone Speroni, Galileo Galilei, Andreas Vesalius studied and taught at the University of Padua. The ideas of humanism were in the air at the Faculty of Arts and Medicine at the University of Padua and resulted into a reference to the ancient primary sources and numerous translations, an exceptional interest in anatomy, clinical medicine and medical botany. Non surprisingly, it was the the University of Padua that has opened the first anatomical theater in 1594 (though this championship is also claimed by the University of Montpellier) and the first botanical garden in 1545 (teaching botany in Padua started in 1533) (Andrés 2010, 5). This brings to mind the publication documents by Florovskij, which demonstrate eventual presence of Francysk Skaryna in Prague performing the duty of the royal gardener (Florovskij 1946; 1988)!

Thus, Skaryna went to Padua, the most prestigious European university in the field of medicine, to obtain his doctoral degree, and this is the most important fact. After all, a doctoral degree was not required to pursue medical practice, it was enough to have a magister degree (and Skaryna had already obtained it, which is indicated twice in the Paduan documents). However, Francysk Skaryna considered it necessary to make all this way, literally and figuratively, in order to obtain the doctoral degree in medicine in Padua. It was no coincidence, since a doctoral degree was the crowning of the scientific career (Ferrari 1899, 30), and a doctoral degree from Padua had double value!



For a long time Skaryna’s phenomenon was viewed only in the context of his publishing and enlighment activities “for the sake of simple people”. His medical education and the highest degree in medicine were not among the priorities of the Belarusian scholars. Meanwhile, it is the combination that allows us to put Francysk Skaryna’s selfless work in the context of scientific and philosophical thought of the Renaissance epoch. The fact that Skaryna saw himself within this context can be confirmed at least by the presence of armillary sphere on his portrait! One should note, that the notion “sphaera mundi” often used by the Belarusian historians to indicate the tool depicted by Skaryna is not entirely correct. On his portrait Francysk Skaryna depicted a sphaera armillaria (armillary sphere, i.e. a sphere with a lot of mobile rings) also known as spherical astrolabe, a model of the celestial sphere around the Earth and simultaneously a tool for determining the coordinates in a starry sky. Its most “replicated” is the one by Johannes de Sacrobosco (perhaps 1195-1256) from his famous work Tractatus de sphaera (app. 1230), which was re-published on numerous occasions. For example, in Sacrobosco’s publication of 1482 (Venice) the armillary sphere depicted as a cover sheet.

Armillary sphere. Joannes de Sacro Bosco, 1482. Sphaera mundi. Venetiis: Erhardi Ratdolt, 1482. Gallica, Bibliothèque nationale de France.
Illustration 1: Armillary sphere. Joannes de Sacro Bosco, 1482. Sphaera mundi. Venetiis: Erhardi Ratdolt, 1482. Gallica, Bibliothèque nationale de France.

The same picture, but as a second page (the first page after the titular one which depicts an astronomer just before the sphere of the sky) can be found in Sacrobosco’s compilation published by Leopoldi Ducatus in Pavia in 1513 (Leupoldi Ducatus 1513, the first page after the title one).

Although armillary sphere had been known in antiquity – Ptolemy mentions it in his Almagest (Genuth, Sara Schechner 1998, 28—3), in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance it became not only a tool, but also a kind of symbol. This symbol incorporates scientific knowledge which is based and at the same time anticipated classical scienfic tradition, embodies God’s inspiration which is sublimated in the canonical and concise artistic reflection (Fairey; Caradonna 2010). The armillary sphere can be found everywhere in the 15-16th centuries. It is both a scientific tool as well as a piece of art and an object of collecting, for instance, of the House of Medici or Federico da Montefeltro, the Duke of Urbino, whose studiolo of 1476 was renovated in New York’s Metropolitan Museum (Raggio 1996, 3-35). It is found in the engravings, paintings, murals and tapestries of Albrecht Dürer, Sandro Botticelli, Giorgio Vasari, Justus van Ghent, Jan Brueghel the Elder, and others. It is quite natural that the armillary sphere as a symbol embodies the power of Knowledge,  both celestial and human. The Renaissance intellectuals considered it a must-have tool and knew how to use it. Skaryna placed it on his engraving portrait – the Portrait of doctor Francysk Skaryna.




In 2002 a new book by Uladzimir Ahijevič Skaryna’s Name and Deeds (in Belarusian: Imia i sprava Skaryny) about Skaryna was published in Minsk. The author offers his own interpretation of the word pauper from the first Skaryna’s Paduan document in which he requested grace (gratia). Ahijevič argues that pauper is not a ‘poor’ but is a reference to Francysk Skaryna’s affiliation with the Knights Templar – Pauperes Commilitones Christi Templique Solomonici. Despite the rather critique reception of this monograph, the doubts about the translation of pauper are getting followers. That is why it is important to discuss this aspect in details.

The Order of the Temple was founded in 1129 and existed until the 14th century. Its activities, mystical philosophy and mythical wealth gave rise to many rumors. Nevertheless, the Order was abolished in 1307-1314 and disbanded by papal bulls in 1312. Individual organizations of the Order continued to exist in England, Portugal, but not in its ‘headquarters’ in France, where they were ruthlessly destroyed. According to the bull of Pope Clement V the property of the Order of the Temple was transferred to the Order of Hospitallers, also known as Knights of Malta, which has survived to the present time (Demurger 2010). However, it is impossible even think about Skaryna’s affiliation with the Hospitalliers, who a fortiori cannot be called “poor” – paupers.

Therefore, despite somewhat ‘romantic’ attempts of some scholars to link Francysk Skaryna with the Knights Templar and especially with Freemasons (who appeared only in the beginning of the 17th century in England and at the earliest – in the end of the 16th century in Scotland), the translation of the word pauper in the records of the University of Padua is banal and clear: ‘poor’! The authorities of the University of Padua, one of the leading European universities, were authorized by a special papal charter to award doctoral degrees on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church. Thus, they could not declare openly in an official document a candidate’s affiliation with the Order which had been banned several centuries before, even if there was a secret Order of the Temple in any European country.

There are other facts that testify in favor of the correctness of the classic translation pauper as ‘poor’. Although Francysk Skaryna’s files from Padua contain no other reference to his poverty, there are other documents in the Acta Gradua which contain similar formulations. For example, the act records No. 727-728 comprise almost the same wording as that of Skaryna’s: the defense of Ioannis Francisci de Clavenega in surgery was sanctioned free of charge, cum ipse sit pauper (Forin 1969, 261-2). Moreover, in some acts very clearly specified conditions for exception or facilitation of the payment amount are listed.  Documents No. 860 and No. 863 Acta Graduum can serve as the examples. We refer to the document No. 860 in which candidate Ubertinus Pedemontanus requests grace of the Sacred Collegia and defines himself as pauper:

1521 maii 29. Padue en eccl. S. Urbani hora XII….

Gratie d. Ubertini Pedemontani.

Demum – d. prior posuit hoc partitum: – “est quidam pauper scholaris art. et med. – qui vellet habere – ambos convenctus – unum gratis et amore Dei – et alterum cum ducatis viginti et cyrotecis; – nominatur Ubertinus Pedemontanus”; Dactis – balotis, obtentum fuit omnibus suffragiis, uno excepto.….interfuerunt…

Tenor ipsius taxe pro convenctu ducatis XX et cyrothecis. (Forin 1969, 338-9).

This request can be translated as follows:

A grace request for Ubertinus Pedemontanus

Finally, the Prior has identified the following part of the meeting: “there is a scholar in arts and medicine in front of us who is poor and who would like to pass both the exams (VS: i.e. in arts and medicine), one – free of charge, another one – for 20 ducats and donated gloves. His name is Ubertinus Pedemontanus”. Ballots were distributed, the majority of votes was received with the exception of one vote.

As document No. 863 testifies, Pedemontanus successfully stood the exams in arts and in medicine and received doctoral degrees in these fields:

fuit tentatus in art. et med. et – fuit – iudicatus suffitiens ad subeundum suum privatum <examen> tam in art. quam in med. (nam. in art. habuit balotas pro*** contra vero octo, in med. – omnes balotas – nem. contradicente)…’


He was subjected to a trial exam (tentativum) [for a doctoral degree] in arts and medicine and demonstrated sufficient knowledge to pass privatum, both in arts and in medicine (for arts:  *** [unknown number of] ballots for and eight ballots against; for medicine: no votes against)… (Forin 1969, 339).

The amount of expenses to obtain doctoral degree can be found in the same document No. 860 in which Ubertinus Pedemontanus asks to pass two exams and to pay only for one of them, as he possessed only 20 ducats and gloves. Pedemontanus’s expenses were distributed as follows:

Table 1. Fees for Ubertinus Pedemontanus’s exam

Pro – d. episcopo

libras 12

soldos 8

Pro – d. vicario

libras 3

soldos 10

Pro – privilegio

libras 6

soldos 4

Pro – missis, apparatu et campanis

libras 3

soldos =

Pro punctatoribus

libras 2

soldos =

Pro – d. duodecim numerariis

libras 4 soldos 6 pro quoquo

libras 51

soldos 12

Pro – d. quatuor supranumerariis

libras 8

soldos 12

Pro – d. priore

libras 4

soldos 6

Pro – d. promotoribus

libras 12

soldos 20

Pro – d. rectore

libras 8

soldos 6

Pro universitate

libras 2

soldos 14

Pro notario universitatis

libras 1

soldos =

Pro notario collegii

libras 6

soldos 14

Pro tertiis supranumerariis

libras 1

soldos 16

Pro d. iuvenibus

libras 12

soldos 8

Pro bidelis

libras 2

soldos 14


Item pro convocatione




libras 140

libras 0


– libras 140


soldos 7

soldos 7


soldos 14

Item pro utilitate collegii

solutis tertiis supranumerariis

libras 1

soldos 16


In tuto


libras 142


soldos 20

bishop – 12 lire and 8 soldi

vicar – 3 lire and 10 soldi

for the privilege – 6 lire and 4 soldi

for equipment and bells – 3 lire

examiners – 2 lire

twelve book-keepers  4 lire and 6 soldi each, i.e. 51 lire and 12 soldi in total

four assistants of book-keepers – 8 lire and 12 soldi

prior – 4 lire and 6 soldi

promotores – 12 lire and 20 soldi Панам прамотэрам – 12 лiр 20 сольда

rector – 8 lire and 6 soldi

university – 2 lire and 14 soldi

university notary – 1 lira

collegio notary – 6 lire and 14 soldi

three clerk assistants – 1 lira and 16 soldi

three young people (witnesses) – 12 lire and 8 soldi

church clerks – 2 lire and 14 soldi

totally for the convocation – 140 lire and 14 soldi

additionally, three Collegio assistants – 1 lira and 16 soldi

In total: 142 lire and 20 soldi

It should be reminded that 1 ducat was 6 lire and 4 soldi (or 124 soldi) and 1 lira was 20 soldi. Thus, Pedemontanus paid for one exam 143 lire, or 2860 soldi, or 23 ducats.

A comparison with various testimonies of that era seems relevant for a more “tangible” assessment of the doctoral degree costs. For instance, an unskilled worker at the shipyard in Venice received 8 to 10 soldi a day which is about 16-20 ducats a year. A skilled worker, for example a carpenter or a mason, received about 30 soldi a day which is 60 ducats a year (Chojnacka 2001, 6).

A comparison of approximate costs of basic foods in the Republic of Venice (which at that time included Padua) in the early 16th century completes this picture. A typical family of four persons (two of whom are children) spent about 20 ducats a year for bread, 2 ducats for meat and 4-6 ducats for sweets, wine and contingencies. The average cost of property rent in the Republic of Venice was 5-6 ducats and rental housing comprised at least 94% of all housing stock in this period (Chojnacka 2001, 7). As a result, we get the amount of 30-35 ducats a year to which the cost of heating and lighting should be added. As a result, a person with a salary of 60 ducats a year did not have much funds left “for luxury”, not to mention unskilled workers (Chojnacka 2001, 146).

Also, one should consider that the prices in Padua were higher and the living standards – lower than in Venice. In 1549 the Venetian governor reported that “Poorer than any other in the Venetian state, Padua was a town that begged,” (Grendler 2002, 38). Most of the Paduan population huddled in homes that they rented for 14 ducats per year (Grendler 2002, 38), the sum which comprises more than half of the amount which Pedemontanus paid just for one doctoral examination!

Such “materialization” allows a reader to better imagine the level of expenditures of the candidates for a doctoral degree. On the other hand, it creates a picture of the Skaryna’s financial situation. For him the exemption from exam payment was a necessity, as he presented himself as ‘poor’ in front of the Sacred Collegio.



Already in 1960 Jan Sadoŭski discovered the document stored in the Episcopal Curia in Padua episcopal curia. It significantly complemented the defenses records  from the University of Padua Archive (Sadoŭski 1969, 25-8). The publication Acta Graduum Academicorum ab anno 1501 – ad annum 1525 (Forin 1969) lists this record as No. 651; in it Francysk Skaryna is called secretarii Regis Datiae. The text of this document was taken by Elda Forin from the Archivio della Curia Vescovile di Padova. It almost entirely corresponds to the text and translation by Sadoŭski. While providing here some additional arguments, we would like to add the voice to the views of those famous specialists on Skaryna, such as Sadoŭski, Florovskij, Braha (1964, 19-21), Galenčanka (1998, 13) who argue that for some time after graduation from the Cracow University Skaryna had worked as a royal secretary in Denmark.

In fact, the question in which part of Europe (i.e. Romanian Dacia or Denmark) Francysk Skaryna worked as a royal secretary is quite complex. Typically, researchers dismiss ‘the Romanian trace because the ‘Romanian’ Dacia, a former Roman province, no longer existed in the Renaissance. It had disappeared so long ago that the medieval and Renaissance coevals  had enough time to forget the Dacian Kingdom (1st century BC – 2nd century AD) and the Roman Dacia (106 – 271 AD).

The argument is clear. However, the delicacy of the situation is based on difficult circumstances and sinuosity of historical memory. The ancient heritage which seemed lost in the barbarian conquests was still fairly well felt in the Middle Ages. For example, the list of the Roman provinces dated around 314 and known as the so-called Laterculus Veronensis or Verona List consists of approximately one hundred Roman provinces organized to 12 regions (or dioceses). The diocese of Moesia (Moesiae) consisted of 11 provinces: Dacia [Mediterranea], [Dacia Ripensis], Moesia Superior/Margensis, Dardania, Macedonia, Thessalia, [Achaea], Praevalitana, Epirus Nova, Epirus Vetus, Creta (Barnes 1982, 201—8).

In turn, the document that was created during the time of Charlemagne refers to the Catholic provinces of Europe, Asia and Africa, and evidently correlates with the Laterculus Veronensis: In Illirico sunt provincie numero XIX. Dalmatia supra mare. Pannonia I, in qua est Firmium. Pannonia II. Valeria. Prevales. Missia superior. Epirus ventus. Epirus nomina. Pampica Noricus Ripevus supra Danubium. Noricus mediterranea. Favia. Dardania. Hermodontus. Datia. Scythia. Creta insula. Achaia. Macedonia. Thessalia (Carolus Magnus 1851, 460).

Thus, the Roman Catholic Church has taken ‘traditional’ geographical names of the Roman Empire and transferred them to its own provinces and dioceses. Antoine-Augustin Bruzen, geographer His royal Catholic Majesty Philip V of Spain, provided a definition of the term ‘province’. In particular he discusses ‘church provinces’ and ‘dioceses’ and lists them. His work was guided by all the same document of 700 years ago. Among the Illyrian regions he mentioned the province of Dacia, though together with such archaisms as Achaia, Scythia, Epirus, Thracia, etc. (Bruzen de La Martinière 1736, 186).

At the same time, it would be a mistake to claim that the name Dacia applied only to the ecclesiastical provinces. Christian writers of the early Middle Ages adapted changes that occurred in the new Europe by placing them on the old matrix of the ancient world. A profound example of this adaptation is the so-called Ravenna Cosmography (compiled by an anonymous cleric about 700, in the version dated by 1119)[9]. As current researches demonstrate, it is based on a map similar to Peutinger table (Tabula Peutingeriana), a map that depicted the road network of the Roman Empire, in 1st century BC – 5th century AD). The Anonymous Geographer from Ravenna  emphatically refers to the works of  Ptolemy, Orosius, Jordanes, Isidore of Seville. He also  mentions the ‘Gothic philosophers’ Athanarit, Hildebald and Markomir.

Our attention was particularly drawn to passages of the ‘Cosmography’ in Denmark literary, in the same paragraph, neighbors two Dacias (Datia minor and Datia magna, inhabited by the Gepids), through the Alps and the region controlled by the Franks. Moreover, Denmark and two Dacias are both located in the ‘four o’clock in the morning’.[10]

In the following paragraph twelve, we find: “At eight o’clock in the morning there is a land of Roxolani. Beyond it, far in the ocean, there is a large island – the ancient Scythia… A wise cosmographer Jordanes called it Scanza. This island is a homeland of Goths, Danes and Gepids.”[11]

There is another addlement, as the Anonymous of Ravenna  confuses Scandinavia (Scanza) and Scythia. Thus, it turns out that Denmark and Dacia are not just neighbors, but actually affined! Furthermore, they are located in the same ‘four hour in the morning.’

Thus, the Ravenna Cosmography lists as neighbors those European regions which do not border on each other. Why did it happen? The fact is that the Anonymous of Ravenna tried to follow the path of Ptolemy and apply world map to the coordinate grid. The division of the day into hours was chosen as  the main measurement, and the city of Ravenna was chosen as the center of the map., the world map was divided into 12 daily hours and 12 hours of night. As a result, both Denmark and Dacia were attributed to the ‘four o’clock in the morning’… Moreover, like many other historians, the Anonymous of Ravenna believed that Scandinavia was actually an island; and this island was a homeland for the inhabitants of both Denmark and Dacia (Podosinov 1999, 227—36).

Further, in Book IV of the  Ravenna Cosmography the pair Denmark (Dania) and Dacia (Datia) can be found, again as the closest neighbors (paragraph 13 followed by paragraph 14):

  • Again, next to these Scerdefennos (Finns – V.S.) of the ocean coast there is a country called Denmark. This country, according to the aforementioned Gothic philosophers Athanarit, Hildebald and Markomir, is the home of the fastest people of all nations… This Denmark has been recently called the country of Nordomanorum (‘northern peoples’ – V.S.)[12]
  • Further southwards there is a spacious area called Dacia, the first and the second one, also known as Gipidia which is now inhabited by Huns and Avars. Two Dacias were described by many philosophers, of whom I read Gothic philosophers Menelac and Aristarchus. However, I have designated these countries according to Sardatius.[13]

It is not surprising that contemporaries and descendants confused and identified Dacia (which moreover did not exist as a state formation) with Denmark, which was a kingdom. A French abbot Jacques-Paul Migne, who in 1851 published a list of the Catholic provinces of Charlemagne (which we have already quoted here). As for the list of Catholic provinces of the Kingdom of Denmark (‘In Regno Danie’), he thought it necessary to add an explanatory note: ‘In Datia’ (Carolus Magnus 1851, 469)!

The plot with transformations between Dacia and Denmark gets an unexpected twist in studies of the Danish historian J.G. Jakobsen. It is him who discovers the landmark when from a simple ‘neighborhood’ Dacia literally ‘moved’ to the geographic place of Denmark.

Jakobsen emphasizes that the descriptions by Paulus Orosius (around 400 AD) who put Dacia next to Gothia between Alania and Germania were later repeated by Isidore of Seville (around 600 AD) and became widely known in the Middle Ages. They linked Dacia with Gothia. The natives of Scandinavia, Goths moved southwards to Dacia during the Migration Period (4th – 8th centuries).

Thus, known as being located “somewhere next to the Goths”, no longer existed as a state, Dacia was moved by the medieval authors to Götaland and Gotland in Sweden. At the end of the 12th century this misunderstanding took ground: from 1192 the papal administration started applying the term Dacia in relation to Denmark. This term became standard with regard to the Kingdom of Denmark (regio Dacia) and even to the whole ecclesiastical province in Scandinavia (provincia Dacia). Thus, in 1226-28 while forming a province consisted of three Scandinavian kingdoms the Dominican Order called it Dacia. The same was made by the Franciscans in 1239. Moreover, in the late Middle Ages the notion ‘Dacia’ was often used with regard to the whole Scandinavia, including Schleswig, Estonia, Sweden, Finland, Karelia, Norway. Even the papal inquisitors in the 15th century were appointed for the whole area called Dacia (Jakobsen 2012).

This conviction went far beyond the church administration. Jakobsen stresses that at the period in question Danish and Scandinavian scholars and students at foreign universities were consolidated under the criterion de Dacia (‘from Dacia’ – V.S.). Moreover, even within Scandinavia this term gained popularity (Dania que nunc Dacia / ‘Denmark which is called Dacia’) (Jakobsen 2012).

Thus a treaty between the Union of Kalmar and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth of June 1419 concluded in Copenhagen (in castro Haffnensi) first refers to the king Eric as rex Daniae, Sueciae et Norvegiae universes while in the next line provides specification: Nos Ericus, Dei gracia regnorum Dacie, Swecie, Norwegie, Gottorum Slaworumque rex et dux Pomeranii etc. (Nowak 1996, 102).



Quite tangled already in the early Middle Ages, the geographical puzzle called Dacia became even more complicated in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance era, when European intellectuals were rediscovering Ptolemy. Lost for centuries (its translation into Arabic has been known in the Islamic world since the 12th century), Ptolemy’s Geographia returns to Europe in the Greek language, and at the beginning of the 15th century it was translated from Greek into Latin by a Byzantine scholar a Byzantine scholar Emmanuel Chrysolaras and his student Jacopo d’Angelo, 1406-1409). This work with its rules of cartography, principles of latitude and longitude and the maps which came with it fell on fertile ground and becoming real ‘discovery’ for Western European Renaissance thinkers, whose thirst for new knowledge and reassessment of the ancient heritage demanded foundations of geography.

The impact of Ptolemy’s map-making was so strong that almost all the atlases printed from 1477 to 1570 were in fact based on the text and maps of Ptolemy (Bagrow 1985, 59-94). Since Ptolemy reflected the realities of the epoch he lived in (2nd century AD, the time of the Roman provinces and Dacia was one of them),the maps printed in the 15th-16th centuries still featured Dacia north of the Balkans, exactly where there was this Roman province was once located. Nevertheless, already in the 15th century many cartographers realized that the maps of Ptolemy had  flaws, inaccuracies and limitations. For example, America, Japan or South Africa do not appear to them. As a result, cartographers and publishers of Ptolemy’s Geographia and related maps (Bologna – 1477, Rome – 1478, Ulm – 1482) make their corrections and additions, or even draw new segments of its maps.

Among these ‘modernized’ maps of Ptolemy, one can mention Tabulae modernae (Ulm, 1482 and 1486)[14]. It contains the first printed map of Scandinavia in which to the north of Germanie pars there is a territory of today’s Denmark marked as Dacia. Moreover, further northwards in the direction of Gottia Oxidentalis one can find Scania et Dacia (Holle 1482, 80). However the adventure of Dacia does not end here. While upgrading and expanding Ptolemy’s maps, Claudius Clavus, Nicholaus Germanus, and publisher of Ptolemy’s Geographia in Ulm Lienhart Holl still adhere to the Ptolemy’s tradition to draw another Dacia on the site of the former Roman province, north of Misia Superior and Misia Inferior (Holle 1482, 98). Thus, one single edition of Geographia may easily contain two (and if one counts also Scania et Dacia – even three) Dacias: ‘Romanian’ Dacia and ‘Scandinavian’ Dacia.

For almost a century, a similar coexistence of two Dacias can be found on many other published maps. This situation is quite natural, as the image of ‘the new world’ was being created gradually. Thus, although the maps were modernized, the adherence to the tradition, Ptolemy’s authority and general respect towards the antiquity made cartographers reproduce the ‘old’ Roman Dacia along with the ‘new’ Scandinavian Dacia (McLean 1997, 45).

As a result, both in 15th and in 16th nearly all printed maps contain two Dacias. For example, a famous Sebastian Münster who published Ptolemy’s Geographia (1540 and 1542) included two Dacias. The first one was located to the north from Greece.

Tabula Europae IX. Geographiae Claudii Ptolemaei Alexandrini, Philosophi ac Mathematici praestantissimi. Libri VIII, partim à Bilibaldo Pirckheymero translati ac commentario illustrati, partim ettiam Graecorum antiquissimorumque exemplariorum collatione emendati atque in integrum restituti. Sebastian Münster, cartographe. Basileae: officina Henrichi Petri, 1552
Map 1: Tabula Europae IX. Geographiae Claudii Ptolemaei Alexandrini, Philosophi ac Mathematici praestantissimi. Libri VIII, partim à Bilibaldo Pirckheymero translati ac commentario illustrati, partim ettiam Graecorum antiquissimorumque exemplariorum collatione emendati atque in integrum restituti. Sebastian Münster, cartographe. Basileae: officina Henrichi Petri, 1552. Source gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque nationale de France

The second Dacia was situated (in the same edition of Ptolemy’s Geographia by Münster) to the north of Germania Magna, next to Scandia Major.

Tabula Europae IIII. Geographiae Claudii Ptolemaei Alexandrini, Philosophi ac Mathematici praestantissimi. Libri VIII, partim à Bilibaldo Pirckheymero translati ac commentario illustrati, partim ettiam Graecorum antiquissimorumque exemplariorum collatione emendati atque in integrum restituti. Sebastian Münster, cartographe. Basileae: officina Henrichi Petri, 1552. Source gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque nationale de France
Map 2: Tabula Europae IIII. Geographiae Claudii Ptolemaei Alexandrini, Philosophi ac Mathematici praestantissimi. Libri VIII, partim à Bilibaldo Pirckheymero translati ac commentario illustrati, partim ettiam Graecorum antiquissimorumque exemplariorum collatione emendati atque in integrum restituti. Sebastian Münster, cartographe. Basileae: officina Henrichi Petri, 1552. Source gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque nationale de France

Formally, we can acknowledge the presence of two Dacias on the maps of the Francysk Skaryna’s epoch. However, if the ‘Roman’ Dacia was a simple tribute to the outdated traditions and, most likely, reproduced only by inertia, the ‘Scandinavian’ Dacia was one of those novelties that cartographers tried to introduce in order bring ancient knowledge into conformity with modern developments. Like all archaisms which are gradually removed, both Dacias started disappearing from the maps (see: Ortelius 1571 and maps published after him), as the Latin names were gradually replaced with self-designations of the states.

However, the strongest support of ‘the Danish version’ of’ Skaryna’s Dacia can be found in Padua itself, or, more precisely, in Venice to which Padua was at that time dependant. There, in 1528 a Paduan cartographer and miniaturist Benedetto Bordone (1460-1531, many researchers claim that he was grandfather of Joseph Justus Scaliger, founder of the science of historical chronology)[15] printed his famous work “The Book of Islands” (Isolario). In it we see Dacia next to Norway, just where is today’s Denmark is located.

It is particularly important that this work reflects the views and ideas of Venetians and Paduans of the Skaryna’s epoch. It was dedicated to Bordone’s nephew, Balthazar, a military surgeon who traveled a lot. Despite the fact that the maps produced in the Isolario were quite schematic and lacking scaling and coordinates, they were addressed primarily to an ‘armchair traveler’ and enjoyed great success, being reprinted three times (Lestringant 2002, 20).

Карта Дании (Datia), Норвегии (Norbegia), Готтии (Gothia), Ливонии (Livonia) и Гренландии (Engronelant). Benedetto Bordone. Isolario nel qual si ragiona di tutte l'isole del mondo, con li lor nomi antichi et moderni, historie, fauole, et modi del loro viuere, et in qual parte del mare stanno, & in qual parallelo & clima giaciono. Con la gionta del Monte del Oro nouamente ritrouato. Con il breve del papa et gratia & priuilegio della illustrissima Signoria di Venetia come in quelli appare. Venice: Zoppino, Niccolò, 1534. Libro Primo, p. VI.
Map 3. Карта Дании (Datia), Норвегии (Norbegia), Готтии (Gothia), Ливонии (Livonia) и Гренландии (Engronelant). Benedetto Bordone. Isolario nel qual si ragiona di tutte l’isole del mondo, con li lor nomi antichi et moderni, historie, fauole, et modi del loro viuere, et in qual parte del mare stanno, & in qual parallelo & clima giaciono. Con la gionta del Monte del Oro nouamente ritrouato. Con il breve del papa et gratia & priuilegio della illustrissima Signoria di Venetia come in quelli appare. Venice: Zoppino, Niccolò, 1534. Libro Primo, p. VI.



The motives behind Francysk Skaryna‘s arrival to the University of Padua can largely be explained by the Europe-wide fame of its Faculty of Medicine. But was it the only factor which attracted a young doctor of arts and magister of medicine to Padua? What other circumstances could affect his decision or, on the other hand, was it his stay in Padua that gave impetus to get involved in book printing activities? In the absence of sources we can only guess on the personal motives of Skaryna‘s arrival to Italy. However, the documents of his Paduan period still provide us with some ‘material traces‘ which could probably help us to better understand Skaryna‘s biography.

The personalities who were in touch with Francysk Skaryna during his stay in Padua can actually be these ‘traces‘. We refer to the names of those who attended Skaryna’s exams in Padua in order to analyze this audience on the basis of the archival records of the University of Padua and the Paduan Episcopal Curia (according to the texts verified in Acta graduum academicorum). As for the names of Skaryna‘s exams attendees in Padua, the situation seems to be rather paradoxical. Already in 1970 Vitaŭt Tumaš published quite a perfect translation of Skaryna‘s examination texts (Braha 1970, 66-77) which feature the names and positions of the attendees. Yet, the Belarusian historiography is dominated by a “conventional” translation, in which these “details” are rather vague (Daraškievič 1988, 70; Šamiakin 1990).

For example, all translations refer to a certain “Mr. Paolo Zabarella AND bishop of Argos (in Belarusian: biskup Argelijski)” which is twice inaccurate. First, this is the same person without any “and”. Second, the form “Argelijski” does not denote his real affiliation with the diocese of Argos.

The Annex to this article contains the full text of Francysk Skaryna‘s documents from the Acta graduum academicorum. The following list provides the names of all attendees of Skaryna‘s exams mentioned in these documents. Their names are indexed by the order of their appearance and the roles of these personalities during the exams.

Table 2. Attendees of Francysk Skaryna’s exams


Thadei Mussati

art. et med. doct. d. mag. viceprioris


Sub promotoribus suis art. et med. doctoribus dominis magistris:


Francisco  de Noali (Franciscus, Francisco de Novali)



Francisco de Este (Franciscus Estensi)



Hieronimo a Mulo (Hieronimus a Mullo)



Bartholomeo Barisono (Bartholomeus Barisonus)



Hieronimo (Hieronimus) de Urbino



Nomina doctorum qui interfuerunt sunt:


Bartholomeus a Volta



Nicolaus de Noali



Aurelius Boneto



Hieronimus Rubeus



Bartholomeus de S. Vito

rev. d. (reverendus dominus)


Hieronimus Mariperto



Antonius de Soncino



Marcus Antonius de Ianua



Iacobus de Curte

d. presbiter


Hieronimus de Cathaneis



Baptista a Galta



Aurelius Boneto



Franciscus Porcelinus



Carolus de Ianua



Paulus a Sole



Petrus de Noali



Andreas de Aliotis



Cristophorus a Lignamine





d.d. Paulo Zabarella

– ep. Argolisensi


d. d. Sixti

tituli S. Petri ad Vincula presbiteri cardinalis S. Romane eccl. vicecancellarii et ecc. Paduane perpetui administratoris – comitisque Saccensis ac. – Studii – Paduani cancellarii apostolici suffraganei

In asistentia


Francisci Fumanelli

de Verona

art. et med. doct. d. mag. univ. artistarum vicerector,

O. Sh.: vice-rector of the faculty of arts in 1510-1511 and 1511-1512 гг. (Acta Graduum Academicorum, p.XXII)


Testes :


Alovisius Zuchatus Tarvisinus

art. doctoris domini magistri


Daniel de Foroiulio Patavinus


Michael Zambonus q. d. Iacobi civis Venetus

art. scholares domini


Gaspar de Gabrielis f. d. Petri civis Padue


d. Valerius de Largis

cler. Paduanus (clericus)

Thus, we know the names of at least 32 persons affiliated with Francysk Skaryna’s stay in Padua. In addition, an analysis of the Acta graduum academicorum texts provides us with an opportunity to clarify the translation as to the names of the persons who attended Skaryna’s exams.

For example, the specification of the translation of Skaryna’s personal examination (November 9, 1512) from the archival records of the University of Padua and the Paduan Episcopal Curia sheds light on the presence of two such famous personalities as “Paolo Zabarella, bishop of Argos” and “Dr. Sisto, cardinal and priest of the titular Church of Saint Peter in Chains”. This phrase can be translated from Latin as follows:

In the presence of Dr. Paolo Zabarella – bishop of Argos; and Dr. Sixtus – abbot of the titular Church of Saint Peter in Chains, cardinal of the vice-chancellery of the Roman Church and permanent head of the Paduan Church – Committee of Sacco (Piove di Sacco, a municipality in Italy in the Province of Padua), a suffragan bishop of the Paduan apostolic chancellery.

Further searches show that at the time of Francysk Skaryna’s defence Paolo Zabarella, doctor of theology and a member of the Order of Saint Augustine, was the bishop of Argos (from 1504); in 1513 he was appointed bishop of Paros (archdiocese of Naxos in Greece (Richard 1949, 233) and remained in that post until his death in 1519 (Eubel and van Gulik 1923, 117, 254).[16] Zabarella was famous as a deeply religious talented theologian, bibliophile and a man of arts (Ossinger 1763, 782). It was also Paolo Zabarella, bishop of Argos, who in February 1512 (i.e. eight months before Skaryna‘s doctoral exam) had served a ‘chosen‘ priest   to confirm a miracle of the bleeding crucifix made by Donatello for Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Servi in Padua. Zabarella was entrusted to collect ‘blood‘ from the face and the right side of a two-meter figure of the crucified Christ into special bottle (Ruffini 2008, 22-49). These miracles maintained the milieu of the Europe’s life in the times of Francysk Skaryna. They attached great importance in the Middle Ages and especially the Renaissance, as they made a great impression on the population. As Vitaŭt Tumaš observes, Paolo Zabarella’s fame was probably the main reason to distinguish his name in the records related to Skaryna‘s exams as ‘the most honorable among the attendees to be mentioned first‘ (Braha 1970, 53).

The next attendee of Skaryna’s doctoral exams is Dr. Sixtus, abbot of the titular Church of Saint Peter in Chains, cardinal of the vice-chancellery of the Roman Church and permanent head of the Paduan Church (Committee of Sacco), a suffragan bishop of the Paduan apostolic chancellery. His full name is Sisto Franciotti Gara Della Rovere (1473 – 1517). Dr. Sixtus was a nephew of Pope Julius II and a grand-nephew of Pope Sixtus IV. A cardinal priest of the titular Church (i.e. a church in Rome assignable only to the cardinal priests) Saint Peter in Chains from 1507, Dr. Sixtus was a member of the papal conclave in March 1513, i.e. just four months after Francysk Skaryna‘s defence.

Portrait of Sisto Franciotti Gara Della Rovere (1473 – 1517). Library of Congress: Minerva Web Preservation Project
Illustration 2. Sisto Franciotti Gara Della Rovere (1473 – 1517). Library of Congress: Minerva Web Preservation Project. http://www.araldicavaticana.com/rx051.htm

From 1509 Sisto Gara Della Rovere served as bishop of Padua, and thereby he was also president of the University of Padua. According to his contemporaries, Sisto Gara Della Rovere was “mediocre, rude and illiterate”. He significantly contrasted from his half-brother Galeotto Franciotti Della Rovere (1471 – 1507), known as the Sisto Franciotti Gara Della Rovere (1473 – 1517), patron of artists and intellectuals. Having chosen a church career, Sixtus “could barely read and write.” However, by numerous intrigues after a sudden death of his brother he managed to occupy various important positions in the church hierarchy and successfully maneuver between powerful prelate groups of Giulio de Medici (future Pope Clement VII), Innocenzo Cybo, Lorenzo Pucci and Bernardo Dovizi da Bibbiena (Moroni 1852, 196; Sanfilippo 1999).

Our analysis of Acta graduum indicates that despite his severe gout (Moroni 1852, 196) Sisto Gara Della Rovere attended personal examinations (privatum) and awards of doctoral dignity signs until 1516 when his health condition became seriously aggravated.

Contrary to Skaryna’s defense acts, some documents from Acta graduum include the full name and regalia of Dr. Sixtus. For instance, the record No. 719 contains the following inscription: ‘d. d. Sixti de Ruvere – tituli S. Petri ad Vincula prespiteri cardinalis S. Romane eccl. vicecancellarii et eccl. Paduane presulis – et huius – Studii cancellarii apostolici suffrageneo ac vicario in spiritualibus generali’ (Forin 1970, 257).

His presence at Francysk Skaryna‘s exams tells much. Obviously, Dr. Sixtus’s attention to Skaryna’s case can merely be explained by his curiosity, as Skaryna’s defense did not provided the Sacred Collegia members with an opportunity to get generously paid. On the other hand, how difficult was it for Francysk Skaryna, to find himself in the world of intrigues, connections and client relationships? How did he overcome these invisible currents?  Who were his potential patrons?

One can suppose that it was Thaddeo Mussato (Mussatus), another “honorable guest” of Skaryna’s defense, who could assume the role of such ‚guardian‘. Doctor of medicine and arts, Thaddeo Mussato was a vice-prior of the faculty. He played an important role in the case of Francysk Skaryna. Although Mussato was not his promoter, he represented Skaryna at his first appearance before the Sacred Collegio, reported the circumstances of his arrival, and allegedly chaired all examination meetings. Moreover, Mussato was known as a medical practitioner (Piovan 2009, 228). One more detail should be mentioned: Thaddeo Mussato was promoter of Sperone Speroni, a famous Renaissance humanist and scholar who received his doctorate in arts from the University of Padua in May 1518 (Cammarosano 1920, 11; Forin 1970, 278-81).

One should generally note that close and even “clientelistic” family and business ties linked the University of Padua with the famous Venetian families, church and city authorities. This can be confirmed not only by referring to the names of relatives in Acta graduum. For example, Paolo Zabarella probably originated from one of the most influential Paduan families and was a relative of the famous cardinal Francesco Zabarella. The latter is known as a supporter of Padua’s alliance with Venice, professor at the University of Padua and fighter against “schism”, including the Hussite heresy (Forin 2007, 163-80; Ott 1913).[17] He could also be a relative of Jacopo Zabarella, a renowned philosopher and commentator of Aristotle, who was once invited by Stefan Batory.[18] This situation illustrates complicated economic and social ties between the Church and secular authorities in the 16th century determined by family and business relations. The stories of the personalities who we will talk about hereafter, serve as examples of this sophisticated and interconnected context.



Unfortunately, biographical information on many of the attendees of Francysk Skaryna‘s exams is quite limited, although the data on some of them (like Hieronimus de Urbino or Hieronimus a Mullo) can be found in the works of Papadopoli (1726 152-3) and Faggiani (1837, 221). However, the author‘s efforts to find information about other personalities of Skaryna’s doctoral defense were successful in three cases. We refer to these personalities in the order of their appearance in the original Acta graduum academicorum. Among the doctors who participated in the disputations (nomina doctorum qui interfuerunt sunt) there were:

  • Bartholomeus de S. Vito – rev. d. (reverendus dominus),
  • Antonius de Soncino,
  • Cristophorus a Lignamine,

The first one in this list is Bartolomeo Sanvito (1433/35 – 1518). The Getty Union List of Artist Names (ULAN) informs us that Sanvito was born in 1435 in Padua and died after 1518. At the same time, Albinia de la Mare (2009), a renowned authority in 15th century Italian manuscripts, argues that Sanvito died in 1511. However, the documents from the Vatican Library give evidence that even in 1518 Sanvito was alive. Moreover, according to Acta graduum academicorum, the last record of Sanvito‘s presence at the exams at the University of Padua dates back to February 1, 1516 (Forin 1969, 256).

Bartolomeo Sanvito was a famous Italian Renaissance scribe, illuminator, collector of antiques and one of the founders of italic script (together with the publisher Aldo Manuzio). For many centuries his name had completely disappeared from the Renaissance history and returned from the oblivion only 60 years ago. Only today the value and amplitude of his work comes to the researchers in full force. As of know, more than one hundred manuscripts with Sanvito’s works are known. They include copies of Horace, Eusebius, Virgil, Caesar et al. Sanvito’s elegant style played a major role in the process of replacing gothic (or blackletter) script with the italic style (cursive). His comments and innovations in using gilt goatskin instead of silk or velvet for book covers became fashionable not only in the book printing business of Padua, but also throughout Italy (Hobson 2009, 7, 10).

Bartolomeo Sanvito was born and raised in Padua. He worked for several years in Rome, travelled throughout Italy, and then went back to Padua. It is known that the list of his patrons and clients included high-ranked officials of the church and secular hierarchy. Among them were cardinal Francesco Gonzaga and Pope Sixtus IV (a granduncle of Sisto Gara Della Rovere who attended Francysk Skaryna’s doctoral defense). Another example of Sanvito’s circle is Marcantonio Morosini. He originated from an ancient and powerful Venetian family, which members were doges of Venice, influential politicians and artists. It is worth noting, that a month before Skaryna the defence of Francesco Morosini took place in Padua and the composition of the Sacred Collegio was the same. Francesco Morosini was a son of Domenico Morosini, a famous rhetoric, author of De bene instituta re publica (On the well managed republic) and a representative of the University of Padua at the Venetian Senate (Consiglio dei Pregadi) (Finzi 2012; Gullino 2012).

Some manuscripts also indicate that Sanvito was a priest and a canon (since 1508) at the Collegiata di Santa Giustina di Monselice in Padua (Dickerson 2009, 39-62). It is therefore not surprising that Skaryna’s defense records call him reverendus dominus. At the same time, Acta graduum refer to Sanvito as doctor (Nomina doctorum qui interfuerunt sunt). This also complies with his canon status, as only priests with a university education and scientific degree could be canons according to the rules established by the Council of Basel (1431-1449).

The Sanvito’s statuses of doctor and reverendus dominus from Acta graduum academicorum are confimed by his close friend Bernardo Bembo. Being one of the most famous architects and antique collectors of his time, Bembo left an inscription about it in the collection of his works: “from the collection of the Reverend Dominus Bartolomeo Sanvito, my famous compatriot, on the occasion of the birth of my son Bartolomeo, who was also born in Padua” (Fricker 2009).

Other evidence which reveals a totally different ‘track‘ of our research on possible acquaintances of Francysk Skaryna (and Sanvito) comes from Pietro Bembo, a famous humanist, writer, scientist, and the  eldest son of Bernardo Bembo. We found this evidence in an old book, dedicated to the correspondence of a famous Venetian Aldo Manuzio (1449-1515) who made the Italian printing prominent thanks to the excellent level of quality and quantity of his books, and their new format (octavo and italics). Aldo’s printing sign ‘dolphin’ and his Aldines became certain symbols of Venice; the city itself was a leading center of book printing of that time. In the correspondence of 1501, one can find the letter of “Mr. Lorenzo da Pavia, a resident of Venice and a great friend Aldo Manuzio, as well as a correspondent and permanent representative of marquise Isabella d‘Este in her communication with painters, book printers and antique collectors” (it is worth mentioning that the same Lorenzo da Pavia in 1500 introduced a ‘certain’ Leonardo da Vinci to Isabella d’Este, marquise of Mantua, which resulted into her famous portrait sketch). They negotiated a purchase of books by Isabella d‘Este from Aldo Manuzio. These books by Virgil, Ovid and Petrarch with “letters canzelaresche (i.e. italics) were of unprecedented beauty.” It is also mentioned that Petrarch’s manuscript was prepared for publication by Pietro Bembo, who had got it ‘from a Paduan’ Sanvito (Baschet 1867, 9-11).

Thus, an intuitive assumption made in 1964 by Vitaŭt Tumaš – while in Padua Francysk Skaryna could not but visited Venice where Aldo Manuzio‘s publishing activities flourished, a Czech Bible was published (1506) and Cyrillic fonts for the first Serbian books (1493-95) were ordered – has got its development: Skaryna certainly did know Bartolomeo Sanvito which means that he did know about Sanvito’s activities and perspectives of book printing!

‘Materialization’ of possible Francysk Skaryna’s connections finds its continuation in the cases of two other attendees of his doctoral defense – Antonius de Soncino and Cristophorus a Lignamine.

The name of Antonius de Soncino is particularly noticeable. Acta graduum academicorum ab anno 1501 ad annum 1550: index nominum cum aliis actibus praemissis contain his full name and regalia – Antonius de Soncino de Clementibus, Patavus doctor artium et medicine (Forin 1982, 167). He originated from a dynasty of Italian Ashkenazi Jews which derives its name from the town of Soncino in Lombardy. The family was known for printing of both Jewish and Latin books from 1484 to 1547 in Soncino, Naples, Brescia, Fano, Rimini and Constantinople. The first edition of the Hebrew Bible was published by the Soncino family (1491). Five generations of this family printed in total about 130 books. The significance of their work was emphasized in one of their publications: “Out of Zion shall go forth the Law, and the word of the Lord from Soncino” (Karp 1991; Avanzi 1936). Perhaps, the assumption of Antonius de Soncino’s kinship with the family of famous printers may seem far-fetched, particularly because his Jewish roots could be incompatible with the doctoral degree (it is important to remember that Antonius de Soncino is called ‚doctor of arts and medicine‘). At the same time, this possibility could not be excluded altogether, as the University of Padua was at that time the only university in Europe which not only enrolled Jewish students but also provided them with a possibility to obtain doctoral degrees. For instance, Israeli scholars identified 325 Jews who from 1409 to 1816 received doctoral degrees from the University of Padua (Shasha 2002, 388-94, 407; Ruderman 1995, 105).

Moreover, another aspect should be considered in this regard. For instance, the most famous member of the Soncino family Gershon (1460-1534) – who published nearly one hundred books in Hebrew and as many in Latin – usually used a latinized versions of his name Jeronimo or Girolamo (Hieronymus Girolamo Soncino). Perhaps, Antonius de Soncino could act the same way. On the other hand, despite its promising perspectives this hypothesis can be wrong and Antonius de Soncino could just be a namesake of the famous family of printers. The doubts about it are even stronger because around that time there lived another Soncino, not related to the family of printers. His name was (Raymond, Raimundus) de Soncino and he was the ambassador of the Duke of Milan in London. His name repeatedly appears in the correspondence of the Duke of Milan. His letters to the Duke about the journey of John Cabot and his discovery of North America in 1497 are particularly known (Biggar 1911, 15-21). Nevertheless, the idea that someone related to the book printing was among the attendees of Skaryna‘s doctoral exams is so attractive that it is difficult to discard it. Therefore, it requires further verification.

Another participant of Francysk Skaryna’s exams is Christophorus a Lignamine, Paduanus filius Vincentii notarii, scolaris artium et medicine, doctor collegii artistarum (Forin 1982, 96). There is not much information about him. An exception is his short but pompous biography written by Niccolò Comneno Papadopoli in his Historia gymnasii Patavini (Papadopoli 1726, 320). The biography emphasizes Lignamineus’s talent and his comments of Averroes, highly valued by his contemporaries. Papadopoli refers to a three-volume book by a Paduan canon Scardeonius (Bernardini Scardeonii, canonici Patavini. De antiquitate urbis Patavii, et claris civibus Patavinis in quindecim Clases distincti. Libri tres: Eiusdem appendix de sepulchris insignibus exterorum Patavii iacentium). It was published in 1560 and praised prominent personalities of Padua. Cristophorus a Lignamine was among them. He is distinguished as an antique collector and even the author of some publications for senator Sebastiano Fuscareno, though it is unknown when they were published (Papadopoli 1726, 321).

Moreover, Papadopoli notes that Cristophorus a Lignamine had an older brother Desiderius, a well-known writer.[19] In addition, since Cristophorus a Lignamine came from Padua, it seems reasonable to focus on another Paduan-born personality – a famous bibliophile, scholar and Catholic bishop Francesco de Lignamine (1400-1462). Many Italian scholars (Strnad 1986) believe that he was a relative of Johannes Philippus de Lignamine (1428 – ?), the first Italian printer who published his first book in Messina in 1470 and thus ended German monopoly on printing in Italy. It is known that he had two children – Angelo and Antonio. One of them, Antonio, later became archbishop and was involved in printing books. Moreover, in his family coat of arms he used symbols of Della Rovere. This fact is not accidental, as Francesco Della Rovere (Pope Sixtus IV) was one of the closest and most powerful patrons of his father Johannes Philippus de Lignamine. Moreover, Francesco Della Rovere commissioned Johannes Philippus de Lignamine to print numerous books. After the death of Pope Sixtus IV Johannes Philippus de Lignamine went to Spain and worked for King Ferdinand. The latest information about him dates back to 1491 when he sent his last known letter from Spain (Alaimo 1988).

Of course, it is impossible to precisely confirm that Cristophorus a Lignamine was a direct relative of Johannes Philippus de Lignamine. However, it is also impossible to reject another hypothesis. Johannes Philippus de Lignamine personally knew and was supported by Francesco Della Rovere (Pope Sixtus IV). His supposed relative Cristophorus a Lignamine was at least acquainted with Sisto Gara Della Rovere, a grand-nephew of Sixtus IV (as both attended Skaryna’s exam).

Targeted research on personalities provides us with the opportunity to see new aspects of the case of Francysk Skaryna. Kinships, friendships and guardian relationships – and all this reveals a picture of the complex world, entwined with a web of intrigues, connections and relationships in the University of Padua of Skaryna’s times. The fact that among 32 identified attendees of Skaryna‘s defense there were at least three persons related to printing activities suggests new hypotheses. For example, where and how Skaryna got an idea to publish books.



Three exam meetings in Padua, during which Francysk Skaryna has been awarded a doctoral degree in medicine, are only a few days of his life. Nevertheless, these ‘only’ three meetings provide us with extensive documentary materials, and this topic is still far from being exhausted. Step by step, the author was trying to unravel this puzzle, linked with a short but apparently the life-changing moment of Skaryna‘s biography.

The well-known archival records of the University of Padua opened new opportunities for their interpretation which cannot have “minor” details. For example, despite its alleged “secondariness”, we cannot dismiss the beginning of Francysk Skaryna’s exam at 10 p.m. In fact, this obvious detail did not attracted much attention of the researchers unfamiliar with archival records of other doctoral candidates whose exams were also featured by extremely late beginning This could quite naturally raise the question how the time of day was calculated in Italy in the 16th century. This gave us an opportunity to clarify the exact time of Skaryna‘s exams. Instead of hora XVII (5 p.m.) for gratia and hora XXII (10 p.m.) for Tentativum we got totally “usual” 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.

A comparison of the texts of doctoral defenses acts at the University of Padua at Skaryna’s time made us focusing on other areas which encompass administrative procedures, formalities and stages of doctoral degrees in the 16th century Europe in general and at the University of Padua in particular. The study of this “bureaucratic routine” allowed us to clarify some allegedly “minor” issues, like stages of doctoral degrees (Gratia, Tentativum, Privatum), obligatory for all applicants. Moreover, these specifications are very important, as they rearrange the emphasis on the issue of the alleged exclusivity of the case of Francysk Skaryna. Indeed, he was really poor (pauper). Thus, he was granted not only grace (gratia) to be admitted for the exam, but also the right to take it for free, gratis (amore Dei). However, it was a part of the ordinary procedure, as the archival records of other doctoral candidates demonstrate.

A careful reading of the entire context of the examination procedure and its accurate translation also confirm that the Privatum in Skaryna’s case was not “special”, but “personal” or “individual” exam and constituted a part of the doctoral degree requirements at the University of Padua.

In fact, the idea to have a look at the context of Francysk Skaryna’s examinations provided us with the opportunity to see the procedure, examination texts and the degree award criteria. In this regard, it seemed not only useful, but also rational to focus on the atmosphere of Skaryna’s times through the development of medicine during the transition from the Middle Ages to the early Modern world. Keeping in mind further career of Francysk Skaryna, it is not difficult to imagine young Francysk in Italy where he witnessed the period when medical scientists formed the vanguard of the social and cultural milieu of his time, when medical knowledge was inseparable from logic, philosophy and theology, when the ideas of humanism became intellectually fashionable, and when the cult of Book reigned.

Within this context, an analysis of the attendees of Skaryna‘s exams has a particular importance. The figures of Bartolomeo Sanvito, Antonius de Soncino, Cristophorus a Lignamine might be related (and Sanvito was undoubtedly related) to the book printing. Thus, the author‘s assumptions on the alleged acquaintances and their impact on the future life of doctor and printer Francysk Skaryna became more “materialized”.

The author hopes that her attempt to demonstrate cultural and political climate of Skaryna’s exams in Padua through the analysis of the examiners’ personalities (bishop Paolo Zabarella and cardinal Sisto Gara Della Rovere), will give an impetus to new studies in this area.

The arrival of Francysk Skaryna – doctor of arts and a poor secretary of the King of Denmark – in Padua was not an accident. He intended to receive his doctoral degree in medicine from the University of Padua, famous for its medical faculty, tolerance, international character and scientific innovations. Skaryna’s stay in Padua, at the crossroads of the Renaissance ideas, politics and business, was obviously an important period that determined his further professional activities.




Forin, Elda Martellozzo (ed.), MCMLXIX (1969). Acta Graduum Academicorum ab anno 1501 – ad annum 1525, Instituto per la storia dell’Università di Padova, Padova: Antentore, pp. 226-8:

№ 649 (р. 226)

1512 nov. 5. Padue in eccl. S. Urbani hora XVII. Gratie in med. amore Dei mag. Francisci Rutheni q. d. Luce.

Convocato – sacratissimo collegio – art. et med. doctorum – de mandato – art. et med. doct. d. Thadei Mussati viceprioris, — d. prior dixit: “Excellentissimi d. doctores, causa convocationis – est ista: est quidam – art. doctor pauper qui a longinquissimis partibus forsam per quatuor millia milliaria et ultra ab hac – civitate pro argumentando famam – huius – florentissimi Gimnasii – ad illam se contulit et vellet sibi concedi de – gratia speciali – in med. – Qui quidem – doctor – nominator d. Franciscus q. d. Luce Scorina de Poloczko Ruthenus”. – Fuit introductus dictus mag. Franciscus et petiit – sibi concede gratie in med. amore Dei. – Datis ballotis, fuit obtentum dictum partitum, nem.discr.

A.A.U. (Archivio Antico dell’Universita di Padova), 321, f. 5v


№ 650 (р. 226-7)

1512 nov. 6. Padue in eccl. S. Urbani hora XXII. Tentativum in med. d. mag. Francisci Rutheni.

Convocatis – doctoribus sacri collegii d. art. et med. doctorum – in loco solito ex mandato – art. et med. doct. d. mag. Thadei Mussati viceprioris, tenatus fuit – art. doct. d. mag. Franciscus q. d. Luce Scorina de Poloczko Ruthenus in med. supra punctis hoc mane sibi assignatis et, quoniam – elegantissime se habuit, ideo – nem. discr., fuit idoneus iudicatus et – ad examen suum privatum in med. – admissus, sub promotoribus – d. mag. Francisco de Noali, d. mag. Francisco de Este, d. mag. Hieronimu a Mulo, d. mag. Bartholomeo Barisono et d. mag. Hieronimo de Urbino. Qui quidem d. Franciscus iuravit.

Nomina doctorum qui interfuerunt : d. mag. Thadeus Mussatus viceprior, d. mag. Bartholomeus a Volta, d. mag. Franciscus de Noali, d. mag. Franciscus de Este, d. mag. Hieronimus a Mullo, d. mag. Nicolaus de Noali, d. mag. Aurelius Boneto, d. mag. Hieronimus Rubeus, rev. d. Bartholomeus de S. Vito, d. mag. Hieronimus Mariperto, d. mag. Bartholomeus Barisonus, d. mag.  Hieronimus de Urbino, d. mag. Antonius de Soncino et d. mag. Marcus Antonius de Ianua.

A.A.U., 321, f. 6


№ 651 (р. 227-8)

1512 nov. 9 (footnote 1)

Privatum examen in med. – d. mag. Francisci q. d. Luce Scorina de Poloczko Rutheni secretarii Regis Datiae coram ultrascripto reverendissimo d. suffraganeo et vicareo, (footnote 2) – in asistentia – art. et med. doct. d. mag. Francisci Fumanelli (footnote 3) – univ. artistarum vicerect., — qui fuit – nem. pen. diss. – approbatus, sub promotoribus suis art. et med. doctoribus dominis magistris Bartholomeo Barisono qui dedit insignia, Francisco de Novali, Francisco Estensi, Hieronimo a Mullo et Hieronimo de Urbino (footnote 4).

Testes : — art. doctoris domini magistri Alovisius Zuchatus Tarvisinus et Daniel de Foroiulio Patavinus ; art. scholares domini Michael Zambonus q. d. Iacobi civis Venetus et Gaspar de Gabrielis f. d. Petri civis Padue ; d. Valerius de Largis cler. Paduanus.

Diversorum (Archivio della Curia Vescovile di Padova), 49, f. 122

Footnotes to Annexes

(1) Padue in ep. pal. loco solito examinum –

Convocatis – doctoribus sacri collegii d. artistarum et medicorum – de mandato – art. et med. doct. d. Thadei Mussati viceprioris – (A.A.U., 321, f. 6v)

(2) Coram – d.d. Paulo Zabarella – ep. Argolisensi – d. d. Sixti – tituli S. Petri ad Vincula presbiteri cardinalis S. Romane eccl. vicecancellarii et ecc. Paduane perpetui administratoris – comitisque Saccensis ac. – Studii – Paduani cancellarii apostolici suffraganei – ac vicario – (A.A.U., 321, f. 6v)

(3) De Verona

(4) Nomina – doctorum qui interfuerunt sunt: d. mag. Thadeus Mussatus viceprior, d. mag. Bartholomeus a Volta, d. presbiter Iacobus de Curte, d. mag. Hieronimus de Cathaneis, d. mag. Nicolaus de Ianua, d. mag. Baptista a Galta, d. mag. Franciscus de Noali, d. mag. Franciscus de Este, d. mag. Hieronimus a Mullo, d. mag. Nicolaus de Noali, d. Aurelius Boneto, d. mag. Hieronimis Rubeus, rev. d. Bartholomeus de S. Vito, d. mag. Hieronimus Mariperto, d. mag. Bartholomeus Barisonus, d. mag. Hieronimus de Urbino, d. mag. Franciscus Porcelinus, d. mag. Carolus de Ianua, d. mag. Antonius de Soncino, d. mag. Paulus a Sole, d. mag. Petrus de Noali, d. mag. Andreas de Aliotis, d. mag. Marcus-Antonius de Ianua, d. mag. Cristophorus a Lignamine. (A.A.U., 321, f. 6v).



[1] Quoted from: Braha 1964, 13—4: Windakiewicz St., 1892. Materiały do historii Polaków w Padwie. Archiwum do Dziejów Literatury i Oświaty w Polsce. Tom VII. Kraków, s. 158; Šliapkin I. 1892. К биографии Франциска Скорины, Журнал Министерства Народнаго Просвещения, No.4. Санкт-Петербург, pp. 382—385.

[2] See: Dingley 1980; Halienčanka 2002; Daraškievič 1988; Podokšin 1981; Šamiakin 1990; Tumaš 1989.

[3] It should be noted that while looking the Acta Graduum Academicorum ab anno 1501 – ad annum 1525, one can find another simplified formula of nemine penitus dissentientein maiori parte. Also, it should be stressed that the members of Sacro Collegio were generally interested in doctoral defences because doctoral degrees fees represented significant bonus to their salaries (see Grendler 2002, 24 and 179—80; Forin 1969, 338—9).

[4] J.L.Niemiroŭski in his work Франциск Скорина: жизнь и деятельность белорусского просветителя (Francysk Skaryna: life and activities of the Belarusian enlightener, Minsk 1990), within the context of Skaryna’s studies in Cracow emphasized that at that time division started the new day started at the sunset (p. 188). He further admited that the exams on November 5 and 6 started at 5 pm and 10 pm which correspods to today’s 10 am and 3 pm respectively (с. 202 i 204). At the same time, this observation of Niemiroŭski remained almost unnoticed by a wider scientific audience: “Yet it was quite late, because at 10 pm” – argued V.Tumaš. Nemirovsky also believed that the sunset was at 5 pm, but the calculation shows that the sunset in Italy in November took place at 6 pm (according to Grendler 2002) which creates one hour difference in calculations.

[5] Except for V.Tumaš who interpreted gratia as “grace, merciful giving, merciful recognition” (Braha 1970, 52), however this remained unnoticed.

[6] Although some historians speak about twenty-four hours for preparation (See: Grendler 2002, 177).

[7] Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi (latinized name Rhazes), author of famous medical compendium devoted to the ruler Mansur, known in medieval Europe as Al-Mansuri.

[8] This short description of human physiology is based on a synopsis from: Grendler (2002, 314-328) and Siraisi (1990).

[9] First published in Itineraria Romana, Joseph Schnetz (ed.), 1940. Vol 2: Ravennatis Anonymi Cosmographia et Guidonis Geographia, Leipzig,: Teubner. Volume 2 contains The  Cosmography of the Unknown Ravennese and the version of Guido of Pisa from 1119.

[10] Original: Quarta ut hora noctis Northomanorum est patria, que et Dania ab antiquis dicitur. Cuius ad frontem Alpes vel patria Albis: Maurungani certissime antiquitus dicebatur. In qua  Albis patria per multos annos Francorum linea remorata est. Et ad frontum eiusdem Albis Datia minor dicitur, et dehinc super ex latere magna et spatiosa Datia dicitur: quae modo Gipidia ascribuntur; In qua nunc Unorum gens habitare dinoscitur. Posthinc Illiricus usque ad provinciam Dalmatie pertinget. See: Ravennatis Anonymi Cosmographia et Gvidonis Geographica. 1860. Ex libris manu scriptis, in Pinder, Moritz and Parthey, Gustav (eds). Berolini (Berlin): In Aedibus Friderici Nicolai, Book IV. 11, pp. 27—8.

[11] Original: Octava ut hora noctis Roxolanorum est patria. Cuius post terga oceanum procul magna insula Antiqua Scithia reperitur. Quam insulam plerique philosophi.. Historiographi conlaudant; quam et Iordanus, sapientissimus cosmographus, Scanzan appelait. Ex qua insula… pariterque gentes occidentales egresse sunt; nam Gotthos et Danos, una simul Gepidas ex ea antiquitus exisse legitimus. See: Ravennatis Anonymi Cosmographia et Gvidonis Geographica. 1860. Ex libris manu scriptis, in Pinder, Moritz and Parthey, Gustav (eds). Berolini (Berlin): In Aedibus Friderici Nicolai, Book IV. 11, p. 29.

[12] Original: Iterum iuxta ipsos Scerdefennos litus Oceani est patria quae dicitur Dania. Quae patria ut ait supra scriptus Aitanaridus et Eldevaldus et Marcomirus Gothorum philosophi super omnes nationes velocissimos proferre homines. Que Dania modo Nordomanorum dicitur patria. Per quam Daniam plurima transeunt flumina, inter cetera <fluvius> que dicitur Lina, quae in Oceano ingreditur. See: Ravennatis Anonymi Cosmographia et Gvidonis Geographica. 1860. Ex libris manu scriptis, in Pinder, Moritz and Parthey, Gustav (eds). Berolini (Berlin): In Aedibus Friderici Nicolai, Book IV. 13, 201—202.

[13] Original: Iterum ad partem quasi meridianam, ut dicamus ad spatiosissime quae dicuntur Datia prima et secunda, quae et Gipidia appelatur, ubi modo Uni qui et Avari inhabitant. Quas utrasque Datias plurimi descripserunt philosophi, ex quibus ego legi Menelac et Aristarchum Gothorum phylosophos; sed ego secundum Sardatium ipsas patrias designavi. In quas Dacorum patrias antiquitus plurimas fuisse civitates legitimus, ex quibus aliquantas designare volumus, id est Drubetis, Pretorich, Gazanam, Tibis… See: Ravennatis Anonymi Cosmographia et Gvidonis Geographica. 1860. Ex libris manu scriptis, in Pinder, Moritz and Parthey, Gustav (eds). Berolini (Berlin): In Aedibus Friderici Nicolai, Book IV, 14, .202—203.

[14] The map created in 1468 by Nicolaus Germanus, it was based on the map of Scandinavia by Claudius Clavus (1427).

[15] Some researchers criticized this opinion arguing that Scaliger’s grandfather was a certain Benedetto Bordone di Verone (Renouard Antoine-Augustin, Annales de l’imprimerie des Alde, ou Histoire des trois Manuce et de leurs éditions. Paris: J.Renouard, 1834, p.142).

[16] The data of Eubel and van Gulik (1923) regarding 1515 can be not fully correct as Acta graduum academicorum mention d. Pauli Zabarelle as archiep. Pariensis among the attendees of the defense of Ioannis Franscisci Iordanis in 1513 (No. 680, p. 238).

[17] The Zabarella’s palace (Palazzo Zabarella) still exists in Padua.

[18] Source: Edwards William F., 1960. The Logic of Iacopo Zabarella, Columbia University dissertation, pp. 52-3. See also: Mikkeli 2010, 181-91.

[19] Various sources provide different years of publication (1547, 1556 or 1557) made in Venice by a Dominican friar Desiderius on the basis of Cicero’s gravestone inscriptions in Zakynthos – Lignamineus, Desiderius 1557. Facies sepulcri M. Tull. Ciceronis in Zacyntho reperti, Venis. See Le Clerc 1825, 231.





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Olga Shutova

Olga Shutova (also Volga Shutava), Ph.D. (1997) is a Belarusian historian, historiographer, writer. In 1997. In 1995-2007 – Associate Professor at the Belarusian State University. Author of more than 50 articles and 4 monographs in Intellectual History, Historiography, History of Belarus and Francysk Skaryna Studies.