Vol.9, No.1 | [Article] The scarsella between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic in the 1400s



This article aims to rebut the common opinion that communication in medieval Europe was very sluggish and that the delivery of correspondence was extremely delayed and irregular, focusing on the mail service called scarsella between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic in the Late Middle Ages. In daily life, many Italian merchants always complained of slow letter delivery and asked their correspondents to write letters more often. Yet, contrary to their routine complaint, the exchange of information by way of correspondence was very rapid, frequent and regular. Starting in the mid-thirteenth century, the mail service called scarsella began operating between commercial cities in the Mediterranean and major Atlantic market places. The scarsella, “the first public communication system in Europe”, was the most safe, frequent and rapid postal service system in the Later Middle Ages. Solid news networks of scarsella between the commercial ports of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic ports of Bruges or London operated relatively well in the later middle ages, and in that sense exchange of letters and information between the two seas by way of the scarsella was very efficient. A fast and regular courier service was well established already in late medieval Europe, even though letter writers continued having bitter words to say about delays in the mails in the sixteenth century.