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The Origin of the Tabellio – The Basis of Trust

(from Quiet Enjoyment, Second edition 2, by Wes Kussmaul)

Consider the problem of trust in the Roman Empire. How did the Romans institute elaborate and workable systems of property ownership, governance, and commerce throughout the vast provinces and cities of their empire, given the variety of languages, widespread illiteracy of property owners, and lack of communication technology? How could two parties to a transaction even know the details of their contract, let alone trust it? A significant part of the answer was the well-developed system of trust that depended upon attestation professionals: the scribes and the tabelliones.

The term tabellio referred to a Roman officer who put into writing of the proper form, agreements, contracts, wills, and other instruments, and witnessed their execution. Some of their responsibilities were judicial in nature, and there were no appeals from their judgments.

Notaries were the clerks of the tabelliones. The notarius, essentially a trusted public stenographer, listened to a description of the agreement of parties, reducing it to short notes. The resulting legal instruments were not binding until they were written in extenso, which was done by the tabelliones on wax tablets – the tablets being the source of the term tabellio.

All of the workings of Roman society depended upon the integrity of the tabellio. Imagine entering into a business deal that involved a substantial portion of your assets, being unable to read the documents conveying those assets. You would be utterly at the mercy of the legal officer drawing them up to accurately represent your wishes and inform you of their status with respect to the other party.

Imagine the challenge of transporting accurate copies of those wax tablets to interested parties, in a confidential and accurate and timely manner, without the aid of any communication technology more effective than a box on a horse drawn vehicle. That challenge, it would seem, is much more difficult than securing spaces that are accessed via the Internet.

The office of the notary itself has also evolved over the years. In most jurisdictions the public office of the notary has been promoted from that of trusted clerkship of an attesting officer to refer to the attesting officer herself or himself.

In summary the purpose of the Tabelio site is to provide notaries with a platform for sharing information and experiences with other notaries regardless of the jurisdiction. Tabelio members can network to build relationships that can help them to expand their respective businesses. where they serve to help. More importantly, notaries who join the Tabelio group have the opportunity to learn about emerging opportunities such as the participation as a member of the Council of Attestation Officers and others.

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