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