The World History of Notaries
If you are like most people, who have at least passing familiarity with notary publics. Indeed, odds are that if you are an adult, you have had to have some type of document notarized at some juncture. With that said, if you are also like most people, you know little about the functioning or history of notary publics. In fact, the history of these officials is an interesting jaunt through time.
Origins of Notaries
Notaries public tracer their origins back to the days of the ancient Roman Republic, even before the days of what is perhaps the better known Roman Empire. During this era, notaries went by different titles, monikers that no longer exist today. These included scribae, tabelliones forenses, or personae publicae. Sometimes notaries from this time period are referenced as scribes, although that title is actually more inclusive and covers individuals that include notaries but others as well.
The office of a notary in ancient Rome represented a type of scribe that rose in rank after distinguished service. Initially, at the bottom tier of scribes in ancient Rome were recorders of facts and judicial proceedings as well as copiers and transcribers to a learned profession prominent in private and public affairs.
As scribes moved upward, some were permanent officials that served the powerful Roman Senate. Other notaries were attached to Roman courts of law. These notaries had the duty of recording public proceedings, transcribing state papers, supplying magistrates with legal forms, and registering the decrees and judgments of the magistrates.
The End of the Roman Republic, the Birth of the Roman Empire
During the final years of the Roman Republic, likely at the time of Cicero, a new form of shorthand was developed. This new form of writing was called notae. A writer who adopted the new style of writing was called a notarius. Eventually, the title notarius was applied nearly always to registrars attached to high government officials. These included provincial governors and secretaries to the Roman Emperor.
Collapse of the Western Empire
A tumultuous even occurred when the Western Empire collapsed in the 5th century. During this time period, the notary retained his status as an important figure throughout continental Europe. This lasted throughout the Dark Ages.
By the 12th century, civil law experienced its renaissance. At this point in history, the notary became what was considered a central institution. The position still exists in a similar manner today in many countries vis-à-vis their civil law traditions.
The office of the notary public reached something of a zenith in the 12th century in the Italian city of Bologna. The most distinguished notary of the Renaissance is said to be a man named Rolandino Passeggeri. He is more commonly known as Rolandino of Bologna. He is responsible for what is considered a masterwork that is called the Summa Artis Notariae.
The Development of Common Law in England
The institution or office of the notary public did not see its introduction in England until the latter part of the 13th and 14th centuries. Initially, notaries in England were appointed by the official representative of the Holy See, known as the Papal Legate. Ultimately, in 1279, the Archbishop of Canterbury was authorized by the Pope to appoint notaries.
During this time period, many notaries were members of the clergy. Over time, the clergy became far less involved in commercial transactions and notaries primarily were laypersons.
The Protestant Reformation resulted in no significant change in the position and functions of notaries in England. In 1533, the Ecclesiastical Licences Act 1533 was enacted. This law permanently terminated the power of the Pope to appoint notaries. The power to appoint notaries was in the King. The King, in turn, transferred that power to the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Archbishop then assigned the notarial power to the Court of Faculties and the Master of the Faculties.
From England to the United States
In England, notaries recorded matters of judicial importance and private transactions. This practice has carried forth into the United States today. A notary public in the U.S. is an individual appointed by a state government. The primary role of a notary today is to serve as an impartial witness when important documents or instruments are signed or executed.
The laws governing notaries public are enacted by the legislatures in each individual state. As a result, although there is a great deal of similarity in the functions of a notary public from state to state, there are some differences as well.
Jessica Kane is a professional blogger who writes for Faxage a leading company that provides Internet fax service for individuals and businesses.