History. The Sicilian Tarot is an early, intelligent point-trick game, heir to a tradition invented in 15th-century Italy at the Ferrara and Milan courts –
nothing to do with the spurious esoteric meanings attributed to it in France at the end of the 18th century. Later developed in Bologna and Florence and spread elsewhere with a number of
local variants, the Tarot seems to have arrived in Sicily between the 16th and the 17th century from Rome, in a 78-card version; or perhaps from Genoa, in a 98-card version called
"Gallerini". A Sicilian deck was produced from as early as the 17th century and throughout the 19th century by the Palermo paper-making guild. Mentioned by the historian Marquis of
Villabianca and the poet Giovanni Meli in the 18th century, and by Luigi Capuana in the late 1800s, the game was played within conversation or recreational circles in various areas
of Sicily throughout the 19th century. From 1882 to the 1970s, the Sicilian Tarot deck was produced in Catania, by the Concetta Campione firm. Since 2014, it has been the only game
registered in the list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in the Sicilian Region. Today the game is still played in four Sicilian towns (Mineo, Tortorici, Barcellona
Pozzo di Gotto, Calatafimi) in different variants, as well as in Catania, where a growing number of enthusiasts follow the inspiration of the A. C. G. T. S. (i.e., Sicilian Tarot Game
Cultural Association) - Michael Dummett.
The Deck. Its unique features set it apart from the sophisticated games played elsewhere in Italy (e.g. Piedmont or Bologna) and Europe, or the famous
Marseille Tarot. Starting perhaps as early as the 19th century, the number of its cards was cut down to 63 by eliminating the lower pips: 1 to 4 of Swords, Clubs and Cups and 1 to 3 of
Coins. All suits have 4 court cards: Lady, Knight, Queen and King. [Fig. 1: List of Sicilian Tarot Trumps] The curtailing was probably motivated by a need to adapt the game to three
players and, perhaps, speed up production and reduce costs. Taxes did not help, however, as they were almost double compared to ordinary decks. As mentioned in Section 2, the pip
cards are the last in Europe to show a variant of the Latin model known as "Portuguese", with alphanumeric indices identifying each card on its upper and lower margins (e.g. 9C = Nine of
Cups). The Kings and Queens are enthroned, not standing. The Jacks actually look female, and are therefore called "Donne" (namely, "Ladies").
In the numeral cards, the Swords and the Clubs are interwoven and overlapping, rather than separated as in the Sicilian deck; in the latter, besides, the Cups have different shapes. The
21 cards called "Trionfi" or "Tarocchi" (see Table 1) have the role of trumps, while "U Fujutu" (i.e., The Runaway), not numbered, represents a jester – or The Fool in the
other Tarot decks. In addition to being full-figure rather than symmetrically halved (as, for instance, in the Piedmontese Tarot) the Sicilian Tarot trumps differ by numerical
order, as well as the presence of alternatives to some traditional designs disliked by either the Church, i.e., The Pope and The Popess, replaced by Constance (no. 4) and
Misery (no number), or Princess Rosalia Caccamo Branciforte, who actually paid to have The Devil substituted with The Ship (almost certainly inspired to the "Water" element in the
Florentine Minchiate) and The Tower (no.15) made stable and no longer in ruins under lightning.
Other peculiarities are the classical interpretation of the Angel of Judgment as Jupiter, and The World as Atlas, called "La Badda" (i.e., The Ball); The Hanged Man as a real Hanged
Man. No. 1, illustrated as children at the gaming table, is called "I Picciotti" (i.e., The Boys).
All the known Sicilian Tarot decks are presented in this section. The I.P.C.S. distinguishes between two different patterns of Sicilian Tarot, which in the entries will be defined
as, respectively, "Early Sicilian Tarot" and "Later Sicilian Tarot" [see Fig. 2: Early vs Later Sicilian Tarot.]
The characteristics of the Early Pattern (of which few decks and matrices have been preserved), are:
• non-indexed Queens and 10s of all suits
• on some pip cards, the Clubs and Swords ending with animal heads (birds of prey or dogs)
• indices of the 9S (number/pip) type for the suited cards and CD (figure/pip) for the court cards. The initials of the court cards are: D = Lady (Donna), C = Knight (Cavallo), R = King
(Re); those of the pips: D = Coins (Denari), C = Cups (Coppe), B = Clubs or Batons (Bastoni), S = Swords (Spade)
• Trionfi bearing Roman numerals
• the lowest, non-numbered Trionfo called "LA POVERTÀ" in an upper cartouche and holding an object with the inscription "INI"
• Trionfo no. IV with the word "COSTANZA" on a banner FIG. 3
• Trionfo no. XI - The Hanged Man hanging by the neck from a rectangular wooden scaffold FIG.5
• Trionfo no. XII - The Hermit holding an hourglass
• The Runaway holding a drum in his right hand instead of a ball
• Trionfo no. XX with the word "GIOVE" at the top below the number and another character, interpreted as a possible Ganymede
• Trionfo no. IX - The Chariot presented in side-view
• in all decks the only Coins card is the 4, while Aces are absent.
The most obvious features of the Later Pattern are:
• non-indexed court cards
• in the numeral Coins, the suit symbol "D" now replaced by the "O" (for "Oro", i.e., "gold")
• Trionfi with Arabic numerals
• the lowest, non-numbered card, named "LA MISERIA" on a cartouche; the character has a bowl in hand without any inscription and, in the lower right, a cubic boulder to which,
nearly always, he appears chained
• Trionfo no. 4 with a banner without any inscription FIG. 4
• Trionfo no. 11 - The Hanged Man hanging by the neck from a tree branch Fig. 6
• the Fugitive holding a ball in his right hand (at least in the most recent decks)
• Trionfo no. 20 - Jupiter without any inscription and without any other character by his side
• Trionfo no. 9 - The Chariot represented frontally
• no Ace of Coins in any of the 19th-century decks; this was added only in the Concetta Campione deck, after 1862, when the obligation of a stamp on this card was introduced.
The Game. In its most Early and original forms, the game must have been influenced by the Gallerini, that is, the game of the
Florentine Minchiate, or by some similar game probably also played in Genoa, from which derive some distinctive traits: the use of the term "Arie" for the 5 highest
Trionfi, to which a high score value was assigned; the presence of "Virzicoli" (or Virsicoli), that is, combinations of particular cards to which, if declared initially, some
extra-points were attributed. However, as Villabianca explains, there were further additions from other games, such as the initial bidding to make certain combinations or the
last trick under certain conditions.
With the Sicilian Tarot deck many different games are played today that share the basic rules of the game and the value of the cards. The general structure of these rules is similar
to that of the Piedmontese Tarot. The basic rules, common to all Sicilian games, are listed below:
• the hierarchy for taking ordinary cards and Trumps; as in the French Tarot game, there is the same hierarchy of tricks for all suits, from the lowest card to the King, without
differentiating between short and long pips
• the obligation to follow the suit of the leading card, and failing that, play a Trionfo (or "Briscola");
• the basic behaviour of the Runaway, which can be played by those who possess it, fleeing from the obligation to follow suit while giving up the round in which it is played
• the rules on cards that cannot be included in the initial discard (Kings and Trumps)
• the value of the cards and their consequent relevance to winning – which, in all games except those of Mineo, consists in getting most of these card points
• the method of counting fixed points which usually involves an association with "trios".
The various games that in some cases are still played today are distinguished by number of players and partnerships between them, the way of dealing the cards, the preliminary phases
of setting temporary partnerships, the presence or absence of bidding for additional objectives, the scoring methods, and the aim of the game. The types of games known and
already catalogued by Michael Dummett, in the different works he has dedicated to their study, are summarized below, with the addition of the version discovered in 2019 and practiced
in Ragusa at the Ibla Circolo di Conversazione, up to the 1980s.