What’s for Dinner? Beef, Bullets, and Bile in Early Modern Rome

Saturday, January 7, 2017: 2:10 PM
Mile High Ballroom 4C (Colorado Convention Center)
Bradford Albert Bouley, Stanford University
In 1644 four pork butchers were burned to death in Rome as punishment for a grisly crime: they had been convicted of murdering seven of their fellow Romans and grinding them into sausages. In the background of this macabre story is the food culture of Rome and the ways in which it changed under the influence of a series of costly wars, culminating with the disastrous War of the Castro (1641-1644).  Rome, as the papal capital, had previously enjoyed a privileged food status and, for example, had much greater supplies of beef than other contemporary Italian cities. It was the shortages of meat caused by these wars which undoubtedly led to the actions of the cannibal butchers.

In the wake of such shortages and other changing habits in seventeenth-century Italy, a number of physicians began to publish treatises dealing with ways to eat nutritiously. This paper will look specifically at the advice these physicians had on how and why one should eat meat and the ways in which such advice might have been a reaction to the changing supplies of beef and other foodstuffs in early modern Rome.