In Rome in 1644 four butchers were accused of killing seven of their fellow Roman citizens, stripping the meat from their bones, and grinding it together with pork to make sausage, which was then sold to other Romans from their shop behind the Pantheon. Although the butchers were quickly executed, their tale was not so easily forgotten. In several pamphlets issued around the event, the story of the cannibal butchers turned into a morality tale about what to eat—or not. Of course, in the capital of Catholicism this discussion turned back to the Eucharist and what it meant to eat the flesh of Christ. Such concerns also echoed broader dietary issues in the capital, as Romans had been increasingly consuming more meat in the early seventeenth century. Through looking at medical and theological theories of nutrition and consumption as well as food regulations in the Holy City, this paper seeks to use the cannibal butcher episode to talk about the production of food–and especially meat–in Rome, as well as nutrition from both a moral and medical point of view.
Brad Bouley is Assistant Professor of History at UC Santa Barbara.