Of fish and meat going to Milan

Thank you for your patience. Back to the Marvels of Milan with this list of fish and meats – which illustrates amply why fish was far more of a luxury.

III.29 There are more than 440 butchers in number at whose stalls the best meats of four-footed beasts of all kinds suitable to our use are sold in great quantity.

III. 30 I know certainly there are more than 400 fishermen who bring daily fish of all kinds, trouts (tructarum), dentricum (?), capitone eels (?capitonum), tenches (tencharum), timulorum (?), eels (anguilarum), lampreys (lampredarum), crawfish (cancrorum), demum (?) and of all other kinds, large and small, in great quantity from the more than 18 lakes, the more than forty rivers, and the practically uncountable mountain brooks of our territory.


IV.11 To our city flow, as though it was the outflow (sentinam) of all good worldly things, bread and wine and good-tasting meat of all manner of four-footed beasts. And it is to be noted that, as I have diligently enquired from the butchers, reckoning all the days on which it is permitted to Christians to eat meat, around seventy cattle alone are slaughtered daily. But there are also sows, sheep, rams, lambs, goats and other kinds of four-footed beasts, both wild and domesticated, are killed by the butchers. They declared to me that their number was equal to that of the leaves or the grasses, and I believe that they spoke the truth. The best meats of two-footed beasts (i.e. birds), both wild and domesticated, flow to us: capons, hens, geese, ducks, peacocks, pigeons, pheasants, crows (ornicum), turtledoves, flycatchers (fiscedularum), larks, partridges, quails, thrushes (merulorum) and other birds that are suitable for the refreshment of human appetite.

IV.12 Also flow honey, wax, milk, curd cheese (iuncate), whey cheese (recocte), butter, cheese, eggs and crawfish (cancri). And it is marvellous that, as those fishermen, when diligently asked of the truth of the thing, stated clearly that, accounted for every day from carnival (carnisprivium) until the feast of St Martin, more than seven modii (measure) of crawfish are eaten in the city every day. And if you should be uncertain what quantity is understood by a modius, know that a modius is the measure of eight sextarii and is a heavy load for a man.


I was taught the quantity of fish (taken) from them, by the witness of those who surely say they know this thing; They say that more than four sumter loads (sumis) of fresh, large fish and four sextarii of small ones, calculated for each day of solemnity and festivity (diebus feralibus cum solempnibus, i.e. fast day), are daily brought to our city. And note that the load of one horse or mule is understood by a sumter load (una suma).

In 1288, the Milanese scholar and administrator Bonvesin da la Riva wrote a long text in praise of the greatness of his city. Milan at the time was at the height of its political and economic power, the head of the Lombard League and one of the richest and largest cities in Europe. His de magnalibus urbis Mediolani lists its architectural splendours, the wealth of its churches and citizens, and recounts its glorious history. Obviously we should not take everything in it at face value, but the author’s position in the civic administration suggests that the numbers he quotes are not entirely implausible. I have done my best to translate the sections pertaining to food, agriculture, and food-related trades. Chapter 4 is particularly interesting in this regard.

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