Sausages in history

Posted by Helen Monday, October 30, 2006

You can tell a good deal about a country by its sausages. England is quite unusual in that all of them are raw (though there are now attempts by various butchers to make salami and other suchlike delicacies). Tory Historian has been reminded on various occasions of Otto von Bismarck’s saying:

People who enjoy eating sausage and obeying the law should not watch either being made.
That’s as may be. Tory Historian recalls a very pleasant visit as a child to a salami factory in one of the two countries that make the best. (Guesses are accepted in the comments section.)

This week is apparently British Sausage Week, which is not a theme, many of our readers will say, for the Conservative History Blog. However, at the end of a reasonably interesting article in the Daily Telegraph business section there is the following information:

Despite all this, not all is well in the sausage world, with the frozen variety seeing sales slump by 9.6pc last year. At least, it's not as much of a crisis as the one that hit the sausage world 1,200 years ago when Byzantine Emperor Leo V declared the sausage-makers would be "severely scourged, smoothly shaved and banished from our realm forever".

It's not clear what sausage-sellers had done to squeeze the emperor's casing. Still, Leo ended up being assassinated and therein lie some lessons for us all. It's clearly not worth getting in the way of this sausage machine.
Leo V? One of the famous iconoclastic Emperors? Were the sausage makers in cahoots with the iconodulists, whose policies were associated according to Wikipedia, with Byzantine defeats by the Bulgarians and the Arabs? An interesting idea.

Reading on, however, it would appear that there has been a confusion between Leo V (the Armenian), who reigned from 813 to 820 and Leo VI (the Wise), who reigned from 866 to 912. Edward Gibbon thought that the moniker could be explained by the fact that he
was less ignorant than the greater part of his contemporaries in church and state, that his education had been directed by the learned Photios, and that several books of profane and ecclesiastical science were composed by the pen, or in the name, of the imperial philosopher.
Be that as it may, Leo VI seems to have led as colourful a life as his predecessor and successors, many of whom were assassinated (Leo V, apparently, as he was praying in the Hagia Sophia). But there is one thing Leo VI did do that marks him out from the long list of Byzantine emperors: he outlawed the production of blood sausages after cases of food poisoning.

This is clearly different from the banning of the eating of sausages, introduced by Constantine and supported by the early Christian Church, as the act was connected with the pagan Roman festival of Lupercal. Leo VI was clearly the predecessor of the modern environmental and health officers or, even, the Food Standards Agency.


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