Of Cannibalism and Civil Warfare

Brian Sandberg: Historical Perspectives

A newly released video allegedly shows a Syrian rebel commander mutilating a dead soldier’s body, removing internal organs, and biting into them.


This shocking video reveals the horrors of sectarian violence and civil warfare in Syria, where atrocities have apparently become all too common.

Reports of atrocities are sometimes difficult to verify and are always complicated to understand, yet international reporters on the ground in Syria believe that this video is indeed authentic.

The BBC reports on the video, as does Foreign Policy and the Washington Post.

Historians of early modern religious violence will be familiar with reports of mutilation and cannibalism. Sixteenth-century observers of early colonial conflict reported cannibalism in the Caribbean and South America. Witnesses to siege warfare in Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries reported numerous instances of cannibalism. Such cannibalism tales are often dismissed by cultural historians as purely imagined and symbolic narratives of…

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