The humanist Willibald Pirckheimer wrote in 1500 that Swiss foreign service (Solddienst) was nothing more than commercium hominum, human commerce. A few years later, Huldrych Zwingli described the situation even more starkly: Swiss mercenary service (Reislauf) was nothing more than fleysch und bluott verkauff (selling flesh and blood). Swiss human flesh was cheaper than veal on Italian battlefields.

What happens to human bodies and body parts when they are sold? The Renaissance was not only Jakob Burckhardt’s age of the invention of western subjectivity and the discovery of the "I". It was also a decisive period of radical change for new methods of selling human bodies through mercenary service, slave trade, selling those sentenced to death as galley slaves, and the trade in corpses for anatomical dissection in the early modern period.

What concepts and norms were applied to the withdrawal of the human body from, or its connection to, the economic sphere? What social practices were involved in these kinds of legal concepts? And conversely, how did the practices affect the legal concepts and their definitions?

It is precisely here that a supposedly familiar chapter of the history of Switzerland in the Middle Ages and the early modern period suddenly collides with contemporary phenomena: the trade in women, the international market for adoption, and the trade in human blood and organs. How far can institutions and individuals access the bodies of others, and what limits are imposed on this access?