Justice in Rome between the 15th and 19th centuries is often described by sources from different periods as severe and harsh in punishment. It is certainly a stereotyped vision corresponding to a complex legislative system, of which the direct sources are often essentially the popular ones. The iron hand of the papal courts has terrorized the inhabitants of Rome for centuries and at the same time contributed to the growth of the fame of characters who will become legendary, such as the young Roman noble Beatrice Cenci, the philosopher Giordano Bruno, the esotericist Borri, the enigmatic count of Cagliostro, just to name the most famous names. Conspirators, foreigners, assassins and finally Carbonari and even Garibaldini ended up in the most atrocious and cramped prisons of the city, guilty of having caused havoc in public life for their conduct, but also just for their thinking.
Through the stories of their lives, however, it is possible to reconstruct not only the atmospheres of past eras, but also the incredible history of the spaces and scenarios in which corporal punishment, the often farce trials and the gruesome killings that took place in Rome between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries. In fact, the setting for these narratives is one of the symbolic places of Rome and of the justice that was practiced there: the fortress of Castel Sant'Angelo. A grandiose construction erected by the emperor Hadrian as a tomb for himself and his successors, it was begun around 123 AD and finished by Antoninus Pius a year after Hadrian's death (139 AD). The burials of members of the imperial family up to the emperor Caracalla (217 AD) were housed in it.
With the end of the Roman Empire in 476 AD, Hadrian's building definitively abandoned its function as a mausoleum to take on that of a fortress. The Ostrogoth Theodoric (493-526 AD) was the first to make it a prison. Once the Byzantine dominion ceased and the temporal power of the Pope established in Rome, Castel Sant'Angelo, after being passed among the various families of the Roman aristocracy, became a place of imprisonment and torture for the vanquished of every age. Very numerous were those who found death among well-known characters and other unknown ones.