Animals in Ancient Greece: The History of the Roles that Different Animals Played in Greek Societies

Animals in Ancient Greece: The History of the Roles that Different Animals Played in Greek Societies

English | August 26, 2021 | ISBN: N/A | ASIN: B09DTJC9ZH | 65 Pages | EPUB | 1.40 MB

To many in the ancient world, their gods and goddesses were all around them and could be seen daily in nature, which meant that nearly every kind of animal, both domestic and wild, was associated with a god or goddess. In places like Egypt and Greece, deities and other mythological characters were often depicted with human bodies and animal heads, and various Greek religious rituals relied on sacrificing animals. There were approximately 1,500 Greek city-states (poleis) in the Classical era, and sacrifices featured in every one of them. As such, animals were constantly involved in the core elements of Greek society and cults, and this centrality could be found in the numerous depictions of animals on coins and vases throughout Greece and Greek colonies. Greek thinkers and philosophers also endlessly debated issues relating to animals, which resulted in the Greeks acquiring formidable knowledge about the creatures with whom they came in contact. All the while, animals were important sources of food, companionship, and labor, and they also featured significantly in warfare.

The majority of animal species in modern Greece are by and large the same as those that were around in ancient times. Game and fish were plentiful, along with deer, wolves, boar, lynx, and even bears. Similarly, there were numerous jackals and porcupines. There were, however, a few significant species that would have been found in the wild in Classical times, such as the agrimis (or Cretan goat) and the lion, that have either become totally extinct or virtually extinct in the modern-day region. Lions, in particular, often feature in Greek literature, and both Herodotus and Aristotle described lions in northern Greece. The presence of lions in Greece seems further confirmed by their numerous portrayals in Mycenaean art and tales of lions in Homer.

The climate and nature of Greek soil meant that cattlewere never as numerous in Greece as elsewhere in Europe because grazing land was limited. This inevitably had an impact on diet and how different animals were perceived and valued. Animals in ancient Greece were never totally confined to one region, and live animals from one area would be resettled to serve in the army, including horses from Thrace and elephants from India and Africa. In general, it was more often parts of animals - their tusks, horns, or hides - that were imported. Archaeologists working in Greece have found the remains of crocodiles, gazelles, and camels, while many domestic animals came from regions well beyond Greece, including monkeys, cats, peacocks, parrots, and white bears. Some of these imports were brought for specific purposes, such as to fight or dance before audiences, while the most exotic imports were often gifts from neighboring states.

Another use for foreign animals was in the preparation of medicines. Animals captured during military conflicts were considered spoils of war, suggesting their status was that of an object. On the other hand, reflecting the Greek ambiguity and ambivalence toward their status, various philosophical debates of the time indicate that animals could also be prosecuted for committing crimes and punished accordingly. It is also apparent that ancient Greeks knew a considerable amount about their animals, as various written works that survived often reflected the ethical and scientific debates surrounding them. Archaeological evidence confirms that animals were closely observed and accurately portrayed by both artists and medical practitioners.

Needless to say, animals had an impact on the very core of ancient Greece's philosophical musings and a direct bearing on how Greek societies evolved.


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