Pets were an important part of Ancient Greek life. Accounts of ancient Greek pets are found in many contemporary writings. Starting from Homer’s Odyssey to the writings of Aristotle, descriptions are found of the different pets. Evidence of different types of pets are also found in pottery and excavated graves. According to the archaeological remains we even find tombstones and epitaphs along roadsides in memory of their beloved pets.
Pets ranged from commonly kept modern-day pets like dogs to very unusual ones like snakes, with the most common being the dogs. However, you should remember that cats were not prized and not kept as pets in Greece.
It is conjectured that the polytheistic nature of religion allowed the free entry of many animals into the Greek household. According to the Ancient Greek Writer, Xenophon the names given to them were not just random or according to whims but were conscious about its meanings with most of them being short of consisting of one or two syllables. They were deeply connected to their pets and even conducting burials with proper ceremonies was quite common as we find a number of graves of dogs and other pets.
Reasons for keeping Pets
- Status symbol: In many cases, pets were a sort of status symbol to the aristocracy in ancient Greece. Big birds like peacocks were mostly kept as status symbols.
- Protection and Security:Protection was a big reason for the popularity of dogs in ancient Greece. Along with them goes and ducks were also kept to the alarm of any unknown person coming into the house by their noises.
- Hunting: This was another factor that made dogs extremely popular. Hunting was hugely popular among the aristocrats and dogs became their favorite companions. Along with personal interests hunting in those times was also a source of food and business to many and it made dogs extremely important.
- Companionship: Similarly, pets were in most cases kept for compansion just like any human. They provided entertainment and engagement to people at home.
The different types of ancient Greek pets:
Here are some facts regarding the different types of ancient Greece pets.
- The common Greek farmers kept animals like cows, sheep horses, and chicken.
- Different types of birds were favored as pets in ancient Greece. The Mynah bird was quite common pet among the aristocracy and often received special care. Parakeets were also kept. The Alexandrine parakeet is probably named after Alexander the Great who received one of these birds as present in 327 BC.
- Goats, mice, quail, ducks, rabbits, and tortoise are other popular ancient Greece pets.
- Insects were also kept as pets. There is one account where a young girl is described to be mourning her grasshopper.
- Racehorses were a favorite pet of the young boys.
Dogs as ancient Greek pets
Perhaps the most popular pets in ancient Greece were dogs. They were sometimes caged and often pampered. Interestingly, they were also sacrificed to cleanse any pollution caused by birth or death.
Here are some important facts concerning the dogs in ancient Greece:
- Quite a few breeds of dogs were kept as ancient Greece pets. Small lapdogs were commonly kept by the aristocracy. Aristotle described these dogs as Canis Melitae. These later came to be known as the Maltese. A few poems have also been found about these tiny white dogs.
- While the lapdog was the pampered pet, many hunting dogs were also kept by the Greeks. One of the oldest and most common breeds of dogs which were used for hunting is the Greyhound. The name is probably derived from the Greek Gratis meaning Grecian.Since they were very fast and also highly maneuverable, these dogs were trained to hunt creatures like hares, gazelles and even wolves. Later, they were also trained to pursue deer.
- The Greyhound was much adored by the aristocracy and the Royalty and was treated in a special way.
- Alexander probably introduced the mastiff in Greece. He admired them and also used them for the baiting of elephants and lions.
- One breed of dog described as Molossians or Arcadians or Macedonians were another common ancient Greek pets. They were kept in packs and were used to guard flocks and houses. They were also used as war dogs and hunting dogs.
- The Greek literature and art abound with references to dogs. One of the best-known references is found in Homers Odyssey. Here, Homer describes the faithful hound Argos who awaited the return of his master Odysseus. When his master returned, he died content.
Different breed of dogs used as pets in Ancient Greece
- Laconian was considered to be the fastest dog and popular for its hunting skills.
- Molossian was one of the bigger-sized dogs used for hunting of big game and is also considered to be an ancient ancestor of the modern-day mastiff.
- Cretan was a crossbred dog between Laconian and Molossian
- Celtic Vertragus was one of the most popular breeds of dogs in ancient Greece and are even considered to be the ancestor of the modern-day Greyhound. They were extremely lean and fast and it is even believed that one of the Celtic vertragus had saved the life of Alexander the great against a charging elephant.
Cats as Ancient Greek pets
We all know about the popularity of cats as a pet in ancient Egypt but interestingly there is no mention of cats in ancient Greece. It is believed that the Greeks had no contact with any cats before the capture of Egypt by Alexander the Great. Only some remains of an Agean-bred cat are found but it is believed to have breaded without any human interference.
Apes as Ancient Greek pets
An interesting choice of pet among the ancient Greeks was monkeys or apes. Accounts of some even loving them like their child was found. They are even said to have trained to play musical instruments for entertainment.
Snakes as Ancient Greek pets
Birds as Ancient Greek pets
Insects as Ancient Greek Pets
In certain cases, insects like Grasshoppers crickets, cicadas, etc. were also kept as pets which added to the aesthetic essence of aristocratic households with their prized sounds. They were mostly kept in cages and we even find poems written about the sadness of cicadas by ancient Greek poets.
These are the different types of ancient Greek pets that were kept at that time.