The relationship between humans and animals has been evolving for thousands of years, and animal companions are just as loved today as they were in the ancient world. The history of pets is fascinating, and it’s an important part of human history. We’ve relied on animals for both their companionship and their work; they have been friends as well as tools, and all the while we’ve learned to depend on them when we’re in need.
It wasn’t always just cats and dogs, however. Pets in ancient history consisted of creatures from all branches of the tree of life. Reptiles, birds, fish, and many other creatures have lived with us since time immemorial. Roman emperors and dictators lavished their pets with love and trinkets. The indigenous people of the western hemisphere had unique breeds of dog that managed to survive long after European colonization. These historical pets are as fascinating as ever, and they give us a glimpse into the everyday lives of our ancient ancestors.
The Indigenous People Of Pre-Columbian America Had Unique Dog Breeds, Many Of Which Still Exist Today
Dogs can be found pretty much anywhere humans have settled, and that includes pre-Columbian America. Before the Europeans came over, Native Americans lived with domestic dogs that had genetic roots in Asia. It is likely that Asian migrants traveling across the ancient Bering Land Bridge from Russia to Alaska brought their canine companions along for the journey. Many of those breeds survive today, including the Alaskan Malamute, the Inuit sled dog, the Chihuahua, the Xoloitzcuintli, Greenland dogs, and the Peruvian hairless dog.
Amazingly, genetic testing has shown that these native breeds have been exposed to very little interbreeding with the European dogs that arrived with the first settlers. They are still relatively pure breeds even after centuries of cohabitation.
The Roman Emperor Caligula Tried To Make His Pet Horse A Senator
Everybody loves their pets, but we all know that one person who definitely takes it a little too far. In ancient Rome, that guy was the Emperor Caligula. Caligula is remembered for being insane and ruling with an iron fist, and getting assassinated just four years into his reign.
Caligula also had a pet horse by the name of Incitatus. The horse was his most prized possession and closest friend, and he treated Incitatus as lavishly as he did himself. According to some ancient sources, the horse lived in a manger made of ivory and his stall was of chiseled marble. Incitatus even had his own house, which was staffed by a collection of slaves that were charged with keeping the horse as comfortable as possible. He had free reign over the furniture, lush purple blankets to keep him warm, and a jeweled necklace made from the finest stones. Some reports say that Caligula, disenchanted by the Roman senate, was planning on making Incitatus an official consul with the authority to negotiate with foreign dignitaries. Unfortunately this moment in history never got to occur because Caligula didn’t live long enough to make it happen.
The Wives Of Antiquity Preferred Their Lap-Dogs To Their Husbands
The ancient Greeks and Romans absolutely loved dogs, even revering them to a certain extent. They were admired for their loyalty and gentle spirits, as well as their hunting prowess and work skills. Working dogs were not the only popular canines of the time, however. Lap-dogs were incredibly common, and the most popular was a breed known as the Melitaean.
Due to their intense popularity, these dogs were heavily imported from a small island off the coast of Italy. This breed is no longer in existence, but we know what they looked like because the ancients left behind plenty of illustrations. They were small and white with a lot of fluff and a pointed nose. Some ancient scholars wrote about the extreme love people felt for these animals. It was said that a woman would gladly see her husband die if it meant saving her dog. Honestly, many pet owners would probably make the same decision today.
Cats In Egypt Were Worshipped Even More Than They Are Now
Cats and humans have been living together for nearly 10,000 years. The oldest evidence we have is a 9,500-year-old cat that was found buried along with its master on the island of Cyprus. However, it’s the ancient Egyptians who get the credit for turning these ferocious felines into the cuddly creatures we know and love. Researchers have discovered that all the cats alive today are descended from the ones bred in ancient Egypt.
While cats were first introduced to domestic life in order to hunt pests, generations of selective breeding made them more docile and friendly to humans. They started to become revered, with some even being immortalized as mummies. Some of their behaviors began popping up in the mythology, and their personality quirks were applied to their gods. For example, Bes, a god known for being the guardian of all children, was sometimes depicted with cat-like features.
Ancient Greek Women Were Quite Fond Of Birds, Especially Ducks And Geese
In some ancient cultures, it was as common to have a bird in your house as it is to have a cat or dog today. Ancient Greek women were particularly fond of their pet birds, with many species commonly kept in the house as domestic animals. The most popular were ducks and geese, with some women having dozens of them as their personal pets. There are preserved images on ancient pottery that show ducks not just in the home, but hiding under dinner tables and other parts of the house. They were given as much freedom as modern cats or dogs, and as much love.
Birds were seen as more of a woman’s pet in those days, but there was quite a wide diversity of birds available to them: there is evidence that people kept chickens, roosters, herons, cranes, quails, swans, and other birds as pets throughout archeological record.
In Rome, Pregnant Women And Babies Would Sleep With Their Pet Snakes
In Roman times, it was fairly common to keep a pet snake in your house; they were brilliant for keeping mice and rats out of food stores, but they were much more than practical tools. Ancient writers give accounts of snakes that “slept with children, let themselves be stepped on, were not angry when they were stroked.” They were considered the warden of the penus, the Latin word for “storehouse.” Yes, that is the accurate translation.
Much like today, not everyone was wooed by these gentle noodle bois. Some found the serpents to be revolting and often negatively linked them with exotic foreigners. Still, some people were more familiar with their pet snakes than they are today. They would be given free range around the house and would sometimes “kiss” their masters on the lips. It is even rumored that some people wore them around their necks, as their cool bodies would be used to beat off the heat.
Queen Isabella Of Spain Was Fascinated By Parrots From The New World
Parrots are some of the most beautiful birds in nature, and humans have been fascinated by these animals for millennia. The Egyptians worshipped parrots, and the Romans would build ornate aviaries to house parrots, and some would even build cages made of ivory for their personal pets. When Columbus first returned in 1493 from his voyage across the Atlantic, he presented two Cuban Amazon parrots to Queen Isabella as a royal gift. She became fascinated by the birds and would later send letters asking for more. She wrote, “send us as many falcons [parrots] as can be sent from there, and specimens of all the types of birds that are and can be collected there, because we want to see all of them.”
A Chinese Emperor Invented The First Goldfish Bowl
Fish can be as fascinating as they are beautiful, and people in ancient China knew to respect these aquatic creatures. An emperor named Zhu Yuanzhang, also referred to as the Hongwu Emperor, is quite possibly the first in history to develop a fishbowl that allowed him to keep his pets in his house. He founded a porcelain company that was charged with designing a massive, bowl-shaped tub for his goldfish. The company obliged, and created what is considered to be the first fishbowl. The bowls were not the most sanitary creations, but they did their job well enough.
The Ancient Romans Kept Pet Apes, And They Were As Mischievous As You’d Imagine
It might seem like a bad idea to keep a wild ape in your house, but that fact had little affect on the ancient Romans. Scholars have claimed that the most common pet apes were likely the Barbary macaques of North Africa and the geladas of Ethiopia. Many were trained to do extraordinary tasks including playing rudimentary instruments, dancing on command, and even riding goats. Some skilled monkeys could even chuck spears while riding a goat.
Pet monkeys were a fairly regular sight, although not everyone was a fan of these troublesome simians. Many people found them to be a great annoyance and a sign of an overly luxurious lifestyle, yet their owners considered their apes a member of the family. Young boys would play with the monkeys like you would a dog, and some were kept on leashes and taken out in public.
Ancient Egyptians Owned Baboons As Pets, But They Were Often Mistreated
While history is full of animal lovers, the sad truth is that many pets of the past were terribly mistreated. Take the baboons of ancient Egypt for example. Archeologists have found evidence that baboons and other simians used to live in close proximity with humans in Egypt. Baboons were often kept as religious symbols, and other monkeys were more commonly owned as pets.
Unfortunately, the evidence also shows that these animals were often treated brutally. Many were discovered to be buried with broken bones, and others showed signs that their bones had been repeatedly fractured only to heal and be broken again. It is believed that this abuse was inflicted on the animals as a form of punishment for a misdeed. Forensic archeologists can even tell that some of the apes tried to shield their heads from the punishment by analyzing the breaks in the arms. However, ancient Egyptians did start treating their baboons better: only the oldest baboons showed these signs of abuse, and over time it’s clear that the animals were treated less harshly.