Abstract: Pet Animals in Roman Antiquity: Reconstructions from Archaeological Evidence

This illustrated lecture integrates archaeological, ancient textual, and artistic evidence to provides a more holistic assessment of the distribution, perception, breeding, and treatment of pet animals during Roman antiquity. The concept of what constituted a “pet” animal in the world of antiquity is explored, before outlining the varieties and types of pet animals, as well as the specialized roles each may have fulfilled. Particular attention is paid to the diversity of pet dogs, especially small toy breeds of dogs. These smaller breeds register first in Roman cities, reflecting trade networks and urban elite demand. One sees in their skeletal remains, recovered from ancient sites, that they often record multiple pathological conditions (indicative of active, accident-prone lives), but also display signs of greater human care. Assessments of their diets, as drawn from examination of their skeletal tissues, indicate special foodstuffs, with relatively high levels of meat intake, a further indication of pampering. Special treatment also surfaces in terms of burial and ritual, with greater attention placed on venerating such breeds in funerary monuments and special graves. Overall, one may be struck by the many strong parallels such actions have to us in how many cultures treat pet dogs today, in turn begging larger universals transcending time and space about the emotional connection and the need to care for, venerate, cherish, pamper, and dote upon such pet animals.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

Crockford, S. J. (ed.) 2000. Dogs through Time: an Archaeological Perspective. Oxford, BAR International Series 889.

Brewer, D., Clark, T., and Philips, A. 2001. Dogs in Antiquity. Warminster: Aris and Philips.

MacKinnon, M. 2010. “Sick as a Dog: Zooarchaeological Evidence for Pet Dog Health and Welfare in the Roman World.” World Archaeology 42(2): 290-309.

MacKinnon, M. 2007. MacKinnon, M. “State of the Discipline: Osteological Research in Classical Archaeology.” American Journal of Archaeology 111: 473-504.

Merlen, R.H.A. 1971. De Canibus: Dog and Hound in Antiquity. London: J.H. Allen.

Toynbee, J.M.C. 1973 Animals in Roman Life and Art. London: Thames &  Hudson.

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