ask dr. dig

fantastic factoids




about us

Questions about Greece and Rome

Did the Romans have pets?

Dr. dig responds:
My best advice to you is to go to your local public library and get a hold of a really splendid book on the subject by Jocelyn Toynbee called Animals in Roman Life and Art, published in 1973 by Thames and Hudson. Another good book is by H.H. Scullard called The Elephant in the Roman World.

Animals in ancient Rome were used for many purposes. Horses were used in the Roman cavalry and for the very efficient Roman postal service. The ancient Romans also farmed sheep, cows, pigs and goats, and kept chickens for the same reasons we do today. Exotic animals were used in gladiatorial games, and the ancient Romans had equally exotic tastebuds for such delicacies as flamingo and dormice.

Romans kept pets, but these too were really considered working animals more than companions. Cats caught mice and dogs were kept for hunting and for protection.

For animals used in gladiatorial games, you might want to visit the the City University of New York's Classics Department website at depthome.brooklyn.cuny.edu/classics

The ancient Romans kept many of the same kinds of pets we do today. Dogs, cats, birds, horses were all kept as companion animals. But these animals were also helpful to the people who kept them and were put to work guarding the house, catching mice, hunting, farming, etc.

Exotic pets were not as common as they are today and the ancient Romans didn't usually keep snakes, mice, lizards, frogs which were considered wild, dirty or pests.

The ancient Romans also captured wild animals for entertainment in public arenas. Elephants, lions, rhonoceroses, giraffes, wolves, and many other animals were captured and placed before audiences as spectacles and curiosities. Although their keepers may have got attached to some of these wild creatures, they were not generally regarded as domestic pets in any way.

Were roman pets faithfull and loyal? If they lived in the house who looked after them? Did the slaves take care of them?

Dr. dig responds:
The Romans often called their dogs Fido, which is Latin for faithful. The ancients respected their pets, particularly their war horses, who faught as bravely in battle as the soldiers. Good hunting hounds were also highly regarded.

But the Romans could be cruel to their animals as some people are today.

If Roman households had slaves (not all did) then they were probably set the unpleasant task of cleaning the stables and kennels. They also probably fed the animals while the cooks in the kitchen provided additional bones and scraps to household pets. Cats were not likely to have been fed regularly because their job was to catch mice.


Cobblestone Publishing
A Division of Carus Publishing Company

30 Grove St., Ste. C, Peterborough, NH 03458
1-800-821-0115 / 603-924-7209 / FAX 603-924-7380