The Greeks loved their pets, especially dogs! Like most modern societies, dogs were the most common pet in ancient Greece. There are many paintings and sculptures of dogs, and that tells us that dogs were important to the Greeks. The Greeks appreciated dogs for the company they provided. They also valued them as hunters. (Greeks didn’t feed their dogs, by the way. They were expected to catch their meals.) There are at least two stories in ancient Greek writing about the loyalty of a dog to its master. Archaeologists have even uncovered the graves of pets who seem to have been buried with treats!
Some of the most popular dog breeds in ancient Greece:
- Laconian: this dog was prized for its speed and skill as a hunter.
- Molossian: this was a BIG dog! It was used for hunting big game and may be the ancestor of the Mastiff.
- Cretan: a cross-breed of a Laconian and a Molossian.
Greeks were also fond of a breed called the Celtic Vertragus. This breed seems to be an ancestor of the modern greyhound. We know that greyhounds are one of the oldest dog breeds. They were valued by the Greeks because they were lean and fast. Believe it or not, a greyhound supposedly saved Alexander the Great from a charging elephant!
If you’re a cat-lover, you might have been lonely in ancient Greece. There isn’t much talk of cats in the records that survive. This means that the Greeks probably were not aware of cats. Since cats were domesticated in Egypt, they had probably never been seen in Greece until after Alexander the Great conquered Egypt. Egypt did not have much contact with the rest of the world before then. So cats were fairly late in getting to Greece!
You might be surprised to know that apes were a fairly common pet in Greece. Keeping apes and monkeys as pets was more common than it is now. One ancient Greek writer had bad things to say about people who loved their pet apes more than their children! Another writer wrote about a pet monkey who could play musical instruments.
Even though we might find them creepy, some Greeks kept snakes as pets. Some of these snakes were kept because they killed rats and mice. But apparently some were treated as regular pets. There are stories from ancient Greece about a man whose pet snake followed him around like a dog. Some Greeks apparently let their pet snakes sleep in the bed with their children!
Birds were also very common pets. Even large birds, such as heron and peacocks, were often kept inside the home as pets. There are many engravings that have survived to modern times that show Greeks in the company of large birds. This tells us that birds were important to the Greeks and were probably kept as pets. Ducks and geese were also very common. They may have even been as common as dogs for pets. One Greek woman, Penelope, is said to have kept twenty geese in her house! Imagine cleaning up after all of those geese!