Greek Pets

Many people in Ancient Greece had household pets. Animals provided companionship, and pets were loved by families just as they are today.

Facts about Greek Pets

  • Ancient Greeks were dog lovers
  • Alexander the Great may have been saved by his pet dog
  • Birds were almost as popular as dogs
  • Insects were kept in small cages
  • Apes and monkeys were kept as pets and playthings
  • Snakes and ferrets were kept for pest control
  • There were no pet cats in Ancient Greece
  • Beloved pets were buried in marked graves

Pet Dogs

Ancient Greek scriptures and paintings tell us that dogs were prized pets. Big dogs and ancient breeds that looked like today’s greyhounds were favoured for their speed and hunting ability.

Did you know… Not all pet dogs were fed. Some were expected to catch their own meals.

Alexander the Great

There are many ancient tales of Alexander the Great’s favourite dog named Peritas. One says that he attacked the enemy in a battle after Alexander was wounded by a javelin.

This gave time for Alexander to be rescued, but Peritas then died in his arms.

Did you know… Alexander the Great named a city in honour of Peritas and had a monument of him built in the square.

Pet Birds

Caged birds also feature on Ancient Greek vases. Writers from the time tell of small children keeping parrots, starlings and crows in cages.

Other birds that appear in ancient writings include cranes, quail, ducks and geese. Large birds such as herons or peacocks were sometimes kept as house pets.

This type of pet may have been more of a status symbol than a companion.

Did you know… In one Ancient Greek tale, a lady named Penelope is said to keep twenty geese in her home.

Insects

Grasshoppers, crickets and cicadas were kept as pets in small cages. They were prized for the sounds they made and loved as much as a dog might be.

Did you know… A famous Greek poet once wrote about his sadness after the death of his pet cicada.

Apes and Monkeys

Written evidence suggests that apes and monkeys were kept as pets. Some writers tell of monkeys being harnessed to small carts so that owners could have fun taking other pets for a ride.

Others tell of apes and monkeys being taught how to play musical instruments, but it’s not known how much of this is true.

Did you know… In Greek mythology, two thieves were turned into monkeys by Zeus as punishment for their crimes.

Snakes and Ferrets

Some pets were kept to do a job as much as provide companionship. Snakes and ferrets were popular choices for keeping mice and rats at bay.

Did you know… According to some writers, pet snakes sometimes slept in bed with children.

Hares and Hedgehogs, but No Cats

Ancient writings and artwork on vases suggest that the Ancient Greeks kept some unusual pets. These include goats, tortoises, weasels, hares, and hedgehogs, but there is no evidence of any pet cats.

Did you know… Cats may not have been introduced to Greece until Alexander the Great conquered Egypt. Cats were worshipped as gods by the Ancient Egyptians.

Pet Graves

Just as memorials dedicated to dead people lined the road leading into a town, gravestones dedicated to dead pets were also among them.

This shows how important pets were to many people in Ancient Greece.

Here is an example from a headstone: “This is the tomb of the dog, Stephanos, who perished, Whom Rhodope shed tears for and buried like a human. I am the dog Stephanos, and Rhodope set up a tomb for me.”

Did you know… Researchers have discovered that Ancient Greek pet names were not so different to pet names today. In translation, some popular names were Blackie, Whitey, Trooper, Tracker, and Tawny.

Questions and Answers

Which type of animal was the most popular pet in Ancient Greece?

Dog.

What was the name of Alexander the Great’s favourite pet dog?

Peritas.

Name two pet animals that helped to keep mice and rats at bay.

Snakes and ferrets.

True or False: Cats were the second favourite pet in Ancient Greece?

False. There is no evidence of any pet cats.

Back to –Ancient Greece