Just like people nowadays, the Ancient Romans really loved their pets.
Although not every Roman had a pet of their own, they had a special place in society, and animals owned by humans were treated differently to those found in the wild.
Many Ancient Roman artworks, poems, and pieces of writing confirm this fact.
Birds were one of the most common pets in the time of the Roman Empire. They were kept in cages by their owners. Generally, it was the upper-class Romans (or patricians) who owned birds.
Historians have discovered that although many Romans owned birds, they were regarded as a child’s pet. Because of this, many children’s graves in Ancient Rome were decorated with images of birds.
When the owner of a bird didn’t want to keep the pet in their home, they would pay to have the bird looked after at an “aviary,” a business that took care of other people’s birds for a small price.
They would also sell birds as pets. Birds also played an important role in religious ceremonies and “auguries.”
An augury was a ceremony where a special Roman priest (called an auger) would tell the future using the guts of a sacrificed animal. Because birds were common both in the wild and as pets in Italy, they were often used as the sacrifice.
Aside from birds, though, there was another type of Ancient Roman pet that remains popular to this day: dogs!
There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that pet dogs were kept in Ancient Rome, and that even wild dogs were sometimes domesticated (or trained) to keep people company. If they were particularly vicious, they’d also learn to work as guard dogs.
There isn’t much information available about how the Ancient Romans trained their dogs, but it’s likely that their training followed the same “carrot-and-stick” approach found in other ancient cultures: meaning that when the dog did something right, it was rewarded, and when it did something wrong, it was punished.
As an example of the evidence, historians have found a huge number of ancient dog statues in Italy, dotted all over the countryside in various dig sites.
Dog collars from the time of the Ancient Romans were also discovered in graveyards from the time, having been buried with their owners’ bodies. There’s evidence to suggest that when a pet’s owner died, the pet was sacrificed at their funeral; maybe to keep their masters company in the afterlife.
If a patrician’s dog died, they would get their own gravesite and tombstone, as well as a special plaque to show their name.
The amount of these dog tombstones and collars dug up from the time of the Ancient Romans shows that they were popular pets at this time. The breeds of dog discovered to have been in Ancient Rome include greyhounds, Irish wolfhounds, Maltese dogs and tiny lap dogs.
Fish were another common pet in Ancient Rome, (probably because they were easy to take care of,) and mosaics from the era show that many patricians kept pools of fish in their house for decoration.
Historians have even discovered some documents which show that there were guides to fish-buying and how to take care of your fish sold at the time of the Roman Empire!
What’s somewhat unusual, however, is that cats were not a very popular pet in Ancient Rome.
Historians have accepted that cats were first domesticated (made tame) by the Ancient Egyptians, and that they didn’t spread to the other ancient cultures because of this – but mosaics show that although cats were not common in Ancient Rome, some patricians and plebeians (poor Romans) did own them. However, they were most likely kept as rat-killers rather than beloved pets.