History Today eBook: The Second World War

The Roman Hunt

The elites of ancient Rome transformed the nature of hunting.

Youthful pursuit: Alexander the Great (right) and General Krateros on a lion hunt. Macedonian mosaic, fourth century BC. Bridgeman Art Library/Archaeological Museum, PellaOccupying a shadowy position between hunting for subsistence and hunting for spectacle, the hunt of the late Republic and early Empire is reminiscent of the kind practised until recently in Britain.

One of the architects of modern hunting was Scipio Aemilianus (Africanus the Younger), who in 168 BC fought under his father at Pydna, at the end of the Third Macedonian War.

In much of Greece and the Near East learning to hunt had long been seen as a rite of passage. Nature was to be feared as much as revered and there was glory to be won in tempering it. By wrestling a lion to death, as Plutarch recalled, Alexander showed the world who was king. 

Scipio’s Macedonian expedition brought him not only military experience, but also, at his father’s bidding, hunting lessons from the region’s royals. As Rome came into contact with inhabitants of the Greek and Near Eastern city states it was gathering to itself across the second century BC, it also absorbed their passion for hunting.

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