The ancient Greeks and Romans hunted animals for several reasons. Hunting provided meat for food, as well as a way of protecting herds from wild animals. Hunting was also considered an enjoyable sport. From the time of Alexander the Great, large-scale hunting was seen as a manly and kingly virtue. Hunting was a popular theme in the literature and art of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and mosaics and paintings often depicted heroes* pursuing wild animals. Artemis was the Greek goddess of the hunt; the Romans called her Diana.
Because of its importance as food, deer was the most highly valued prey. Birds, hares, and boars were also popular. Hunting was generally done on foot, although some hunters rode on horseback. Hunters hunted singly or in bands, employing a variety of methods to catch their prey, such as snares, traps, and nets for small animals. Hunters also beat bushes to flush animals out onto open, level ground. The use of hounds and falcons to hunt prey originated in ancient times. In both Greek and Roman cultures, boys were taught how to hunt from an early age.
The Greeks and Romans shared an enthusiasm for hunting, but the Romans distinguished between hunting by professionals and hunting by amateur sportsmen. Professionals sold the game they killed at a market or hunted for their masters. They also captured animals live for use in gladiatorial* games in Rome. Sportsmen often hunted on foot with a spear. Many Roman emperors enjoyed hunting for sport. The emperor Hadrian was famous for his skill as a hunter of lion, boar, and other big game. The country estates of wealthy Romans provided excellent opportunities for extravagant hunts and sometimes included game preserves. Hunting was such an important social activity that special weapons were set aside for these hunts. Famous hunts were immortalized in poetry, painting, and song, and feasts were held to celebrate the hunt. (See also Food and Drink; Games, Roman.)
* hero in mythology, a person of great strength or ability, often descended from a god
* gladiatorial referring to the public entertainments in ancient Rome in which slaves or captives fought