Dogs were probably trained to hunt as early as Neolithic times and came to be bred for specialized skills. The horse was adapted to the hunt in the 2nd millennium bce. The development of agriculture made hunting less a sole means of support, but it was still pursued to protect crops, flocks, or herds as well as for food.
Early hunting for sport was for rulers and their nobles, those having the most leisure and wealth.
In ancient Egypt the huntsmen constituted a social class; they hunted on their own as well as attending at the hunting of nobles. There was hunting in open deserts on both sides of the Nile valley, and sometimes animals were driven into enclosed preserves to be hunted there. Animals hunted included gazelle, antelope oryx , stag, wild ox, Barbary sheep , and hare; the ostrich for its plumes; and fox, jackal, wolf, hyena, and leopard for their pelts or as enemies of the farmer. The hunters used the net, noose, arrow, and dart.
Historic Hunt House
The lion was occasionally trained to hunt. Later hunters occasionally rode in a chariot or on horseback.
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The Assyrians and Babylonians also were partial to the chase, as is shown by the hunting scenes depicted on the walls of their temples and palaces. Hawks and falcons were used in hunting by Assyrians before bce , and falconry was widely known in India and China at an early date.
Biblical references show that game was plentiful, much sought after, and duly appreciated by the Israelites. Hunting began early among the ancient Greeks.
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Lions, leopards, lynx, panthers, and bears are also mentioned, the last being taken in pitfalls or speared by mounted horsemen. The Romans viewed hunting with less favour as a sport for gentlemen and left it to inferiors and professionals. The Franks and other Teutonic peoples were fond of falconry and the chase, and in later centuries both the laity and the clergy were warned by provincial councils against spending so much time and money on hounds, hawks, and falcons.
Originally, among the northern nations all could hunt except slaves, who were forbidden to bear arms. The idea of game preservation arose in feudal times when the right to hunt became attached to the ownership of land. Because of their hereditary claim to the title Lord High Masters of the Chase for the Holy Roman Empire , the electors of Saxony enjoyed exceptional opportunities to hunt. He refused the crown of Bohemia not for political reasons but because Bohemian stags were smaller than Saxon ones.
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To protect his stags, he fenced the boundary between Saxony and Bohemia. In 11th-century England, Edward the Confessor delighted in riding after stag hounds, as did many of his successors. In 18th-century France Louis XV was so fond of hunting that he stopped on the way home from his coronation to chase stags in the Villars-Cotterets forest.
In he spent days hunting. In Russia the tsars had superb hunting in the forest of Belovezh; one remarkable day shoot produced a tally of 36 elk , 53 stags, roebuck, 42 bison wisent , and wild boars. Wars sometimes began as hunts and ended as celebratory chases. Often understood as a kind of covert military training, the royal hunt was subject to the same strict discipline as that applied in war and was also a source of innovation in military organization and tactics. Just as human subjects were to recognize royal power, so was the natural kingdom brought within the power structure by means of the royal hunt.
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Hunting parks were centers of botanical exchange, military depots, early conservation reserves, and important links in local ecologies. The mastery of the king over nature served an important purpose in official renderings: as a manifestation of his possession of heavenly good fortune he could tame the natural world and keep his kingdom safe from marauding threats, human or animal. The exchanges of hunting partners—cheetahs, elephants, and even birds—became diplomatic tools as well as serving to create an elite hunting culture that transcended political allegiances and ecological frontiers.
This sweeping comparative work ranges from ancient Egypt to India under the Raj.