chapter  1
24 Pages

Animals as property

Animals belong to people. This was one of the earliest principles governing the relationship between humans and animals, certainly antedating the Middle Ages that form the focus of this book. Human ownership of animals was established when people first domesticated and bred dogs to help them in their hunting. Then people enclosed and bred food animals instead of simply hunting them or driving them away from their fields. In Western Europe, the first animals that were so claimed were the wild ox and pig. Sheep and goats were brought into Western Europe through the Mediterranean and were well established as domesticated animals by classical antiquity. Sheep and goats are easier to work with and were domesticated a thousand years earlier in the Middle East, but the wild species were not native to Western Europe, so they were not initially domesticated there but had to be brought in from the Mediterranean world.1 Finally, horses were domesticated first for food, then for labor. Well before the beginnings of the Middle Ages in Europe, all these animals we have long considered domesticated were important pieces of property.