Mesopotamian Animals: Wild & Domesticated

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
Have you ever wondered what animals roamed ancient Mesopotamia? Hint: some no longer do. Did ancient Mesopotamians keep cats as pets? You'll learn in this lesson.

Mesopotamian Wildlife

When you think of ancient Mesopotamia, what do you think of? The desert? Pictographs? The Tigris and Euphrates rivers? What about animals? Mesopotamia was full of many wild animals that are no longer present there: think elephants and lions to name a few.

The Mesopotamians even domesticated some of these wild animals for their own use. Animals such as dogs, sheep and cattle, played an important role in the development of farming and culture. This lesson will focus on both wild and domesticated animals in ancient Mesopotamia.

Wild Animals

Mammals and Birds

A long time ago, ancient Mesopotamia (parts of modern Syria, Turkey and Iraq) contained large amounts of wild animals, sometimes very large herds of them.

These animals included the likes of gazelles, camels, antelopes, deer, and onagers. There were also plenty of predators like lions, wolves, panthers, foxes, boars, jackals and even hyenas. There were also birds of prey, such as vultures, owls, crows and falcons. Ancient Mesopotamian fields contained a lot of blackbirds, thrushes, sparrows and larks.

And you know what else was in ancient Mesopotamia? Elephants! Yes, while we think of elephants as African, India or southeast Asian, the ancient Mesopotamians had elephants roaming their lands. Unfortunately, elephants are no longer found in this region. And sadder still, the lions that roamed these parts are completely extinct as a species in the wild.

There were plenty of wild birds as well around these parts. The area teemed with ducks, mallard, geese, white stork, and quail. And the waterways contained everything from fish galore to turtles.

Managed Wild Animals

What's important to note is that many of these wild animals were managed, in a sense. Some of them were put into hunting reserves and kept there until a royal would have the animal cornered for them by servants in order to get an easy kill.

Some wild animals, like birds, were managed in the sense that they could be kept as pets. The ibis and heron are good examples of this. The pelican was even taught to fish for people. Other wild animals, including some birds, fish and turtles were caught, even farmed, and then eaten (or their eggs were as with birds). Other wild animals, like camels, could be domesticated to serve for other purposes, like transportation.

Still other animals were at the intersection of being wild and domesticated. Ancient Mesopotamian cities had scavenging dogs and pigs running around in the city streets, even in the palaces of the kings.

Domesticated

As Mesopotamia cities grew, the need for food grew as well, due to an increase in population. Many innovations grew out of the need for farming surplus amounts of food. One of these innovations was the domestication of animals for use on farms.

Poultry & Mammals

So what kinds of domesticated animals existed in ancient Mesopotamia? As you just learned, birds were used for meat and for eggs. They included the likes of ducks, chickens, geese, and partridges.

You would see plenty of cattle, goats, sheep, pigs, donkeys, mules, camels and horses as well being used for one purpose or another. Depending on the animal, they could be used for meat, wool, dairy products, leather, farming, transportation, religious sacrifice and even for fertilizer (from their dung).

Uses

Of all these, sheep were the most important in terms of number and impact on economy in ancient Mesopotamia. They were mainly used for their wool and milk. Their meat was used for offerings or even for gifts to a wedding couple or king.

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