It has long been thought that Romans did not hunt before the time of Scipio Aemilianus because hunting was not an activity for respectable citizens. This article shows that this tradition arose from a nineteenth-century bias for hunting on horseback. The tradition was supported principally by Polybius' account of Scipio's hunting and a quotation from Sallust. Although we now recognize that Greeks and Romans in general hunted on foot, this bias has predisposed the discussion against the discovery of evidence for the actual practice of hunting among the early Romans. The archaeological evidence from new excavations in Latium and previously uncited historical and legal evidence for hunting in the Republican period demonstrate that, precisely as we would expect, Romans from the earliest days hunted. Hunting as an aristocratic sport, as a communal activity associated with the military preparation of soldier-citizens, and as a practical means of survival for the poorer countrymen, were all present in Roman society. Further, Polybius' account of Scipio's hunting, contrary to what has been argued, indicates that the cause of disapproval was not the fact that Scipio hunted, but rather that he hunted instead of pleading cases in the forum. Supporting evidence from Cato the Elder, Ennius, and Plautus shows that hunting was a common and accepted activity among Romans of the mid-Republic. Finally, Sallust's criticism of hunting cannot be assumed to represent Roman views, since he condemns farming and hunting together, and we know Romans highly respected farming. No evidence supporting a negative view of hunting in Roman society is found, and the positive evidence in sum demonstrates conclusively that in all periods Romans did indeed hunt.
- Copyright 1996 The Regents of the University of California