The story of Rome began when Rhea Silvia, a Vestal Virgin, gave birth to twin boys. Her claim that they were the sons of the god Mars was not believed. Left to die by the River Tiber, her babies were saved by a she-wolf...

The legens goes that  she heard their hungry cries and decided to suckle them (She-wolf or "Lupa" in Italian slang used to mean prostitute, but for mythological reasons lets all pretend it was an actual wolf ;-) ). Faustulus, a shepherd, found them and took them to his wife. As they grew, the young shepherd boys enjoyed hunting in the nearby woods. Their ambitions led them to start building a new settlement. Sadly the brothers fell out - Romulus killed Remus and became Rome’s first ruler. His hunting bands acted as providers, warriors and policemen for their communities. These bands evolved into the Roman army, which honoured the powerful creatures associated with hunting – the bear, wolf and eagle, by portraying them on the standards they carried into battle.

Romulus’ successors shared his love of hunting. When Rome’s fourth king, Ancus Marcius, died his sons’ guardian, Tarquinius Priscus, seized the throne while they were on a hunting expedition. After the monarchy was replaced by the Roman Republic, hunting continued and intensified leaving few game animals in central Italy. Wealthy Romans began to create hunting reserves. Pliny the Elder names Fulvius Lippinus as the first to do so. He bred and hunted wild boar on his extensive estate near Tarquinia in the 1st century BCE.

The hunting pursuits of early emperors from the 1st century AD onwards were more concerned with bloody spectacles than sport. As the empire expanded, exotic animals were captured and slaughtered for entertainment in staged hunts in amphitheatres.  Political intrigue, murder and scandalous behaviour of Augustus’s heirs dominate the historical record and few hunting tales survive. One story tells how the depraved emperor Caligula took on the role of Diana, the hunting goddess to bring down, gut, cook and eat a deer. He is also known for making his horse a senator. Even his sober and cultured successor, Claudius, held a show where panthers were hunted down by a squadron of cavalry in an amphitheatre. Next Thessalian horsemen drove wild bulls all over the arena, leaping upon them when they tired out and throwing them to the ground by the horns.

Claudius is probably better known for his wife, Messalina, said to be an insatiable hunter of men. Next came Nero, who is suspected of starting a great fire that destroyed much of Rome.

Domitian, who followed thirteen years later, was a keen hunter. Reliefs and carvings portray him on horseback pursuing wild beasts probably in the game park on his estate outside Rome. Emperors born in other parts of the empire had more opportunity to hone their hunting skills in the wild. Spanish born Hadrian was known, to hunt bears in Greece and elsewhere. He passed on his love of hunting to his successor, Marcus Aurelius (161 AD). Though better known for his philosophical writing, he greatly enjoyed wrestling, boxing and hunting.

by Celine Castelino