Crusader Zoos

In their history of zoos ( Zoo: A History of Zoological Gardens in the West ), Eric Baratay and Elisabeth Hardouin-Fugier note a connection between Crusades and the development of European zoos. Romans maintained seraglios for the animals used in combats, and these were continued in Byzantium until the twelfth or thirteenth centuries. But “ti was through contact with Byzantium and the Muslim world, which was in the process of becoming the West’s supplier of wild animals, that the Crusaders to the Holy Land acquired a taste for hunting with leopards and an interest in the upkeep of exotic species.”

They add, “the first seraglio of any importance seems to have appeared in the thirteenth century in the court of Frederick II, King of the Two Sicilies. Frederick possessed camels, dromederies, elephants, big cats, monkeys, bears, gazelles, and a giraffe, which he used for hunts and parades. The custom spread gradually to the princely courts – first to those of the Italian peninsula, then to the rest of Europe – thanks to favorable economic conditions, and as knights sought to define their positions further by engaging in exclusive pastimes. In this way, grandees took to keeping curious beasts – mostly birds and monkeys – in their homes, while fishponds, aviaries and small seraglios were established in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries next to the warrens that had been there since antiquity.”

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