Let me call you sweetheart

When you think of ancient Rome, what comes to mind? Many of us remember endless lists of names and dates, drummed into our heads by our teachers while we watched the clock praying the bell would ring soon.

Sure, Romans showed impressive military prowess, mastery of engineering and architecture, and progressive ideals regarding the rule of law—all remarkable for the time. But we might have paid a bit more attention in class if our teachers had thought to point out the most obvious example of Rome’s advanced culture—their respect for rabbits!

It’s true that Romans weren’t known for being vegetarian. And that respect wasn’t always enough to keep Fluffy off the dinner table. But rabbits were viewed much more highly in ancient Rome than they are in many places even today. Not simply “livestock”, Roman rabbits were revered not only for their practical value but for their grace, beauty, and cunning.

When Roman Emperor Galba “acquired” Spain early in the first century, he celebrated by issuing a coin featuring a lovely woman with a rabbit at her feet. The rabbit was thought to represent the desirability and usefulness of this new land. Later coins also featured rabbits on one side, with various other motifs on the reverse.

Rabbits were also a hugely popular subject for public art, mainly intricate mosaic floor designs. For the most part, these were peaceful scenes, with no hungry foxes or snares in sight. Artists took great care with shading and contour. Very often a rabbit was more than just a peripheral figure. It was actually the main subject.

Prominent Roman women with disposable incomes chose bunny brooches made of bronze and silver. One fascinating pin is in the shape of a rabbit, with two smaller rabbits engraved into its side. Rabbit figures were also incorporated into household goods, like this bronze handle.

When Rome expanded into Great Britain around the 11th century, they brought their rabbits with them. Thanks to British farmers, the bunnies enjoyed covered, free-range enclosures, quite a luxury for that era. And even in those hard, hungry times, some rabbits’ appeal and charm were sufficient to earn them a permanent place inside the home. The colloquial term for ancient British house rabbits? “Sweethearts”!

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2 Responses to “Let me call you sweetheart”

  1. Kate Says:

    My kids have been studying ancient Rome, & this is the perfect list for my bunny loving crew! Thank you!!

  2. Granny Says:

    Wow!!! I had no idea. From now on I shall look more carefully at illustrations from ancient Rome and continue to learn!! Thank you!!!

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