Origin, origin and history of the rabbit
The history of the rabbit is a fascinating story thousands of years old. Although rabbits have not been kept as pets for very long, the bond between humans and rabbits has existed for millennia. For centuries, the rabbit gave us food when needed, especially during voyages of discovery and wars. The origin of the rabbit is not entirely clear, but the animal has a long history that dates back to ancient times. Did you know that Spain owes its name to the rabbit? In the Middle Ages, French monks kept rabbits. After World War II, it slowly became the third most popular pet in Europe and the US.
- Earliest History and Origin of the Rabbit
- Visit of the Phoenicians and origin of the name Spain
- In the footsteps of the Romans
- Rabbits in the Middle Ages
- Transformation in the mid-nineteenth century
- The rabbit as a pet
Earliest History and Origin of the Rabbit
From Asia to Europe
The rabbit’s origin is not entirely clear. Based on fossils found, biologists believe the animal originated from Asia and originated there at least 40 million years ago. Millions of years ago, the rabbit also spread to Europe.
Spain and Portugal
Due to the first ice age, the rabbit gradually withdrew to warmer regions and ended up in the Iberian peninsula that includes Spain and Portugal. It is estimated that the European wild rabbit first appeared there about 4,000 years ago. In this Mediterranean climate of warm summers and cold winters, the rabbit found an ideal place to live. The ground was dry and solid and suitable for digging tunnels.
Visit of the Phoenicians and origin of the name Spain
The first to mention the rabbit in written sources were the Phoenicians. This people of traders and explorers came from present-day Lebanon. Around 1100 BC, a group of Phoenicians explored the Iberian Peninsula and found it crawling with rabbits. They found the rabbit to be very similar to the rock badger. This animal from their homeland became ?? saphan ?? mentioned. That’s why they named the Iberian Peninsula ?? i-saphan-im ?? (?? the land of the clippers ??).
Hundreds of years later that name was corrupted by the Romans to ?? Hispania ?? from which the name ‘Spain’ is also derived. So the name of the country is directly related to the rabbit.
In the footsteps of the Romans
For thousands of years, the rabbit lived a carefree and undisturbed life on the Iberian Peninsula. This changed during the Second Punic War in which Rome took on its nemesis Carthage. Roman troops first arrived in Spain in the second century BC.
The Romans thought the rabbit was interesting, but purely for economic reasons. The rabbit meat was appreciated and the fur was also useful for making clothes. However, a rabbit is not too big, which made hunting rabbits unprofitable in the eyes of the Romans. They felt that the hunt was too much effort in relation to the returns.
That is why the Romans were the first to decide to breed rabbits in captivity, a practice known as “cuniculture”. was called. Wild rabbits were caught and then put in “leporaria”. These were high walled parks, meant to keep the rabbits captive but at the same time to protect them from predators. The Romans were pleased to note that the number of rabbits within these walls was rapidly increasing.
Of course rabbits often escaped from these parks in a way that rabbits are simply unsurpassed: digging tunnels. This may explain the rabbit’s Latin and scientific name “Oryctolagus cuniculus”, which means “hare-like digger of underground tunnels”.
Delicacy and beauty product
The Romans did not only eat animals ready for slaughter, but also newborn rabbits and even embryos. The flesh of newborn rabbits was a delicacy in ancient Rome, and Roman women even used it as a beauty product.
Distribution of the rabbit across Europe
As the Roman Empire grew, rabbits also went to the conquered areas. The soldiers took the animals, released them into the wild or on islands along the coast and thus provided themselves with food far away from Rome. However, this was not successful everywhere. When large predators such as wolves or lynxes lived, the rabbit colonies did not last long.
In other places, on the other hand, the rabbits multiply so quickly that pests break out and the rabbits damage the crops. For example, the Roman author Pliny wrote in the first century AD that two rabbits in the Balearic Islands reproduced so quickly that the inhabitants begged the Roman emperor Hadrian for help.
In any case, the rabbit was so well regarded as a source of food and clothing that entire ships carrying rabbits sailed from Spain to Rome and Roman coins were even minted depicting the rabbit in the first century AD.
The coin on the right shows a woman with a rabbit next to it. This shows that the animal was already well established in Roman society at that time.
Further spread to other continents
Later in history, the rabbit spread similarly across all continents except Antarctica. The Dutch East India Company took rabbits and released them on islands along the shipping route to the east as a food source on the road or for shipwrecked people. Rabbits also went to North America and Australia with the European explorers.
Rabbits in the Middle Ages
The first domestication of rabbits is attributable to French monks in the Champagne region in the centuries after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. They kept rabbits for meat production in cages and large walled gardens. They also bred animals with distinctive traits resulting in different color markings and breeds. The rabbit was also introduced to England in the twelfth century. A rabbit appears for the first time in a work of art in 1530: the “Madonna with rabbit”. from Titian showing a white rabbit.
Rabbits love fur and meat
Gradually ordinary people started keeping rabbits for their fur and meat in order to earn something extra. A book from 1631 entitled ?? A way to get wealth ?? gives tips and advice on how to keep rabbits.
Exhibitions where breeders gathered for the first time in the 16th century. Beauty or breed characteristics were not important here, however. Only the economics such as the density of the fur and the weight were important.
Transformation in the mid-nineteenth century
Breeding for hobby
Until the mid-1800s, the rabbit remained an animal only kept by meat and fur producers, but then things changed. Rabbit enthusiasts also started to breed the animals. The emphasis shifted from economic aspects to the breeding of animals with beautiful external characteristics. In England during this period breeds such as the Dutchman and the Belgian hare arose. From 1859 the first exhibitions took place in which beauty and breed characteristics were central.
Source of meat during wars
During the First and Second World War, food was scarce in many places and the rabbit was mainly bred for its meat. Rabbit breeding flourished during the war years because the animals took up little space and cost little. After all, green food was easy to find.
The rabbit as a pet
After the Second World War, rabbits became increasingly popular as pets. That was much later than dogs and cats, which were kept as pets much earlier. Initially, most rabbits still lived outside in a cage or run, but today a rabbit that lives indoors is no longer an exception.
Rabbits quickly made it to the third most popular pet after dogs and cats and it doesn’t look like this trend will change. After all, more and more people are discovering how much fun a rabbit can be as a pet.