Dogs of Roman Britain: Secular, sacred or consumed?

Animal Iconography in the Archaeological Record - New Approaches, New Dimensions - Laerke Recht

Branka Franicevic
University of Bradford


Oral Evidence on the role of the domestic dog in everyday life in Roman Britain is scarce. Archaeological evidence indicates that dogs had been consumed or/and used in ritual practices during Britain’s Iron Age, but little is known as to whether this practice continued in the period of Roman conquest. Inevitably, new material cultures were introduced to indigenous Britons by Romans, and the Empire is known to have used dogs as companions, protectors and hunters, but not for consumption. This project proposed a zooarchaeological framework of study by focusing on three facets that are archaeologically accessible: iconography, imagery and osteology. An aim was to assess the significance the domestic dog had within Iron Age and Romano-British society. This framework was illustrated by comparing animal iconography with osteological evidence from major Romano-British archaeological sites in southern Britain and Yorkshire from the early Iron Age (c.700BC) to the late Roman period (c.AD450). Numerous depictions of dogs in Roman artwork ranging from statues to pottery point to high-status of dogs in Roman society. Osteological results further indicate a large increase of dog numbers in indigenous British households from the Iron Age throughout the Roman period. This demonstrates that dogs of all ages lived with humans and were kept in good health. It informs us that dogs were used as a food source alongside other domestic animals to a limited extent during the Iron Age in the south of Britain, a practice that decreased significantly in the Roman period in both tested regions. This analysis may demonstrate the link between cultural practices and cultural beliefs, connecting the study to broader anthropological research.

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Franicevic, Branka. Dogs of Roman Britain: Secular, sacred or consumed?. Animal Iconography in the Archaeological Record - New Approaches, New Dimensions. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. Nov 2021. ISBN 9781781799260. Date accessed: 08 Jul 2020 doi: 10.1558/equinox.38886. Nov 2021

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