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Differentiation of species in antiquity

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Exotic animals on Roman mosaic
Exotic animals on Roman mosaic

Distinguishing species of animals similar to each other, for example, all kinds of felids (and biodiversity was then, i.e. in the times of Pliny the Elder much greater than it is now), posed many difficulties.

The term panther and pardus was used to refer to everything from a lion to leopards and possibly cheetahs, although the latter used the surprising term tigris. Researchers conclude this on the basis of Greek texts, or even Pliny. In one of the chapters (NH 8.25.66) he states that this tigris is an animal characterized by extraordinary speed, and elsewhere he writes about a spotted tiger, as evidenced by there is one of the mosaics found in Praeneste, which shows a mottled animal with the inscription “Tigris”. Ptolemy (Geographia 4.8.4) places these animals in Africa.

  • Gaius Plinius Secundus, Historia Naturalis

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