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New species in ancient Rome

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Lion on Roman mosaic
Lion on Roman mosaic

Ancient Romans sometimes had problems with determining the first seen creature that was brought from the next conquest. This is evidenced by detailed descriptions, which obviously pose a lot of difficulties to the authors. An example can be an extremely vivid description of an animal imported for the first time by Caesar for the needs of its four-day triumph in September 46 BCE.

Cassius Dio quotes the description of the creature:

[…] I will give an account of the so -called camelopard, because it was then introduced into Rome by Caesar for the first time and exhibited to all. This animal is like a camel in all respects except that its legs are not all of the same length, the hind legs being the shorter. Beginning from the rump it grows gradually higher, which gives it the appearance of mounting some elevation; and towering high aloft, it supports the rest of its body on its front legs and lifts its neck in turn to an unusual height. Its skin is spotted like a leopard, and for this reason it bears the joint name of both animals.

The same term is used by living in the past Pliny, but he uses word – nabus (NH 8.37.69). Is the name connected with the Nabatea Kingdom? We are not sure if there were giraffes living in Jordan 2 thousand years ago, but it is not out of question that they were imported by sea from central Africa, and the port area was around the current Suez Canal. Changing nabus to camelopardus is also a good example of Latin language profanity.

  • Kasjusz Dion, Historia rzymska, 43.23
  • Pliny Elder, Historia Naturalis, wg tłumaczenia angielskiego

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