History of Pigs - Where are pigs from?
Welcome to Quatr.us Study Guides!

History of Pigs

wild boar
Wild boar

May 2016 - The first pigs evolved in Southeast Asia from earlier, smaller mammals, about two million years ago, and spread out from there all over Eurasia and Africa. Wild pigs live in forests, especially where there are oak trees that make acorns, because pigs like to eat acorns. People first met pigs before they left Africa; they cooperated with dogs and used spears and nets to hunt wild pigs in the forest. We call male wild pigs boars. Wild boars are very dangerous to hunt. They are smart and they have long sharp tusks and teeth. Probably men hunted them mainly in order to look cool and impress girls.

It is much safer to domesticate pigs and have them tame, although even tame pigs can still be very dangerous (still, people are more dangerous to pigs than pigs are to people!).

People first began to keep tame pigs about 10000 BC, in Central Asia. From Central Asia, tame pigs spread slowly east to China, and south-west to West Asia and North Africa. People also tamed pigs separately in Europe, maybe about the same time. In central Europe (what's now southern Germany and Austria), people combined their pigs with the salt from the big salt mines there and got really good at preserving pig meat by making it into hams and bacon and sausages.

pigs

Pigs were a very popular source of food all through antiquity, from West Asia all the way west to to England and east to China, from Scandinavia to North Africa. Pigs care for themselves pretty independently, and they will eat apple cores and rotten meat and peapods, so you can feed them on garbage. Pig meat's easy to preserve with salt, and bacon and ham are delicious, fatty, salty foods.


Video of a pig

But from at least 1500 BC, Egyptian people seem to have thought that pigs were kind of yucky, something only poor people would eat. Possibly as a result of Egyptians conquering them during the New Kingdom, most Semitic people in West Asia, including not only most Jews but also other people like the Phoenicians and the Arabs, would not eat pig meat. The Bible and the Quran both say that Jews and Muslims should not eat pig meat. Further south in India, too, most people did not eat pig meat.

pig herder, dog and pigs
Pigs in medieval Europe
(Très Riches Heures, ca. 1415 AD)

At the end of the Bronze Age, when the Greeks invaded Israel and settled there as the Philistines, they brought European pigs with them to Israel. That would have been another reason why the Jews didn't like the Philistines - they kept pigs. Probably the Hellenistic Greeks and the Romans, too, when they conquered Israel, brought European pigs with them.

pig in courtyard model
A pig latrine in China: you climbed the stairs
to the little house to go to the bathroom, and
the pig could eat what fell to the ground and recycle it.

The earliest Christians, who lived in Israel, like the Jews did not eat pork, but by about 50 AD many Christians came from places where people did eat pork, like Greece, and the Christians decided that this rule did not apply to them.

When Mohammed told the Arabs about the new religion of Islam, he also said that Muslims (people who followed Islam) should not eat pork. So pigs became much less common around the Mediterranean and in West Asia after about 700 AD, and they are still very uncommon today. But in Europe and in China, where people were Christian or Buddhist or Taoist and not Muslim, pigs remained very common.

Learn by doing: salt your own bacon
Pork in Chinese food
Pork in German food

Bibliography and further reading about pigs:

Sheep
Chickens
Horses
Cows
Camels
Quatr.us home


Please help other teachers and students find us: link to this page from your class page.
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
Sign up for more free articles and special offers in Quatr.us' weekly newsletter:
We will never share your e-mail address unless you allow us to do so. View our privacy policy. Easy unsubscribe links are provided in every email.
Check out our new ebook: Short and Simple: Ancient Greek Myths! - just out! Twenty-five easy to read, illustrated stories, from Pandora to Medea, Icarus, and the Trojan Horse (you can read these online as samples). Get it this week for just $14.99, five dollars off the regular price of $19.99.
Cite this page
  • Author: K.E. Carr
  • Title:
  • Site Name: Quatr.us Study Guides
  • Publisher: Quatr.us
  • Date Published:
Did you find what you needed? Ask your teacher to link to this page so other people can use it too! Send it in and win a Quatr.us "Great Page!" award!
Sign up for more free articles and special offers in Quatr.us' weekly newsletter:
We will never share your e-mail address unless you allow us to do so. View our privacy policy. Easy unsubscribe links are provided in every email.
Comment on This Article
Quatr.us is loading comments...
(Comments will appear after moderation, if they are kind and helpful. Feel free to ask questions, and we'll try to answer them.)
Cite this page
  • Carr, K.E. . Quatr.us Study Guides, . Web. 21 July, 2017
ADVERTISEMENT