What do you know about Caesar’s giraffe? Well, in ancient Rome, wealthy people collected exotic animals as possessions. Of course, the Roman Emperors has the most diverse menageries since they could afford them. For example, Julius Caesar was known for his love of giraffes.
What do we know about Caesar’s giraffe?
According to historian Cassius Dio, Caesar was the first emperor to bring a giraffe to Rome. He reportedly received the animal as a gift from the king of Egypt in 46 BC. Caesar kept his giraffe in a special enclosure in his palace, where it was fed a diet of hay and acacia leaves.
Caesar was not the only Roman emperor to keep giraffes as pets. His successor, Augustus Caesar, was also known to have a menagerie of exotic animals, including several giraffes. In fact, the giraffe became a popular symbol of Roman power and wealth as a result. It was frequently depicted in art and literature of the time.
Understanding “new” animals
Despite their popularity, giraffes were not well understood by the ancient Romans. Some believed that they were a hybrid of a camel and a leopard.
The reason for this confusion was likely the animal’s unique physical appearance. Its long neck, spotted coat, and tall legs made the giraffe unlike any other animal that the Romans had seen before. In other words, they had no frame of reference to compare it to. As a result, they tried to make sense of it by likening it to animals that they were more familiar with.
The Roman historian Pliny the Elder wrote about giraffes in his Natural History. He described them as “the tallest of all quadrupeds” and noted that they were “spotted like a leopard, with the head of a camel.”
Cassius Dio noted, “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. Its skin is spotted like a leopard, and for this reason, it bears the joint name of both animals.”
Yep, they basically called it a “cameleopard.”