• James E Aarons DVM

Ancient Falconry

Updated: Apr 29

The Egyptians learned falconry from the Hittites, another ancient power where Syria, Iraq, and Turkey are. It was about 1300 BC, around the time of Pharoah Akhenaten, and King Tut.

“How does anyone know these facts, Tal, 1300 BC?”

“That’s just some of the facts that come your way in this birding business.” He smiled his smile again. “The Hittites were the movers and shakers back then.”

“Not the Egyptians? I’ve never heard of the Hittites.”

“Along with horsemanship and charioteering, Falconry developed with the Hittites in the mountains of Turkey. When it spread south, to Syria, the Egyptian's found it.”


Silver and gold rhyton (Hittite, ca. 14th-13th century BCE) Vessel "Protector God of the Countryside,"

“Yeah. Hittite documents from the second millennium B.C. tell of a falconry god called Gimras-LAMMA, the Protector God of the Countryside. In one text, it says he stands on a stag and holds an eagle and a hare in his left hand and a bow and a sword in his right. There are lots of stone carvings throughout Turkey and Syria, the ancient home of the Hittites. They show birds on people’s arms with falconry gear on them. You can tell how important it was by looking at ancient pottery because the local potters were obsessed with raptors. They frequently had them perching on the rims and handles of vessels.”

“Aren't those just pictures of birds in general? Where is your proof falconry was happening back then?”

“Remember I was telling you about jesses, those leather straps put on the birds’ legs to control them?”

“Umm hmm.”

Ancient Falconry, Chapter 16

“A Hittite tablet, showing a falconer goddess seated beside a stag, shows the jesses straps firmly held in the fist of this goddess. She was controlling the bird using falconry techniques three thousand years ago.”

“Just one example?”

“One example in history should be good enough,” he argued. “But there are more. In the Louvre, in Paris, there’s a famous Hittite relief showing a young man standing on a woman’s lap. We assume its a mother and son. The boy holds jesses in his left hand while the hawk has jumped from the boy’s fist to grasp a ball in its talons.”

“Why do you think birding took off, Tal? I mean, this seems like a lot of effort to train a bird to have fun with.”

“It was a way to get food, especially when food was scarce. A goshawk can provide a dozen rabbits a day, especially in agricultural fields where there must have been hundreds of unwanted critters. This was the time when people began congregating in large numbers inside cities. Which automatically required agricultural fields to feed the masses. Now that I understand the immense amount of energy needed to train each bird, I can see why those who mastered these birds became celebrities.”

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