Object: Bronze Hare

Bronze Hare
Roman (?)
Unknown location
Unknown date
Materials: Bronze

This bronze hare is 1 in. (2.5 cm) high, 1.5 in. (3.8 cm) long, and .5 in. (1.3 cm) wide.  The long ears are pointed and its short tail is also rather pointed.  The face is turned to one side.  The other side of the hare looks like it may have been attached to something.  This hare statuette does not appear to be a depiction of a hunted hare.  It is resting couchant, or positioned lying down with its head raised, unconcerned. Therefore, it is not likely that it is being chased.  One leg is tucked in, and its long ears stretch straight back from its head.  Details of an incised mouth and faint traces of eyes also survive.

Romans wrote that they used to have leporia (game reserves) just for hares. These reserves were fenced in and planted with abundant foliage so that the hares would be protected from predators such as eagles. Later, these reserves held many types of animals, including deer, cattle, and boars.  Hares continued to be important to the Romans and were used in spectacles held in the amphitheaters.  In one of Emperor Nero’s favorite spectacles, lions had actually been trained to play with hares without harming them.

As a game animal, hares were regularly hunted in Roman sport. Virgil and other authors mention hunting hares in fields on foot or on horseback. The hunting of hares also appears in artwork, as on the Neumagen tombs at Trier.

Roman mosaic of a dog hunting a hare, image courtesy of the Bardo National Museum in Tunis, Republic of Tunisia.

Roman mosaic of a dog hunting a hare, image courtesy of the Bardo National Museum in Tunis, Republic of Tunisia.

Hares fascinated Romans.  In amphitheater spectacles, snowy white hares were considered a marvel. Hares’ preference for fruit was another oddity for the Romans. When depicted in artwork separate from humans, hares are shown feasting on figs and grapes. Hares are found in mosaics, along with other animals in nature or hunting scenes.  Hares were also valued as pets, and a captured hare could be tamed and kept as a pet for a child.

Video: To learn more about Roman mosaic artwork and how they make designs like the hare, see this video on ancient mosaics:

Works Cited

Toynbee, J. M. C.

            1973 Animals in Roman Life and Art. New York: Cornell University Press.

[Chelsea Cinotto]

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Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.


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