Cockfighting

Until a recent period the English were almost the only people among whom cock-fighting was a favourite amusement; and on that account it is considered as peculiar to them, though it was esteemed among various nations many centuries ago. It is not improbable that it was first introduced into England by the Romans. That it, however, has been constantly retained there, though the practice of inciting animals to fight has been long scouted by moral and enlightened nations, is as singular an anomaly, as that the Spaniards should still continue their bull-fights, and that princes who wish to avoid the appearance of cruelty should nevertheless pursue, with immoderate passion, the detestable and so often condemned hunting with dogs. I shall leave to others the task of moralising on these contradictions in the character of whole nations as well as individuals, and shall here only give the history of cock-fighting as far as I am acquainted with it.

This pastime is certainly very old; but I agree in opinion with Mr. Pegge 1146 , that Palmerius 1147  has made it much older than can fully be proved. The latter supposes that Adrastus, the son of Midas, king of Phrygia, killed his brother in consequence of a quarrel which took place between them in regard to a battle of quails. Adrastus on account of this murder fled to Crœsus; and as that prince lived about 550 years before the Christian æra, quail-fighting, according to the opinion of Palmerius, must have been customary at that time; and in this case one might admit that cock-fighting was of the same antiquity, because the battles of the domestic cock are still more violent, and can afford more amusement. Herodotus 1148 , who relates the story of Adrastus, does not mention the cause of the quarrel; but it is given by the historian Ptolemy, the son of Hephestion, called also Alexandrinus, who lived about the time of Trajan and Adrian 1149. He however only says that the two brothers quarrelled about a quail. Did any other proofs exist that quail-fighting was common at so early a period, it would indeed be then probable that the brothers quarrelled during that pastime. But as no such proofs are to be found, many other causes of quarrelling in regard to a quail, either in catching or pursuing it, may be conceived.

It is however certain that quails, as well as the domestic cock, are exceedingly irritable and quarrelsome birds; and that, like the latter, they can be employed for fighting; but it appears that quail-fighting was first practised by the Romans, in whose writings it is frequently mentioned 1150 ; whereas among the Greeks it seldom or never occurs, while cock-fighting is spoken of on many occasions. The latter however sported with quails; but their pastime with these birds seems not to have been fighting, properly so called, where the great object of contest is whose quail shall be the victor; but the information on this subject is so imperfect that it cannot be fully understood 1151. Sometimes the parties laid bets who could kill the other's quails, or the greatest number of them, with one blow. One placed a quail within a circle, and another endeavoured by irritating the animal to make it go beyond it. If he proved successful in this attempt, he was declared the winner. Several were often placed within a circle at the same time, and the person lost whose bird first quitted it. Kühn and others are of opinion, that each of the parties endeavoured to induce the quail of the other to leave the circle, by irritating or enticing it; but the words appear without doubt to allude to a contest of several quails with each other 1152 , were it possible that the later Greeks had learned to play at this game from the contests of the Romans.

Solon, however, in Lucian 1153 , speaks of cock-fights and quail-fights exhibited publicly at Athens. But Lucian lived in the second century, had travelled into Italy, was well acquainted with the Roman customs, and made Solon mention quail-fighting, which he never saw in Greece, merely because he himself had seen it in Italy. This blunder may appear too gross, perhaps, for so acute a writer as Lucian; but since he has fallen into two anachronisms in the same dialogue, as he not only makes Solon a contemporary of Lycurgus, who lived two centuries earlier, but also introduces him as speaking of public cock-fights at Athens, which were first established half a century later, that is to say, after the battle of Marathon, he may readily have been guilty of a third oversight, by transferring quail-fighting to Athens. But at any rate similar games were usual in the island of Cyprus in the sixteenth century.

It appears, however, that the Romans bred and employed partridges for fighting in the same manner as quails. Lampridius relates, that the emperor Alexander Severus was fond of seeing battles of this kind 1154 ; and Ælian, who lived in Italy under Heliogabalus, in the second century 1155 , says that those who kept partridges for fighting, when they pitted them against each other, placed the females close to the males, in order to render them more courageous. Without doubt he here speaks of what was then usual at Rome.

Cock-fighting was appointed at Athens to be a public or solemn pastime, in consequence of a circumstance which occurred to Themistocles. At least Ælian relates 1156  that this commander, when he led out the Greeks against the Persians, happening to see two cocks fighting, took that opportunity to rouse the courage of his soldiers, by telling them that as these animals contended with so much obstinacy, though they fought neither for their country, their families, nor their liberty, but merely for the honour of victory, it was much more incumbent on them to exert themselves with bravery, as they had all these causes of incitement. Having defeated the enemy, as a memorial of his victory and a future encouragement to bravery, it was ordered that fighting-cocks should be exhibited every year, in a public theatre, in the presence of the whole people.

Mr. Pegge and others are of opinion that the Greeks afterwards took so much pleasure in the fighting of these birds, that they were generally employed throughout all Greece for this pastime and for betting. I am ready to admit that this is probable; but the institution of Themistocles appears to me to be no proof that cock-fighting was not practised at an earlier period. Even if it had been common, the Athenians might have thought proper to establish a religious or at least solemn cock-fighting to be exhibited every year. Themistocles however is not the only person who employed the courage of game-cocks as an incitement to bravery. Socrates inspired Iphicrates with courage, by showing him with what ferocity the cock of Midas, or Meidias, and that of Callias attacked each other 1157. What Themistocles said to his soldiers was addressed by Musonius as a philosopher to mankind, to encourage them to support labour, danger, and pain, when duty or honour require it 1158.

Many modern writers ascribe the establishment of public cock-fighting at Athens, not to Themistocles, but to his contemporary Miltiades. I have hitherto suspected that this arises merely from a confusion of names, as is certainly the case in Moses du Soul 1159 , where a reference is made to Ælian, by whom however Miltiades is not mentioned. At present, I am of opinion that Philo Judæus, who wrote in the first century, gave occasion to this assertion. He relates, that when Miltiades was about to lead the Grecian troops against the Persians, he exhibited a cock-fight, in a place which had been employed for public shows, in order to inspire courage into his soldiers by this spectacle, and that the end proposed was accomplished; but nothing is said by that author in regard to the establishment of annual cock-fights 1160. According to this account, cock-fighting seems to have been at that time not uncommon; but as it remains doubtful whether Philo speaks of the campaign before the battle of Marathon, in which Miltiades and Themistocles were both present, very little can be gathered from his relation, and it appears to me not sufficient to contradict the more circumstantial account of Ælian.

Another small mistake, which Pegge thought it worth while to notice, deserves also perhaps to be rectified.Dalechamp 1161  and Potter 1162  assert that Themistocles, while leading out his army, having heard a cock crow, declared this to be an omen of victory, and after beating the enemy he instituted cock-fighting in remembrance of that event. I shall here remark, that Dalechamp is not the first person who made this assertion. Peucer 1163 , and at a period still earlier, Alexander ab Alexandro 1164  mentioned the same thing, but no one ever pointed out the passage in any ancient author upon which this assertion was founded; and I have been as unsuccessful in my endeavours to find it, as those who attempted to discover the sources from which Alexander derived his information. This author perhaps collected from manuscripts, in the fifteenth century, many things never printed, and which therefore have been lost. He may also have written many things from memory without remembering them all with accuracy.

It is indeed true, that the crowing of a cock was sometimes considered as a presage of victory. Thus Cicero quotes an instance 1165  where a Bœotian soothsayer promised victory to the Thebans from the crowing of a cock; and according to Pliny 1166 , the same circumstance once served to the Bœotians as an omen of victory over the Lacedæmonians. How then could Themistocles make choice of a cock-fight to commemorate a victory announced by the crowing of a cock? Besides, Anacharsis in Lucian confirms the object of the institution assigned by Ælian. In the history of antiquity many things are often repeated, without any one taking the trouble to examine whether they can be proved by the testimony of the ancients. Those who wish to attain to truth and certainty in matters of this kind, will not consider such short examinations to be of so little importance as they may to others appear.

Dempster has assigned another reason for the cock-fights established by Themistocles, which, though adopted by many, is not even supported by probability. He conceives that these cock-fights were like a kind of permanent trophies or monuments of the conquered Persians, because the game-cock was indigenous in Persia, and conveyed thence to other countries 1167.

Athenæus 1168 , indeed, quotes from a work of Menodotus some lines by which the latter part of this assertion is confirmed; and Aristophanes 1169  in two places calls the domestic cock a Persian bird. It is proved by more modern accounts, that this species of fowl is at present found wild in the East Indies and many neighbouring countries. Sonnerat 1170  found them in Hindostan; and they were seen by Cook and by Dampier on Pulo Condor and many islands of the South Sea. According to the testimony of Gemelli Careri, they were indigenous in the Philippine islands, and according to Morolla in the kingdom of Congo. That they are still found wild in Georgia is asserted by Reineggs 1171. The account therefore of the Greeks, that they obtained domestic fowls from Persia, may be admitted; but as in cock-fights one Persian overcame another, how could these convey the idea of a victory of the Greeks over the Persians? Is the object, then, as stated by Lucian and Ælian not sufficient and intelligible?

That cock-fighting, in the course of time, became a favourite pastime among the people, is proved by the frequent mention which is made of it in various authors. Pliny says 1172  that it was exhibited annually at Pergamus, in the same manner as combats of gladiators. In this city, according to Petronius 1173 , a boy was promised a fighting-cock; and therefore it appears that boys kept cocks there for this pastime. Æschines reproaches Timarchus with spending the whole day in gaming and cock-fighting. Plato 1174  complains, that not only boys but grown-up persons, instead of labouring, bred birds for fighting, and employed their whole time in such idle amusements.

Cock-fights were represented also by the Greeks on coins and on cut stones. That the Dardani had them on their coins we are told by Pollux 1175 ; and this seems to prove that these people were as fond of that sport as their neighbours of Pergamus. Mr. Pegge caused engravings to be made of two gems in the collection of Sir William Hamilton, on one of which is seen a cock in the humble attitude of defeat, with its head hanging down, and another in the attitude of victory, with an ear of corn in its bill as the object of contest. On the other stone two cocks are fighting, while a mouse carries away the ear of corn for the possession of which they had quarrelled; a happy emblem of our law-suits, in which the greater part of the property in dispute falls to the lawyers and attorneys. Two cocks in the attitude of fighting are represented also on a lamp found in Herculaneum 1176.

That the Greeks employed various means to increase the irritability and courage of fighting-cocks is beyond all doubt. Besides the circumstance already mentioned in regard to the females, they gave them also food which produced nearly the same effect as opium does in India, and as brandy did some years ago on the European armies.Dioscorides 1177  and Pliny 1178  ascribe this effect to a plant which they call adiantum. The former says it was given to game-cocks and quails, and the latter that it was given to game-cocks and partridges, to incite them to fight. Garlick, allium, was employed also, as we are told by Xenophon, not only for game-cocks but also for horses and soldiers. That the Greeks, however, like the English at present, armed their cocks with steel spurs, in order to render their battles more bloody, is denied by Pegge; though the contrary seems to be proved by a passage in Aristophanes, now become a proverb, and the remarks of the scholiast 1179. As the English procure the strongest and best fighting-cocks from other countries, and often from Germany, through Hamburg, the Greeks, in the like manner, obtained foreign game-cocks for the same purpose 1180.

Why the Romans showed more fondness for quail-fighting than for cock-fighting I do not know; but it is certain that they had not the latter, or at any rate only seldom and at a late period, which appears to be very singular, as they began then more and more to imitate the Greeks. Varro mentions the breeds which were chiefly sought for in Greece; but he adds, that though they might be good for fighting, they were not fit for breeding 1181. Had the breeding of game-cocks been an employment, he would have spoken in a different manner. Columella also ridicules the breeding of these cocks, as a Grecian custom, and prefers the native race to all others. Eustathius, in the place already quoted, says expressly that the Romans preferred quails to game-cocks; yet in later times we find mention among them of cock-fighting, as has been before remarked.

There were cocks in England in the time of Julius Cæsar 1182 ; but it is said that they were kept there merely for pleasure, and not used as food. The latter part of this account is not improbable. The inhabitants of the Pelew Islands, we are told, eat only the eggs of their hens, and not the flesh. But the question, how old cock-fighting is in England, cannot be determined. Pegge says, the oldest information which he found on this subject was in the Description of the City of London by William Fitz-Stephens, who lived in the reign of Henry II., and died in 1191 1183. This writer relates that every year on Shrove Tuesday the boys at school brought their game-cocks to the master, and the whole forenoon was devoted to cock-fighting, for the amusement of the pupils. The theatre or cock-pit, therefore, was in the school-house, and the pupils seem to have had the direction of it. To this information I can add, that cock-fighting in France was forbidden by a council in 1260, on account of some mischief to which it had given rise 1184.

This pastime has been sometimes forbidden even in England, as was the case under Edward III. and Henry VIII.; also in the year 1569, and even later; but it was nevertheless retained to a late period. Even Henry VIII. himself instituted fights of this kind; and a writer worthy of credit relates, that James I. took great delight in them 1185. In modern times this cruel amusement has been carried beyond all bounds; so that the cock-fights in China 1186 Persia 1187 Malacca 1188 , and America 1189 , are nothing in comparison of those called the battle-royal and the Welsh main. In the former a certain number of cocks are let loose to fight, and when they have destroyed each other, the survivor is accounted the victor, and obtains the prize. In the latter kind of battle, sixteen pair of cocks, for example, being pitted against each other, the sixteen conquerors are made to fight again; the eight of these which are victors, must fight a third time; and the four remaining a fourth time, till at length the two last conquerors terminate, by a fifth contest, this murderous game, after thirty-one cocks have successively butchered each other amidst the noisy exultation of the spectators, who however make a pretence to the character of magnanimity.

[Cock-fighting is one of the chief amusements throughout the East Indies and China, and it is a fashionable pastime for ladies in Peru. The spot on which the cock-pit Royal, which was built in the reign of Charles II., existed, is now used for the meetings of the members of Her Majesty's Privy Council. The custom of cock-throwing, that is, of throwing sticks at a cock exposed at a stake and which was practised in this country at Shrovetide, is supposed to have originated during the war with France in the reign of Edward III., and to have been considered a mark of hatred and contempt for the French people, of whom that bird was the national emblem; but the conjecture rests upon no solid authority and must be regarded as mere legend.

Cock-fighting is now forbidden and punishable by law in Great Britain, and every attempt is made to prevent this and other similar barbarous sports and to convict the offenders, by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.]

Footnotes

1146  Archæologia, vol. iii. p. 132. A Memoir on Cock-fighting, by Samuel Pegge, M.A., Rector of Wittington. As this learned antiquary made use of what was collected by others on this subject, I have taken the same liberty with his paper; but have rectified some mistakes and made new additions.

1147  Palmerii Exercit. in Auct. Græcos. Ultraj. 1694, 4to, p. 3.

1148  Lib. i. cap. 35 et 45.

1149  See Vossius de Historicis Græcis, lib. ii. cap. 10. Extracts from this book of Ptolemy may be found in Photii Bibliotheca, 1612, fol. p. 472.

1150  The passages which indisputably relate to quail-fighting, as far as I know, are as follows: Plutarch. Apophthegm. p. 207, ed. Francofurt, 1620, fol. Cæsar Augustus caused a person to be punished for having purchased and used as food a quail which had always been victorious; and in Vita Antonini, p. 930, it is said that Antoninus often had the satisfaction of seeing his game-cocks and quails victorious. M. Antoninus de Se-ipso, i. § 6, declares that he never took pleasure in keeping quails for fighting. Herodian, iii. 10, 4, says that the son of Septimus Severus always got into quarrels at quail- and cock-fighting.

1151  This account is given by Jul. Pollux, lib. ix. cap. 7, § 102 et 108.—Suidas, v. ὀρτυγοκόπος, ed. Kusteri, ii. p. 717.—Meursius de Ludis Græcorum, in Gronovii Thes. Græc. Antiq. vii. p. 979.

1152  Pollux, p. 1095.

1153  De Gymnasiis, cap. 37.

1154  Cap. 41, p. 985.

1155  Histor. Anim. iv. 1.

1156  Var. Histor. ii. 28. Kühn quotes from Eustathius's commentary on the Iliad, p. 740, a passage which contains a new proof that the Romans had quail-fighting rather than cock-fighting. The words of Ælian are admitted by Petit among the Attic laws. See his Leges Atticæ, p. 156.

1157  Diogen. Laert. ii. 30. p. 98.

1158  Stobæi Eclog. ed. Gesneri. Tiguri 1543, fol. p. 298. Cœlius Rhodiginus Lection. Antiq. xvi. 13, and after him Delechamp, Kühn, Pegge, and others say, that the philosopher Chrysippus extols the game-cock also on account of its courage; but none of these writers has told us where this fragment of the lost works of that polygraph is to be found. I met with it in Plutarchi lib. de Stoicorum repugnantiis, p. 1049.

1159  Solanus ad Luciani lib. c.

1160  The passage occurs in the treatise, Liber quisquis virtuti studet, in op. ed. Mangey, ii. p. 466.

1161  In his observations on Pliny, lib. x. 21, sect. 34.

1162  Antiq. of Greece.

1163  De Divinationum Generibus, 1591, 8vo, 232, b.

1164  Geniales Dies, v. 13.

1165  De Divinatione, i. cap. 34.

1166  Plin. x. 21, sect. 34.

1167  In his Annotations on Rosini Antiquit. Rom. iii. cap. 10. See Hyde de Religione Persarum, p. 163.

1168  Lib. xiv. cap. 20.

1169  Aves, 484, 707. Beck, in his edition of this comedy, Lips. 1782, 8vo, p. 50, thinks that the ancients themselves did not know whence this appellation arose. He refers therefore to the scholiasts, and to Suidas, v. Περσικός ὄρνις, p. 102, whose words have been copied by Phavorinus into his dictionary, p. 598; and he supposes, with Suidas, that the similarity of the cock's comb to the Persian covering for the head gave occasion to the name. But the passage quoted from Athenæus assigns a much more probable reason.

1170  Voy. aux Indes Or. ii. p. 117, where there is also a figure of the wild fowls.

1171  Reineggs Beschreibung des Kaukasus, 1797, 8vo, p. 69.

1172  Lib. x. c. 7.

1173  Cap. 86.

1174  De Legibus, l. vii.

1175  Onomast. ix. 84.

1176  Antich. di Ercolano, tom. viii. Lucerne, p. 63. More engravings of coins with similar impressions may be found in Haym. Thes. Brit. i. pp. 213, 234, in Agostini Gem. P. i. p. 199, and in Gorleus, P. i. 51, and 114, also P. ii. 246. Frölich Notit. Numism. p. 81. A single cock may often have been the emblem of vigilance.

1177  Lib. iv. cap. 36.

1178  Lib. xxii. cap. 21, sect. 30: “perdices et gallinaceos pugnaciores fieri putant, in cibum eorum additis.” This affords a further proof that partridges also were made to fight.

1179  Aves, 760: αἶρε πλῆκτρον εἰ μάχει: tolle calcar si pugnas. See what has been said in regard to this proverb by Suidas, and by Erasmus in his Adagia.

1180  The most celebrated breeds are mentioned by Columella, viii. 2.—Plin. x. 21.—Geopon. xvi. 3, 30.

1181  Varro, iii. 9.

1182  De Bello Gallico, lib. v. 12.

1183  “Præterea quotannis die, quæ dicitur carnivale (ut a puerorum ludis incipiamus, omnes enim pueri fuimus) scholarum singuli pueri suos apportant magistro suo gallos gallinaceos pugnatores, et totum illud antemeridanum datur ludo puerorum vacantium spectare in scholis suorum pugnas gallorum.” I have transcribed these words from the first edition of this old topography, which is entitled A Survey of London, written in the year 1598, by John Stow ... with an appendix containing Libellum de situ et nobilitate Londini, written by William Fitzstephen. Lond. 1599, 4to, p. 480. Stow translates the word Carnivale  by Shrove Tuesday.

1184  Du Cange, Glossarium. This council, as I conjecture, was held in the town of Copriniacum in diocesi Burdegalensi, which, as some think, was Cognac.

1185  See Maitland's London, and Stow's Survey, by Strype, i. p. 302. edit. 1754.

1186  Bell's Travels, p. 303.

1187  Tavernier.

1188  Dampier. Also the Gentleman's Mag. 1770, p. 564.

1189  Wafer, p. 118.