Single purpose livestock with a weird relationship to gender

Eleanor Konik

Eleanor Konik

Professionally, I teach pre-teens about ancient civilizations. In my downtime, I enjoy combining storytelling with my love of sharing obscure history and science.


My husband showed me this utterly fascinating article about medieval pigs, which I've often heard a lot about (30-50 feral hogs, anyone?) but haven't really studied much. Since pig meat is so fraught with historic and religious significance, I decided to do a little more digging and see if I could find anything worth integrating to my worldbuilding.

Fun Facts

  • Pigs represent one of the most efficient ways to turn muck into food, and unlike most livestock are raised solely for their meat.
  • Although they are a livestock animal, pigs are considered one of the more difficult animals to domesticate. They revert to feral status remarkably quickly.
  • For most of the Middle Ages, wild boar was considered to be the premier big-game animal for hunters.
  • The terms for pigs are remarkably gendered; domestic pigs are almost always called sows (the female term) and wild pigs are almost always called boars (the male term).
  • In the ninth century, boar hunts were so important to political legitimacy that rulers blocked off their forests from even their own children in order to avoid usurpation.

Ancient Creatures

Pigs were among the earliest of domesticated animals, after goats and sheep, but probably before cattle. They're omnivores, excellent at converting scraps into red meat. By contrast, they were the first domesticated animals in Indonesia. [Read More]

Northern Beasts

The religious taboo against pork probably has more to do with culture than medicine, given how ill-suited pigs are for life in the Middle East than any real health concerns. Although pork is known for trichinosis, lots of undercooked meats are just as dangerous. Yet unlike ruminants like cows or goats, pigs do poorly in dry climates, where most of the fodder is too high in cellulose for them to process efficiently. [Read More]

Poor Food

Egyptians, by contrast, treated pork as the food of the poor ā€“ not outright banned for most people, but looked down on. Pharaohs donated pigs to temples, probably as charity. Eating pork was thought of as something that foreigners did ā€“ it wound up having pretty barbaric connotations. [Read More]

Fatty Pigs

There are two main types of pigs; those raised for their meat (bacon) and those bred for their fat (lard). Lard used to be very popular as a mechanical lubricant, but as people switched more to olive oil, butter, and petroleum, lard pigs were reduced to heritage status. [Read More]

If you found this interesting, you may also enjoy my article about early pastoral economies.


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