The Human-Animal Relationship Throughout History

Environmental Science
Animals have always been an essential part of human life, serving as companions, beasts of burden, and sources of food. The history of the human-animal relationship dates back to the beginning of human evolution. This article will explore the intricate history of the human-animal relationship, from prehistoric times until today.

Prehistoric Times

The human-animal relationship started around 2.6 million years ago when the first hominids, who were primarily scavengers, followed animals to feast on the remains of their meals. It wasn't until around 1.8 million years ago that early humans started hunting animals for food, clothing, and shelter. Hunting played a vital role in the development of early human societies and helped shape the relationship between humans and animals. Cave paintings from this era illustrate early humans' reverence for animals, such as the cave paintings in Lascaux, France, which depict various types of animals, including deer, bison, and horses.

Ancient Times

The ancient Egyptians worshipped animals such as cats, crocodiles, and cows, believing they had divine powers. Cats, in particular, were deemed sacred, and killing one was punishable by death. The ancient Greeks, on the other hand, regarded animals as inferior beings. During the Roman Empire, animals were important in gladiatorial games, where they fought each other or humans for public entertainment. These games often resulted in the death of many animals.

The Medieval Period

During the medieval period, animals were essential labor sources, used for plowing fields, transportation, and carrying goods. Horses were a valuable asset, and their upkeep was of utmost importance. People often relied on animals for their livelihoods, and their treatment could mean the difference between life and death for the owners and their families. Religious beliefs also played a significant role in the human-animal relationship during this time. Christians believed animals had no souls and were not capable of moral reasoning, while other cultures held opposite beliefs.

The Renaissance Period

The Renaissance period witnessed a shift in thinking towards animals. People like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo regarded animals as sentient beings capable of feeling emotions. This period also saw the rise of animal experimentation, with scientists such as Andreas Vesalius using animals for research purposes.

The Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution saw a significant shift in the relationship between humans and animals. The use of machines replaced animals as labor sources, leading to the development of food factories and mass production of food. Animals became commodities and were treated as such. The advent of slaughterhouses and feedlots led to the mass production of meat and dairy products, with little regard for the living conditions or well-being of the animals.


In modern times, the human-animal relationship is characterized by concern for animal welfare and rights. The use of animals for food, entertainment, and experimentation is heavily regulated, and animal cruelty is illegal in most countries. Many people view their pets as part of their family and treat them accordingly, while others advocate for the protection of wildlife and endangered species. In conclusion, the history of the human-animal relationship is a complex and multifaceted one. It has been shaped by factors such as religion, culture, and economic developments. The relationship continues to evolve, and as humans become more aware of animals' sentience and their need for protection and ethical treatment, we can hope for a more compassionate and respectful relationship in the future.