Appears in
Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

peacock the male of the peafowl, Pavo cristatus, famous for its beautiful feathers, a bird which originated in India but was brought to Persia, and thence successively to Greece and Rome in times bc. It was so greatly prized in classical Rome as a bird to serve at banquets that Cicero (1st century bc) said that it was ‘daring’ to give a banquet without one. This statement provided a keynote which was echoed down the centuries until the 16th. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire the Franks and Ostrogoths kept up the tradition. The Emperor Charlemagne (in about 800) put it at the head of the list of birds which were always to be available at the places where he might stay. Records continue through the 10th and 11th centuries; and the chansons de geste, from the 12th century onwards (to the 16th), regularly depict the peacock as top bird for the banquet table.