Rabbit: History

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

The range of rabbits was restricted to the countries of the W. Mediterranean until about the 3rd century bc, when the Romans began importing live rabbits to Italy as a source of meat. They are said to have fattened rabbits in warrens or yards known as leporaria, using ferrets to catch them.

Most authorities support the theory that it was the Normans who brought the stock from which the modern British and Irish population is descended. Records for them in the Scillies and on Lundy Island date back to the late 12th century. Walled and paved courtyards, which forced the animals to breed above ground, were used, so that the young could be easily removed. This was important to the medieval dietary regime as laurices, unborn and newly born rabbits, were not considered ‘meat’ and could be eaten on fish days. They were also kept in warrens, from whence they were conveniently caught. But they began to escape and establish feral colonies shortly afterwards, being caught with nets and ferrets.