In ancient Greece, the chicken was not normally used for sacrifices, perhaps because it was still considered an exotic animal. Because of its valor, chickens are found as attributes of Ares, Heracles and Athena. The Greeks believed that even lions were afraid of chickens. Several of Aesop’s fables reference this belief.
In the cult of Mithras, the chicken was a symbol of the divine light and a guardian against evil.
Chickens in Ancient Rome
The Romans used chickens for oracles, both when flying ("ex avibus") and when feeding ("auspicium ex tripudiis"). The hen ("gallina") gave a favourable omen ("auspicium ratum"), when appearing from the left, like the crow and the owl.
For the oracle "ex tripudiis" according to Cicero, any bird could be used, but normally only chickens ("pulli") were consulted. The chickens were cared for by the pullarius, who opened their cage and fed them pulses or a special kind of soft cake when an augury was needed. If the chickens stayed in their cage, made noises ("occinerent"), beat their wings or flew away, the omen was bad; if they ate greedily, the omen was good.
In 249 B.C., the Roman general Publius Claudius Pulcher had his chickens thrown overboard when they refused to feed before the Battle of Drepana, saying "If they won’t eat, perhaps they will drink." He promptly lost the battle against the Carthaginians and 93 Roman ships were sunk. Back in Rome, he was tried for impiety and heavily fined.
In 161 BC, a law was passed in Rome that forbade the consumption of fattened chickens. It was renewed a number of times, but does not seem to have been successful. Fattening chickens with bread soaked in milk was thought to give especially delicious results. The Roman gourmet Apicius offers 17 recipes for chicken, mainly boiled chicken with a sauce.
The Roman author Columella gives advice on chicken breeding in his eighth book of his treatise on. agriculture. He identifies Tanagrian, Rhodic, Chalkidic and Median (commonly misidentified as Melian) breeds, which have an impressive appearance, a quarrelsome nature and were used for cockfighting by the Greeks. For farming, native (Roman) chickens are to be preferred, or a cross between native hens and Greek cocks. Dwarf chickens are nice to watch because of their size but have no other advantages.