In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Falconry

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Regional Developments
  • Mediterranean and Oriental Falconry
  • Lexicography
  • Literature
  • Iconography

Medieval Studies Falconry
Baudouin Van den Abeele, An Smets
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 January 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 13 January 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0122


Still practiced today, falconry is the technique of taming and training birds of prey in order to take wild game during a hunting sequence controlled by man. It can be done with falcons (in medieval times mostly peregrines, but also gerfalcons and a few other species) or with hawks (especially goshawks and sparrowhawks). Therefore, one speaks of falconry and hawking stricto sensu, but both terms are often taken as synonyms. There is no certainty about the precise origin of falconry, but it was introduced into the Western world at the time of the Germanic invasions (5th century). From that time, it gradually developed into a highly valued form of aristocratic hunting, open to both men and women, which accounts for a part of its success. Literature and iconography abound in falconry scenes, showing how falcons and hawks became a standard attribute of noble living, requiring patience and skill, in a sort of courteous process of personal refinement. At the same time, this activity has an economic and social relevance, since it requires a web of specialized personnel for trapping and importing the birds of prey, sometimes from distant regions, and for training and keeping the birds in good condition. Social exclusivity was a matter of fact rather than a juridical development, and there were regions and times where falconry was also open to non-noble practitioners. The late Middle Ages witness a rich cultural and social tradition around falconry, combining abundant artistic representations, elaborate artifacts, hunting rituals, and conspicuous diplomatic and political use. Falconry is part of the mainstream topics of medieval historiography. The principal sources for a good understanding of medieval falconry are the practical treatises, documented since the 10th century and at first written in Latin. The tradition develops largely in the 12th century and its content is dominated by the recipes for curing the illnesses of falcons and hawks. Ornithological and cynegetic information is also present, increasingly during the 13th century, when the tradition culminates in the treatise of Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, who also commissioned the translation into Latin of two Arabic treatises on falconry. At the same time the genre develops into the vernacular, at first in French and Spanish, then in Italian and in the Germanic languages. The main treatises in several languages are mentioned in this article, together with general and regional overviews, complemented by studies on the place of falconry in lexicology, literature, and iconography. Given the difficulty of getting access to some of the publications listed here, it may be good to signal the existence of some institutions hosting specific libraries, such as the Falconry Heritage Trust in Boise, Idaho.

General Overviews

The history of medieval falconry is part of that of medieval hunting; one needs therefore to consult more general titles, such as Cummins 1988, which provides a broad overview. A more specific monograph is Van den Abeele 1994, based essentially on Latin treatises on falconry. Much scholarship on falconry has been published in conference proceedings, such as Centre d’études medievales de Nice 1980 (see also Mediterranean and Oriental Falconry and Iconography) or in exhibition catalogues, such as La chasse au vol au fil des temps. The general bibliography Harting 1891 can still be useful, especially with its 2011 continuation, but it is not very rich about the medieval period. One of the critical issues of this field of research is the origin of falconry and its introduction into Europe, probably by Germanic tribes around the 5th century. Epstein 1942–1943 and Lindner 1973 should be the starting point for this topic, complemented by the more recent articles Reiter 1988 and Reiter 1989.

  • Centre d’études medievales de Nice. La chasse au Moyen Age: Actes du colloque de Nice (22–24 juin 1979). Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1980.

    Conference proceedings on medieval hunting providing a large panel of articles on treatises (two), legislation (five), technical aspects (five), regional developments (eight), consumption of venison (five), literature and lexicology (nine), symbolism and art (six articles).

  • Cummins, John. The Hound and the Hawk: The Art of Medieval Hunting. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1988.

    Presents at first the various forms of venery (hart and deer, boar, hare, bear, and “inedible” animals) and the profile of the huntsman, before turning to hawking, with its technical, cultural, and symbolic aspects. Some French, English, and Spanish archival sources are translated in five appendices.

  • Epstein, Hans. “The Origin and Earliest History of Falconry.” Isis 34 (1942–1943): 497–509.

    DOI: 10.1086/347874

    The origins of falconry and its introduction to Europe are a matter of debate. This paper, although old, preserves much of its value by its collection of basic quotations from the Old Germanic law books and other sources.

  • Harting, James Edmund. Bibliotheca accipitraria: A Catalogue of Books Ancient and Modern Relating to Falconry. London: Bernard Quaritch, 1891.

    Although old, this pioneering work signals and describes, with some detail, works in twenty-seven different languages; several reprints were issued. A continuation was published by John R. Swift, Bibliotheca accipitraria II (Boise, ID: Archives of Falconry, 2011,) encompassing 615 works in English, from 1486 to 2000.

  • La chasse au vol au fil des temps: 5 juin–23 octobre 1994. Gien, France: Musée international de la chasse, 1994.

    Accompanying an exhibition held at the castle of Gien, this book offers well-documented contributions on the history and art of falconry in various periods and contexts.

  • Lindner, Kurt. Beiträge zur Falknerei und Vogelfang im Altertum. Berlin and New York: De Gruyter, 1973.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110846010

    After a study of the antique techniques for trapping songbirds, the second part of this book concerns the early history of falconry in Europe. Evidence is derived from literary sources and from art, a central role being devoted to the mosaics of Argos (end of the 5th century).

  • Reiter, Karin. “Falknerei im alten Orient? Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Falknerei.” Mitteilungen der deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft in Berlin 120 (1988): 189–206.

    Critical survey of iconographic evidence for falconry in Mesopotamian and Anatolian regions. The evidence is not conclusive on the practice of falconry but the question remains open to debate, as shown in other articles.

  • Reiter, Karin. “Falknerei im alten Orient? Die Quellen.” Mitteilungen der deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft in Berlin 121 (1989): 169–196.

    Critical survey of written sources mentioning raptor birds in the same areas surveyed in Reiter 1988. The documents are not conclusive on the practice of falconry but the question remains open to debate.

  • Van den Abeele, Baudouin. La fauconnerie au Moyen Age: Connaissance, affaitage et médecine des oiseaux de chasse d’après les traités latins. Paris: Klincksieck, 1994.

    Synthesis of the information provided by the Latin treatises on falconry from the 10th to the 15th centuries, in three areas: ornithological (categories of raptors), technical (conditions, objects, training, personnel), therapeutic (pathology and recipes). An index of illnesses and cures is added in appendix.

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