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For the game, see Game of chicken.

Domestic Chicken
Scientific classification
Gallus gallus
Gallus lafayetii
Gallus sonneratii
Gallus varius
Reference: 176085
as of 2002-08-17

A chicken is a type of domesticated bird which is usually raised as a type of poultry. It is believed to be descended from the wild Asian Red Junglefowl, Gallus gallus.

Table of contents
1 Habits
2 History
3 Cockfighting
4 Chickens in Religion
5 Chickens as Food
6 Chicken Diseases
7 Famous Chickens
8 Mythical Creatures With Chicken-like Anatomy
9 Chickens in Art
10 Related Topics


In the wild, chickens sleep in trees. They feed on small seeds, grubs, insects and even small mammals like mice, if they can get them.


The first pictures of chicken in Europe are found on Corinthianian pottery of the 7th century BC. The poet Kratinos (middle of the 5th century BC, Athenaios 374d) calls the chicken "the Persian alarm". In Aristophanes's comedy The Birds (414 BC) a chicken is called "the Median bird", which points to an introduction from the East. Pictures of chicken are found on Greek red figured and black figured pottery. (Gr: ˇrnis, hen, alektryˇn cock)

An early domestication of chicken in New Guinea is probable, since the word for domestic chicken (*manuk) is part of the reconstructed Proto-Austronesian language. Chicken, together with dogs and pigs, were the domestic animals of the Lapita culture, the first Neolithic culture of Oceania.

Chicken were spread by Polynesian seafarers and reached Easter Island in the 12th century AD, where they were the only domestic animal, with the possible exception of the Polynesian Rat (Rattus excelsior). They were housed in extremely solid chicken coops built from stone. Traveling as cargo on trading boats, they reached the Asian continent via the islands of Indonesia and from there spread west to Europe and western Asia.

Because it has become so widespread, it is now the commonest poultry bird in the world.


Male chickens, known as cockerels (if younger than one year old) or roosters, are common symbols of masculinity, and their natural inclination to fight has been exploited in staged cockfights, sometimes with a metal spike added to or replacing the natural spurs. Most countries have banned cockfighting, but it is still common in Southeast Asia. Cockfighting was popular in ancient Greece. According to tradition, It was introduced in Athens by Themistokles as a public spectacle. Fighting-cocks were fed with garlic and onions to increase their aggression. In ancient Greece, the gift of a fighting cock among men was a common way to initiate a homosexual relationship. Gems often show a cock combined with Eros, the God of love.

Chickens in Religion

In ancient Greece, the chicken was not normally used for sacrifices, perhaps because it was still considered an exotic animal. Because of its valour, cocks are found as attributes of Ares, Heracles and Athena. The Greeks believed that even lions were afraid of cocks.

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 (Cic.,de Div. ii.26), like the crow and the owl.

For the oracle "ex tripudiis" according to Cicero (Cic. de Div. ii.34), 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 BC, 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 the cult of Mithras, the cock was a symbol of the divine light and a guardian against evil.

In the Bible, Jesus prophesied the betrayal by Petrus: "And he said, I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me." (Luke 22:43) And thus it happened (Luke 22:61), and Petrus cried bitterly. This made the cock a symbol for both vigilance and betrayal.

In many Central European folk tales, the devil is believed to flee at the first crowing of a cock.

Sometimes cockfighting has a religious significance as well, as in Bali, where the shed blood is seen as cleansing.

Chickens as Food

Chicken can be prepared as food in a large number of ways. Common traditional Western methods include roasting, baking, and frying, or more recently as a form of fast food (chicken nuggets) . Their eggs are also eaten.

Chickens raised specifically for meat are called broilers.

In ancient Greece, where chickens were still rare, they were a rather prestigious food for symposia, like hare or wildfowl. Castrated cocks (capons), which produce more and fattier meat than normal roosters, were already known. Delos seems to have been a centre of chicken breeding.

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. All parts of the animal are used: the recipes include the stomach, liver, testicles and even the pygostyle (the fatty "tail" of the chicken where the tail feathers attach). Columella advises to slaughter hens that are older than three years, because they can no longer produce sufficient eggs.

In the Middle Ages, capons were considered a delicacy.

Chicken Diseases

Chicken are prone to avian influenza, also known as bird flu, which can, in rare cases, cross over to humans. Vaccination is possible.

Chickenpox doesn't have anything to do with chickens. It is a myth that chicken pox was named so because the specks that appeared looked as though the skin was picked by chickens. Rather it is named after chick peas.

Famous Chickens

Mythical Creatures With Chicken-like Anatomy

  1. The hut of the Russian witch Baba Yaga moves on chicken feet
  2. The demon Abraxas, often depicted on "Gnostic gems" has a cock's head, the upper body of a man, while his lower part is formed by a snake. He often holds a whip.
  3. The Basilisk, an animal who kills with a single glance and poisons wells, was hatched by a toad from a cock's egg.
  4. The cockatrice.

Chickens in Art

Related Topics