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T. II, Vol. 2

Article by E. Saglio in

Daremberg & Saglio,
Dictionnaire des Antiquités Grecques et Romaines,
Librairie Hachette et Cie., Paris, 1877‑1919.

translation and © William P. Thayer

GLIRARIUM. — A place where dormice (glires, ἐχειοί)1 are raised.

Dormice were a food much sought after by the Romans.2 A sumptuary law prohibiting it,3 among others (in 115, or maybe in 78 B.C.), was ineffectual. It was not enough to hunt these animals like game;4 they were raised. G. Fulvius Lupinus (or Hirpinus) was the first to give the example; he was a contemporary of Varro,5 who explains how one went about it.6 You keep dormice, he says, in a pen enclosed by walls that are polished to prevent them from escaping, and filled with trees whose fruit they like: beechnuts, acorns, chestnuts; or at least the pen should be amply  p1614 supplied with such, if the trees do not bear any. In these pens they should find hollows where they might give birth. They need little water, since they use little of it and prefer to live in a dry place.

Better yet: it having been noticed that dormice get fat in the winter as they sleep in the hollows of trees,7 jars (dolia) were constructed the inner sides of which had ribs for the dormice to walk on and holes for them to deposit their food. The museum in Naples has jars of this kind (fig. 3631), with ribs forming three to five stories, and little openings traversing the walls.8 A sufficient supply of food was stocked up, the dormice were shut up in them in the dark, and they fattened there. The fatter they were, the more they were esteemed. Sometimes scales were brought to banquets so their weight could be noted.9

[image ALT: A woodcut of two similar pottery jars, the one on the left more or less spherical, the one on the right bucket-shaped. The inside of each jar is ribbed with a series of large ribs extending completely around it; and each jar is pierced with a regular array of many small circular holes, almost as small as pinholes. They are examples of ancient Roman gliraria, discussed in the text of this webpage.]

Fig. 3631. — Glirarium.

The Author's Notes:

1 Dioscorid. Parab. I.57. There is no agreement as to the Greek name for dormice. Others would have the word be μυωξός. See on this topic, Schneider on Arist. Hist. an. vol. II, p638, and on Varr. De re rust. III.15; cf. Daremberg, notes to his edition of Oribasius, p606.

Thayer's Note: See also Mair's note on Oppian, Cyneg. II.574 (μυωξούς).

2 Apic. VIII.9; Petron. Sat. 31.

3 Plin. H. N. VIII.82.

4 Varr. R. R. III.2.14; Mart. III.58.36.

5 Varr. R. R. III.12.1; Plin. H. N. VIII.78.

6 Varr. R. R. III.15.º

7 Aristot. Hist. an. VIII.17, p600B; cf. Opp. Cyneg. II.574.

8 No. 830 in the catalogue.

9 Amm. Marc. XXVIII.4.13.

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Page updated: 10 Apr 16