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Vegans In Ancient Times | The History of Veganism Part One

What is the history of veganism?  Is it a creation of hippies and hipsters?  A modern diet fad?  Or does it reach back further?  Well, today we’re going to go back–way back–okay not that far, to the ancient times to see where the philosophy of veganism took root. [tweet this]

This is the first in a series on the history of veganism. I actually started off intending to do a video on the history of veganism, but after days of being glued to my computer, I realized an all-encompassing video would be far more than nugget size.

The other caveat I’d like to throw out there in my obsessively thorough manner, is to state that I will most definitely leave out important people and important events in this series–it’s inevitable and happens in every historical account ever composed.  And the farther back we go, the less comprehensive the information.

You’ll also see that hard and fast information on what exactly particular ancients ate isn’t always explicitly stated.  There is undoubtedly more that we don’t know abut times past than we do.  This video will attempt to be as linear and chronological as possible but there will be large gaps and a bit of jumping about.

You’ll also notice in today’s video post (getting tired of my pre-notes?) the striking complete and total lack of any women in this synopsis of ancient times.  Is this because women were not important or influential?  Not at all.  But they were incredibly marginalized and in most societies seen and treated as inferior–not that that drastically changes in modern history–but that’s for another time.

So, all of that out of the way, onwards to: The History of Veganism!!! (part one) <– you really should watch the video for my dramatic delivery.

Have Humans Always Eaten Meat?

One of the many arguments against veganism is that it’s a relatively new phenomena and that humans have “always” eaten meat. now this video isn’t going to focus on the question of when we began eating meat nor whether we are meant to eat animals.  however, i'll just note that while historians, anthropologist and archeologists have difficulty agreeing when we started to consume animals, they do seem to agree that it’s something we started some time in our human ancestry, not something we’d always done.

Paleoanthropologist Briana Pobiner with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History focuses her research on the evolution of meat-eating in humans.  She says,

“The meat-eating that we do, or that our ancestors did even back to the earliest time we were eating meat, is culturally mediated.  You need some kind of processing technology in order to eat meat, and there’s an amazing amount of social diversity in the way that meat is used, cooked and eaten in the modern world.  So I don’t necessarily think we are hardwired to eat meat, but it is an important part of our evolutionary history.”

And the man himself, Dr. Richard Leakey states:

“You can't tear flesh by hand, you can't tear hide by hand… We wouldn't have been able to deal with food sources that required those large canines”

And Hillary Maywell of National Geographic posits that:

“Some early humans may have started eating meat as a way to survive within their own ecological niche.”

Now, Leakey and Pobiner, at least, put forth that eating meat is a very vital and important step in our evolution.  Exactly when and how that happened, and how it has affected out biology, however, is an ongoing heated debate.  But the consensus of the field remains that we did not always consume animals.

The Earliest Vegetarians

That preliminary aside, what we’re going to delve into is the question: Once humans started eating animals, when and how did some decide to speak out against this practice?

To find the origins of veganism, we must look to the history of vegetarianism, as the term “vegetarian” was used well into the 1900s to describe what we now refer to as a vegan diet, as well as other notable variations (lacto-vegetarian, ovo-vegetarian, etc.)  So it’s often difficult to know what all the ancients were abstaining from.

Of course, in very ancient times, there wasn’t an overarching term for this way of life, though the Greeks did refer to it as “abstinence from beings with a soul.”  The lack of a unifying term was mainly because the earliest forms of abstention from consuming and/or exploiting animals were linked to religious or spiritual practices, with the followers identifying by their denomination or practice rather than any unifying concept.  And…there was no Internet.

Perhaps the earliest known potential evidence of at least vegetarianism goes back to 7000BCE, over 9,000 years ago, to a town called Mehrgarh, belonging to the Indus river civilization.[1]  It’s widely known that followers of the Hindu religion do not consume meat and while the exact beginning of Hinduism is vague, its philosophical foundation reaches back potentially as far as Mehrgarh, far before any written text or scripture was made.  The term Hindu is etymologically linked to the Sanskrit Sindhu, which is the ancient name for the Indus river, and was a term the Persians used to identify the people living near river.[2] [tweet this]

Ancient Hindu texts have many references to the practice of nonviolence towards non-human animals.  The Bhagavad Gita states:

“One is dearest to god who has no enemies among the living beings, who is nonviolent to all creatures.”

And the Srimad-Bhagavatam:

“To be non-violent to human beings and to be a killer or enemy of the poor animals is Satan's philosophy.”

The Manusmṛti, or Laws of Manu, which is dated anywhere between 10,000 years ago in the 7900s BCE and 200CE depending on the scholar,[3] states:

“Meat cannot be obtained without injury to animals… He who does not eat meat becomes dear to men, and will not be tormented by diseases.  There is no greater sinner than that man who seeks to increase the bulk of his own flesh by the flesh of other beings. …  Thus having well considered the disgusting origin of meat and the cruelty of fettering and slaying of corporeal beings, let him entirely abstain from eating flesh.”

Sometime between 1440 and 1400 BCE the Hebrew book of Genesis, also included in the Old Testament, was composed.  Genesis 1:29-31 states:

“I give you all plants that bear seed everywhere on earth, and every tree bearing fruit which yields seed: They shall be yours for food.  All green plants I give for food to the wild animals, to all the birds of heaven, and to all reptiles on earth, every living creature, it shall be theirs for food.”

So in the utopian times of the garden of Eden, humans and animals were “created vegan”.

In Egypt from 1380–1362 BCE Akhenaten, known as “the heretic king” was an Egyptian Pharaoh and pacifist who banned animal sacrifice and traditional Egyptian religion and instituted a religion based on compassion and monotheism.  Akhenaten believed it to be sinful to take away any life given by Aten, his monotheistic deity.[4]

According to Donald Mackenzie, author of Egyptian Myth and Legend: [5]

“No sacrifices were offered up in his temple; the fruits of the earth alone were laid on the alters” [tweet this]

In Psalm 36:6 of Hebrew scriptures, King David writes:

“Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your judgments are like the great deep; you save humans and animals alike, O lord”

While there is debate as to whether King David actually composed the psalms and no certainty on the date it was composed, he lived around 1040-970 BCE.

Around 950 BCE comes a quote attributed to King Solomon in Proverbs 12:10 in which he states:

“The righteous one regards the life of his animal but the heart of the wicked is without mercy.”

And Ecclesiastes:

“I decided that God is testing us, to show us that we are no better than animals. After all, the same fate awaits man and animals alike. One dies just like the other. They are the same kind of creature. A human being is no better off than an animal… How can anyone be sure that a man's spirit goes upward while an animal's spirit goes down into the ground?”

Much like Hinduism, Jainism doesn’t have a set starting date.  The earliest Tirthankara, or teacher, of Jainism to be accepted as a legitimate historical figure is Pārśva, who lived around 877–777 BCE.[6]

However, as he was the twenty-third Tirthankara, Jainism certainly reaches back much further in time, with many of its practitioners believing there is no start date at all. one of the main tenants of Jainism, is Ahimsa: non-violence.  This principle is applied to all living things, even plants.

Although they admit that plants must be destroyed for the sake of food, Jains accept such violence only inasmuch as it is indispensable for human survival.  Strict Jains, including Jain monks and nuns, do not eat root vegetables such as potatoes, onions and garlic, because tiny organisms are injured when the plant is pulled up, and also because a bulb or tuber's ability to sprout is seen as characteristic of a living being.  They will also brush the ground in front of them before they walk to avoid crushing insects and wear masks over their mouths to avoid breathing them in.

Between 786-746 BCE, Hosea 2:18 from Hebrew Scripture was written stating:

“I will make for you a covenant on that day with the wild animals, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground; and I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land; and I will make you lie down in safety.”

And in 740 BCE we have the proposed Isaiah 11:6 and 65:25 which states:

“The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together”


“The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.”

These quotes are in line with many Hebrew and biblical prophesies of peace between humans and animals which hold this relationship up as the ideal.

The Yogashastra (c500bce), a Jain scripture, states that:

“Non-injury to all living beings is the only religion…this is the quintessence of wisdom; not to kill anything. All breathing, existing, living sentient creatures should not be slain, nor treated with violence, nor abused, nor tormented, nor driven away. This is the pure unchangeable law. Therefore, cease to injure living things. all living things love their life, desire pleasure and do not like pain; they dislike any injury to themselves; everybody is desirous of life and to every being, his life is very dear.” [tweet this]

Sound familiar? Yes, well before your Facebook petition, people were advocating for animals over 2,500 years ago! [tweet this]

In the 8th century BCE, the 700s, we have the proposed writing of Homer’s The Odyssey, though it was verbally passed down before that.  In The Odyssey, Homer speaks of the Lotophagi (the lotus eaters), an indigenous people on the North African coast who live off the lotus plant’s fruits and flowers, which also acted as a narcotic.  Take that one with a grain of salt. or a narcotic plant!

Around 600 BCE there is the estimated birth of Siddhārtha Gautama (The Buddha).  There is ongoing debate as to his validity as a historical figure and his and his followers’ adherence to vegetarian diet, however Chinese Buddhism, and Taoism in the late 4th century, required that monks and nuns eat an egg free, onion free vegetarian diet.[7]  Since abbeys were usually self-sufficient, in practice, this meant they ate a vegan diet.

Many religious orders, like the Jains, also avoid hurting plant life by avoiding root vegetables. Chinese spirituality generally believes that animals have immortal souls, and that a diet of mostly grain is the healthiest for humans.

The Japanese Emperor Tenmu banned the use of livestock and the consumption of some wild animals due to the influence of Buddhism.  This ban was renewed by succeeding emperors throughout the Asuka period classical civilization.[8]

Greco-Roman Times

Now we’re going to move into Greco-Roman times and a slight shift from spiritual/religious-based objections into more philosophical ones, though spiritual matters still feature prominently.

The Greco-Roman diet was mainly composed of cereals, vegetables, and fruit, with ample research of ancient bones showing that the gladiators and warriors in ancient Rome were predominantly vegetarian. [9]

Pythagoras and His Contemporaries

One of the most commonly cited ancient sources of pro-animal philosophy is Pythagoras, who lived from 570 BCE to 495 BCE, he taught that all animals, not just humans, had souls, which were immortal and reincarnated after death, a concept called transmigration.  Since a human might become an animal at death, and an animal might become a human, Pythagoras believed that killing and eating non-human animals sullied the soul and prevented union with a higher form of reality.  Additionally, he felt that eating meat was unhealthy and made humans wage war against one another.  For these reasons, he abstained from meat and encouraged others to do likewise, perhaps making him one of the earliest campaigners for ethical vegetarianism.

Abstention from meat was a hallmark of the so-called Pythagorean way of life though it’s unclear as to how many of his followers practiced this strictly.  Both Orphics, the followers of Orphism, a set of beliefs based on the mythical poet Orpheus, and strict Pythagoreans also avoided eggs and shunned the ritual offerings of meat to the gods which were an essential part of traditional religious sacrifice.[10][11]

A famous statement attributed to Pythagoras is often cited as evidence of early animal-advocacy and a chilling prediction of what was to come:

“As long as man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower living beings he will never know health or peace. For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love.”

Even among those not following Pythagoras, there was a widely held belief that in the beginning of human’s existence, our ancestors were strictly non-violent and that in this utopian state of the world hunting, livestock breeding, and meat-eating, as well as agriculture were unknown and unnecessary, as the earth spontaneously produced in abundance all the food its inhabitants needed.[11]  This is also evident in the garden of Eden as we saw in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.

In 490 BCE we have the birth of the philosopher Empedocles, who distinguished himself as a radical advocate of vegetarianism specifically and of respect for animals in general.  Like Pythagoras, Empedocles believed in the transmigration of the soul, that souls can be reincarnated between humans, animals and even plants.[12]  For Empedocles, all living things were on the same spiritual plane.

Plato and His Followers

Another prominent figure in history, vegan or not, is Plato who was born around 428 or 427 BCE.  He was influenced by Pythagorean concepts but did not go as far as Pythagoras did.  It is unclear exactly what his diet consisted of, but Plato’s teachings asserted only humans had immortal souls and that the universe was for human use.

Yet, in The Republic, Plato’s character, Socrates, argues against the slaughter and consumption of animals on the grounds of ethics, the prevention of disease in the body, the prevention of war and strife amongst humanity, and the overall hindrance of achieving happiness. (Sound familiar?)

Also, Plato is quoted as saying:

“The gods created certain kinds of being to replenish our bodies…they are the trees and the plants and the seeds.”

Thus, to Plato, abstention from flesh is warranted out of a desire for peace, happiness, and health, though he still believed humans to be superior.

In the Platonic Academy, the scholarchs (school heads), Xenocrates and (probably) Polemon, pleaded for vegetarianism.  And in the Peripatetic school Theophrastus, Aristotle’s immediate successor (get to him soon) supported it as well.[11]

Some of the prominent Platonists and Neo-Platonists in the age of the roman empire lived on a vegetarian diet. These included Plutarch, Apollonius of Tyana, Plotinus, and Porphyry. (More on him soon as well.)

Aristotle was Plato’s famous student who also believed that the universe was for human use and that only human souls were immortal.  Aristotle argued non-human animals could not manage themselves without human aid in spite of all evidence to the contrary.

However, Theophrastus (around 372-287 BCE), a Greek biologist and philosopher and student of Aristotle, argued that killing animals for food was wasteful and morally wrong.  He argued that war must have forced humans to eat meat by ruining the crops that they otherwise would have eaten, which is rather similar to the anthropological statement we opened with about humans turning to the consumption of animals out of necessity due to competition or shortage.  Also unlike Aristotle, Theophrastus proclaimed that animal sacrifices angered the gods and turned humanity towards atheism.

More Examples of Vegetarians in Ancient Times

In 334 BCE we have the birth of Zeno of Citium, founder of Stoicism.  Some prominent stoics, like Zeno, Ovid, and Seneca refrained from eating animals.  Although stoics did believed that animals were on a lower level than humans, they maintained that there were other reasons for not eating animal flesh, such as ascetic simplicity and its being unnecessary for human nutrition.[10]

From 304 BCE–232 BCE lived the Buddhist Emperor Ashoka who was vegetarian and a determined promoter of nonviolence to animals.  He disseminated detailed laws aimed of the protection of many species, abolished animal sacrifice at his court, and admonished the population to avoid all kinds of unnecessary killing and injury.[10][13]

Sometime between 206 BCE–220 CE the Han Dynasty in China creates tofu. (And vegans around the world celebrated.) [tweet this]

Between 60 BCE and 30 BCE Diodorus of Sicily, a Greek historian, writes his epic 40-book, Universal History or Bibliotheca Historica, in which he transmits tales of vegetarian peoples or tribes in Ethiopia.

Moving on to 43 BCE, when Ovid is born.  He was a Pythagorean-influenced Stoic who, in his poem Metamorphoses, pled for people to abandon animal sacrifice and abstain from eating flesh.

Influenced by Pythagoras and Epicurus, the Roman philosopher Seneca (c.4 BCE-65 CE) adopted a vegetarian diet.  Seneca denounced the cruelty of the games used by Rome to distract the citizenry.

In 46 CE we come back to Plutarch, the Neo-Platonist whom I mentioned earlier.  He adopted a vegetarian diet and wrote several essays in favor of vegetarianism as well as arguing that animals were rational and deserving of consideration.  Of particular note is his essay, On the Eating of Flesh, in which he relays anatomical arguments inline with today’s vegans and vegetarians, like the inefficiency of the human digestive system to handle flesh and fact that humans lack the claws and fangs necessary for to the satisfaction of a carnivorous appetite.

Yes, we’ve been answering the canine question for at least over 2,000 years. [tweet this]

Jump ahead to 205 CE and the birth of Greek philosopher Plotinus who taught that all animals too feel pain and pleasure, which is the first time that we’re hearing this since the ancient Jain scriptures.  Plotinus even avoided medicine made from animals.  Unfortunately, he allowed for the wearing of wool and the use of animals for farm labor while mandating humane treatment.  So close, Plotinus.  Getting there, though!

Another religious-based abstention came from Manichaeism, founded by Prophet Mani (216–276 CE). among the Manichaeists, there was an elite group called Electi, or the chosen, who were lacto-vegetarians and adhered to the strict commandment of nonviolence while the common Manichaeists, known as Auditores (hearers) obeyed looser rules of nonviolence. [10]

Porphyry’s (Possible) Exchange with an Ethical Vegan

Now back Porphyry, yet another Neo-Platonists philosopher I spoke of earlier, who lived from 234- 305 CE. porphyry wrote a treatise entitled On Abstinence from Beings with a Soul, which is apparently the most elaborate known ancient pro-vegetarian text.  He also wrote on the impropriety of killing living beings for food.  Porphyry argued, much like many we’ve heard from before, that meat eating encouraged violence.  However, he went where others had not thus far and demonstrated the ability of animals to reason as well as and argued that justice should be extended to them.[10]  We’re getting pretty close to animal rights at this point.

Unfortunately, Porphyry didn’t quite bring it home, but his writing may show evidence that someone, somewhere did.  In On Abstinence from Beings with a Soul, he recounts an argument raised to him:

“If, however, someone should think it is unjust to destroy brutes, such a one should neither use milk, nor wool, nor sheep, nor honey.  For as you injure a man by taking from him his garments, thus also, you injure a sheep by shearing it. . . . milk, likewise was not produced for you, but for the young of the animal that has it.  The bee also collects honey as food for itself; which you, by taking away, administer to your own pleasure.”

Sounds about right and rather vegan-ny, no?  Sadly, Porphyry rejected these arguments, stating that the animals and bees benefited from humans caring for them, a counter-argument very familiar today. Thus, he said, it was a fair exchange to use these products while abstaining from consuming their flesh.

Porphyry himself didn’t quite make it to our modern definition of veganism, but this exchange is incredibly fascinating and rather exceptional to see occurring over 2,200 years ago. And while the individual or individuals who made the argument for the abstention from milk, wool, and honey to Porphyry may have been meat-eaters trying to poke holes in vegetarian inconsistencies, it just as well may have been ancient “vegans” advocating for the logical conclusion of Porphyry’s ethics. It’s important to note, as well that this is an ethical discussion outside of any religious influence as almost all the examples thus far.

In Conclusion

So, that about rounds out this ancient history of veganism!

The time it took to produce this video post clocks in at about 73 hours.  If you’d like to help support Bite Size Vegan so I can keep putting in the long hours to bring you this educational resources, please consider supporting this vegan educational mission with either a one-time donation or, to receive perks and rewards for your support join the Nugget Army!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this–did you know pro-vegan ideals reached so far back?  What are your thoughts on the primarily spiritual and religious origins of much of these practices?  What, if any, instance we went over surprised you the most?  Let me know in the comments!

And stay tuned to my channel for the remaining videos in this series as we move into the middle ages.

See ya next nugget!







★Watch More!

[1] Upinder Singh, A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century (2009)

[2] Flood, Gavin D, An Introduction to Hinduism. (1996).

[3] William Wilson Hunter, The Indian Empire: Its People, History and Products. (1886)

[4]  Robert Feather, The Mystery of the Copper Scroll of Qumran: The Essene Record of the Treasure of Akhenaten (2003)

[5] Donald Mackenzie, Egyptian Myth and Legend. [1913]

[6] Charpentier, Jarl, “The History of the Jains” in The Cambridge History of India vol. 1 (2013)

[7] Phelps, Norm, The Great Compassion: Buddhism & Animal Rights. (2004).

[8] Hisao Nagayama. 「たべもの江戸史」 新人物往来社, (1976)

[9] Umile Giuseppe Longo, Filippo Spiezia, Nicola Maffulli, Vincenzo Denaro, The Best Athletes in Ancient Rome were Vegetarian!, J Sports Sci Med. 2008 Dec; 7(4)

[10] Spencer, Colin: The Heretic’s Feast. A History of Vegetarianism. (1993)

[11] Haussleiter, Johannes: Der Vegetarismus in der Antike, Berlin. (1935)

[12] Frag. B127 (Aelian, On Animals, xii. 7); Frag. B117 (Hippolytus, i. 3.2)

[13] Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics vol. 2 


Other Resources Mentioned & Further Reading:

The Bhagavad Gita

The Srimad Bhagavatam

The Laws of Manu

The Old Testament

Hebrew Scripture (the Hebrew Bible)

Homer's “The Odyssey

Diodorus' “Bibliotheca Historica”

Plutarch's “On the Eating Of Flesh”

Ovid's Metamorphosis

Porphyry's “On The Impropriety of Killing Living Beings For Food”

Porphyry's “On Abstinence from Beings With A Soul”

Featured Videos/Further Info

What’s Wrong With Wool?

Vegan vs. Vegetarian

The Morality of Meat

Are We Carnivores?

What’s the Problem With Honey?

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  1. Oscar Garcia on April 29, 2015 at 2:05 pm

    I loved this history of veganism. You were great, funny and I have no idea if you mispronounced the ancients names. Thank you Emily.


  2. Chris on April 29, 2015 at 5:38 pm

    Recently found you on YouTube. I’ve gone through all you video’s. Loved them all this one is just as good. Thank you for taking the time to make this video and all the others you have done. You’re awesome.

  3. Edward Jackson on April 29, 2015 at 6:58 pm

    Wow – thoroughly researched as usual – thanks for this!!!

  4. Sally Anne Hubbard on April 29, 2015 at 8:57 pm

    I loved this video so, so much. I have a lot of reading now to do with all the information you provided. (I am out of work so I have time to read).
    I also liked the BCE and CE to denote dates.
    I can’t tell you how much this video has helped me learn more.
    Sally Anne

    • Emily Moran Barwick (BiteSizeVegan) on April 30, 2015 at 12:42 pm

      thank you so much Sally :) so glad you enjoyed it! and definitely dig into the resources. and i’m a fan of the BCE/CE for sure ;) so very glad to hear it’s been helpful!

  5. Jimmy Videle on May 1, 2015 at 7:31 pm

    Absolutely fantastic!!!! Best ever video. Unbelievable job!

  6. Edward Jackson on May 2, 2015 at 11:03 am

    Looking again at your extract from The Yogashastra – it’s remarkable how spot on and concise it is in regards to the ethics of contemporary veganism. I’ve always avoided organised religion (I only half jokingly refer to myself as an anarcho-zenist!) – but Jainism seems particularly attractive!!! …Thanks again, dear Emily – for your insightful wisdom! :-)

  7. Nitin Jain on June 26, 2015 at 5:49 am

    I have liked how you have made reference to different great people and books and at the same time uniting everyone on ahimsak philosophy rather dividing.

    However, I would say this would be incomplete without another great hero Mahavira (24th thirthankar) believed to be 20-30 years older to Gautam Buddha and has been the strongest proponent of Non-violence. He has given some wonderful concept of Non-violence in mind namely Anekantavaad, Syadvada etc.

    Philosophy of paraspograh Jeevanam:””One who neglects or disregards the existence of earth, air, fire, water and vegetation disregards his own existence which is entwined with them.”

    I will also put one of my favorite quote from him which refers to non-violence as the ultimate thing as it refers to equality, social justice all at the same time:

    One time Lord Mahavira was asked, ‘what is the religion from a realistic point of view?’ Lord Mahavira replied, “ the realistic religion consists of four parts: 1) equality of all living ones, 2) every living soul has right to put self-effort to improve itself and should not to be stripped of that right, 3) no one should rule over other living beings, and 4) all situations should be viewed with equanimity – without like or dislike.”

    Also, since you rightly mentioned Parsva(Parswanath) he was loved by all humans and other beings. There is famous story associated with him regarding animals which if you like can use in your post.

    “One story best expresses the Jain attitude toward animals. Once Parshwanath, a young prince, arriving as a bridegroom with his marriage entourage to the house of his bride, saw near the house an enclosure of animals, tightly packed, waiting to be slaughtered. Shocked by the cry of the animals, the prince enquired, “Why are those animals being kept in such cruel conditions?” His aides replied, “They are for the feast of the wedding party.”

    The young prince was overwhelmed with compassion. Arriving at the wedding chamber, he spoke with the father of the princess. “Immediately and unconditionally all those animals enclosed to be slaughtered for the marriage feast must be freed,” he said. “Why?” responded the father. “The lives of animals are there for the pleasure of humans. Animals are our slaves and our meat. How can there be any feast without the flesh?!”

    Prince Parshwanath was puzzled. He could not believe what he had just heard. He exclaimed, “Animals have souls, they have consciousness, they are our kith and kin, they are our ancestors. They wish to live as much as we do; they have feelings and emotions. They have love and passion; they fear death as much as we do. Their instinct for life is no less than ours. Their right to live is as fundamental as our own. I cannot marry, I cannot love and I cannot enjoy life if animals are enslaved and killed.” Without further ado he rejected the plans for his marriage, he discarded the comfortable life of a prince, and he responded to his inner calling to go out and awaken the sleepy masses who had been conditioned to think selfishly and kill animals for their pleasure and comfort.

    According to the story, the animal kingdom welcomes Parshwanath as the prophet of the weak and the wild. They gather around him when he calls for kindness. The birds sit upon the tree nearby; fishes come to the corner of the lake where Parshwanath is seated. Elephants, lions, foxes, rabbits, rats, insects, and ants pay homage to him. One day, finding Parshwanath being soaked by the heavy rain of the monsoon, the king of the cobras stood on his tail and created an umbrella with his huge head.

    Thousands upon thousands of people in villages, towns and cities are moved by the teachings of Parshwanath. They renounce meat and take up the work of animal welfare. The princess whom Parshwanath was going to marry was so inspired that she decided to remain unmarried and dedicate herself to the care of animals. Having lost a daughter and would-be son-in-law to the cause of animal compassion, the King himself underwent anguish and yet experienced transformation. He announced that all animals were to be respected in his kingdom, and that there would be no hunting, no shooting, no caging and no pets.”

    • Emily Moran Barwick (BiteSizeVegan) on July 2, 2015 at 1:46 pm

      thank you for the addition!

      • Elsie on August 14, 2015 at 9:56 pm

        Thank you for this information. I have had the feeling for a long time that we were originally vegan (just from the Bible) and that it was the priests of the Christian faith who corrupted the people to a large extent. I came to this conclusion because there are stories in the bible of the sacrifices the priests carried out on behalf of the people. My theory is that it was the only way these powerful people could make meat eating acceptable and they had to keep some parts of the animals. I also believe that when Jesus is said to have turned over the tables at the temple where they were selling the animals was a protest against the slaughter and eating of animals. I have heard all sorts of things saying the Bible advocates meat consumption. My theory again is, the very same people who were the instigators were the writers of said Bible so much of what is there may be corrupted. No matter what people come up with to prove we have to eat meat ( yes I have been told that) will never override my inborn knowledge and conviction that IT IS WRONG. I read the other day that the UN was advocating vegan diets to save the planet. I nearly fell off my chair. May you be blessed for this work you are doing.

        • Emily Moran Barwick (BiteSizeVegan) on August 19, 2015 at 3:15 pm

          Wow Elsie thank you SO very much for this thoughtful comment. I apologize for my slow response. I so appreciate hearing your thoughts on this and agree that there is so certainly textual support for veganism within the Bible and early Christianity! All the best and so glad you found this helpful!

  8. louise on October 23, 2015 at 12:23 pm

    Women in past were not lesser,invisible or abused if
    They belonged to matriarcal cultures,like Mohawk,land belonged to women’s clan group

    And they grew the 3sacred sisters,this land owning created their independence from men’hunting,modern women could fr their “illiterate”Mohawk sisters in history pre-contact with the white women n religious leaders,who sin-iffied herbal birth control of the matriarch s

  9. Hadar on January 22, 2016 at 10:38 pm

    Emily, thank you as always for your incredibly lucid, wonderfully researched and interestingly presented video! I’m amazed by all the information you have unearthed and learn from you every day.

  10. Gueneveres on June 22, 2016 at 2:31 am

    I’m assuming you must have read “The Heretic’s Feast a history of vegetariansim” by Colin Spencer

  11. Ian McDonald on August 8, 2016 at 8:21 pm

    That was a brilliant tour through our ancient predecessors, and a really good presentation.

    I’ve been spendig a couple of years making a 15-part radio history of our back-story, talking to experts, and going to some of the places where the story unfolded. So it’s really interesting to compare notes. I hope it’s okay if I link to my series for people who might be interested in downloading it?

    First question: why did you think the Manichaean elect were lacto-vegetarian? The academics I talked to said the sources, sparse as they are, suggest a vegan / largely fruit diet. These are a couple of sources:

    Augustine of Hippo, in On Manichaeans (which you quote in vid 2), criticises ordained Manichaeans for eating cabbage to free its claimed high concentration of trapped souls / light particles / divinity, but refusing milk:

    Why do you think that whiteness in a lettuce proclaims God, and not in milk? So much for colors, as regards which (to mention nothing else) you cannot compare any flower-clad meadow with the wings and feathers of a single peacock, though these are of flesh and of fleshly origin.

    (In other news, Manichaen theology sounds very weird indeed to modern ears.)

    And much later, in medieval China (from DeBuhn, The Manichaean Body in Discipline and Ritual, 2000, p52):

    The Hsin T’ang-shu reports, “The laws of these (Manichaeans) prescribe that they should eat only in the evening, drink water, eat strong vegetables, and abstain from milk and butter (tung-lo).”

    So I’ve been telling people they ate vegan. If there’s a counter-example, and I’m misleading anyone, I’d really appreciate knowing.

  12. Ian McDonald on December 13, 2016 at 8:58 am

    You mentioned the traditional dates for the Siddharta Gautama; a lot of historians now put him (and his contemporaries) mainly in the fifth century BCE.

    The really interesting thing is that there was a “scene” of wandering ascetic philosophers with lots of different ideas in the same bit of Ganges plain during the same period. If your time machine had dropped you off at the right point, you could have met Siddharta Gautama, Mahavir (as Nitin mentioned, the last Tirthankara of the Jains), as well as leaders of other groups, from the atheist-materialist Lokayatas to the fatalist Ajivikas, who were initially far more succesful than the Buddhists. Although it’s natural to focus on individuals, I think it’s better to think of reincarnation and non-violence and vegetarianism were amongst the ideas floating around in that scene.

    And, like vegan groups today, they argued with each other. My second episode, “The Middle Path”, has a dramatisation of an argument in Buddhist scriptures between Mahavir and the Jains.

    I think one difference between our series is that you’ve concentrated on individuals and tried to work out how close they came to modern ethical veganism; I’ve tried to track movements as a whole, and who they inspired and what they led to.

    I also thought it was really interesting you mentioned the question mark over whether the Buddha Gautama existed. All our records of his lifetime (which overlapped with Mahavir and others) come from oral traditions recorded centuries later, so it’s a reasonable doubt. I didn’t bother with repeatedly saying “We don’t know, but the simplest explanation is …” because I’d have to say it every minute of my first three episodes. There are similar (if lesser) questions over whether Jesus was a historical figure. (If this shocks you, remember that it was effectively founded by Paul of Tarsus, who never met any historical Jesus.)

  13. Ian McDonald on December 13, 2016 at 9:14 am

    Ashoka Maurya is an amazing character. It’s hard to know how much of the story about him recanting from violence after his bloodiest battlefield is propoganda; but his backing of Buddhism seems to be sincere. I had the chance to visit one of his edicts in India, which is the heart of my fourth episode, “Ashoka”. Curiously, his edicts in Prakit don’t say that he’s vegetarian. But the edict in Kandahar, which is in Greek and Aramaic, uses the idiom “abstains from ensouled/animate beings”. But I doubt Buddhism would have got to China later without the push he gave it.

    BTW, although some people do think that tofu is invented in Han china, its first written mention isn’t until the tenth century CE. There’s a Han dynasty carving that could be tofu (and my local tofu maker definitely feels that he recognises all the steps) but could also be brewing. So it’s hard to be sure. But definitely worth the fireworks!

  14. Ian McDonald on December 13, 2016 at 9:54 am

    I delved into the Roman empire for a full half hour, and visited a Coptic monastery for a trace of early Christian asceticism. Folk can listen to it here:

    Unfortunatey, Seneca didn’t last – he stopped being vegetarianism under family pressure. Just as well, that happens a little bit less often nowadays – thanks in no small part to folk like you.

    One of the interesting that that my intervieees like Dr David Grummet told me was that when people first gathered for a monastic life, Christian orthodoxy wasn’t strongly defined. So you’d have people living side by side on bread, herbs, and water each with their own ideas of what Jessus was, whether he’d risen from the dead, whether we were reincarnated, and whether this world, like Plato suggested, was a reflection of an ideal. So the sharp division between the groups you mention – Therapeutae, Essenes, Neoplatonists, gnostics and Christians – was all very blurrred. A bit like with the Jains, Buddhists, other sramanas, and ascetic Upanisadic Brahmins in early Maghada.

    But because they died out, much of what we know about minority beliefs comes from some books that look like they were stashed in a cave in a hurry – perhaps before an inspection by a less-tolerant bishop!

  15. Ian McDonald on December 13, 2016 at 10:00 am

    As you said, Hinduism emerged. I’m guessing you’re deliberately looking for the voices that share our views; if anyone wants to hear the fascinating story of how vegetarian ideas go from the Jain/Buddhists/Upanishadic ascetic fringe to prominence throughout the subcontinent, they can listen to my sixth episode, “Hinduism”.

    As you said, Hinduism emerged. And those texts like the Gita, the Laws of Manu, and the Srimad Bhagavatam would be slowly compiled over time. New chapters would get interleaved (literally) century by century, and which version you were taught would depend on where in India you were. So when historians give you a range of dates for the Gita from 500BCE onwards, it’s not just uncertainty. It’s how long it takes to put it together.

    There were carnist voices as well of course; rules that say it’s okay for the hereditary priesthood, the Brahmins, to get what they want, or that it’s okay to eat “those destined to be your food”. What’s interesting is that over the centuries, there’s a definite move, in parts of India, in some castes, and in some religious traditions, towards more vegetarianism.

    For example, Srimad Bhagavatam, which you quote, belongs to the sect of Vishnu in the late first millennium. Worshippers of Vishnu (and his incarnation Krishna) are much more likely to be vegetarian.

  16. Richard Barthel on December 30, 2016 at 10:16 am

    I do agree with most of that is written here, but in times of Akhenaten (Amenophis lV) he does eat meat and sacrifice animals in the Aten’s temples, in several documents (tombs walls, palatals, debris from houses frescoes) from Akhetaten (Telll el Amarna) we can see they are eaten ducks (literally with theirs hands on it and taken to the mouth) and different kinds of meats, also on the altars with the offerings to Aten, we can see cow legs, heads, etc… also it’s been discovered that right beside the temple they had corrals and butchered the animals right there… better revise this info because maybe some people think that if this info is wrong the rest also can be wrong… I do not eat meat and love animals, all of them not even kill an ant or whatever…also I like your site.

  17. David Springer on October 7, 2017 at 12:17 am

    If ancient humans tried to be VEGAN as opposed Vegetarian they would have died from a B-12 deficiency. And yes, I know B-12 is in the soil that is “ON” the plants. The B-12 “IN” the animal is far better and safer.

    • Carol Ann Trachy on October 25, 2018 at 2:46 pm

      I know this comment is old but I need to make a correction here so people don’t get wrong information : Animal flesh has B12 in it because livestock is GIVEN B12 supplement. I doubt they were doing that back in the day. ;) You don’t need a lot of B12 and those people most likely got it from the soil, like all the other animals.

  18. Jennifer on December 9, 2017 at 6:50 pm

    Thank you Emily! I knew Veganism went way back in History, but I didn’t know the religious and ethical history. The video was fun and very interesting. Great work! Many blessings to you!

    • Emily Moran Barwick on January 25, 2018 at 12:36 pm

      SO glad to hear this, Jennifer! Thank you so much for your comment and so sorry for the delay—had a lot on my plate and just getting to some comments. I’m SO honored that you found this to be of help. I really want to get back to this series and get up to modern times! It’s one of my very favorite series. :D All the best and many thanks again!

  19. jordan on November 30, 2018 at 4:27 pm

    Awesome article/vid!!!

    I actually closed this tab coz i finished watching but i thought actually nah, i need to make my appreciation heard!!!! so yeah thanks a million! you are an awesome chick and i hope you rock on!!!! peace xxxx <3

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