Despite what some may think, pigeon racing is a very old sport. There is a distinction between old age pigeon racing and modern pigeon racing. Let’s dive deeper into the history of Pigeon Racing.
History of pigeon racing BC
The oldest significant record of pigeons is on the wall of a Sumerian temple build for the goddess Ninhursag and dates back to 3000 BC. Pictures were also found on Egyptian and Mesopotamian temples in Iraq and Crete.
According to Biblical, historical and geological data, coming from excavations and researches in North- and South-America, Mongoly, South-Africa, Scandinavia, Middle-East, Iraq and Asia, the Great Flood occurred around 2349 BC. We know that Noah used pigeons as scouts to find out if there was dry soil anywhere. Pigeons thus played a huge part in the survival of humanity.
Pigeon images were also found on tombs in Greece that date from 1600 BC.
The first record that proves the use of pigeon messengers dates as early as around 1200 BC. According to excavations in Israel and Lebanon, pigeons were worshipped as gods in ancient Canaan around 1200BC. However, pigeons weren’t just held for communication. The ancient Egyptians already found that pigeon droppings have a positive effect on the soil. Now we know it’s due to the high-grade nitrogen that’s in the droppings. We also know that Rameses III sacrificed 57.000 pigeons at one ceremony to the god Ammon.
Terracotta models that date back to 700 BC show the significance of pigeons in the Chinese society at that time.
According to Wendell Mitchell Levi, a pigeon expert during the first half of the 20th century, in his book ‘The Pigeon’, pigeon racing may have already occurred in 220 BC.
In Greek culture, pigeons were often held as pets. Pigeons were regarded as the pets of the Gods (next to many other animals).
The Romans used pigeons to conquer the world. Julius Caesar was able to take Gaul due to his extensive and strategic use of messenger pigeons.
Pigeon Racing AD
In 1150 AD, the sultan of Baghdad set up a pigeon messenger system to communicate with other posts, even to the outer edges of the region. Genghis Khan may have been inspired by this system when he set up a comparable pigeon messenger system.
Later, carrier pigeons were used often in the Arabian world. They were highly esteemed and called ‘The Kings Angels’. We know pigeon messengers were used as the standard means of long distance communication during the Moorish Empire.
During the medieval times and through the Dark Ages, pigeons were re-introduced to Europe by the Crusaders, who had probably seen their practical use in the East.
From 1760, pigeon fancying became a hobby for the leisured class in society. According to Martin Johnes from the Swansea University, they were held ‘for their aesthetic and intellectual appeal’. Pigeon racing soon became part of the working-class culture.
Around 1800, we know pigeons were used for postal services. During the revolution in the 1850’s, pigeons were used to replace the telegraphic services. Pigeons were harder to interrupt and therefore safer to use for important and secret communication. In 1870, the postal service between London and Paris, that was established before, was advertising their postal service by pigeon messengers.
The first long-distance race was held in Belgium in 1818. This is the point in time where modern pigeon racing started. The races were divided in two: the long-distance races were usually held by the richer class, whereas the short-distance flights were common pastime for the working-class culture.
A post stamp, dating from 1897, shows the popularity for pigeons.
The pigeon racing sport rapidly spread to France, South-Africa the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, China, India, Argentina and Hungary. Belgium has long been the center of the pigeon racing sport.
During the several World Wars, pigeons were used for emergency messages. For example, if the mainstream messenger services would fail or if there was a chance the message would be interrupted. A U.S. Army Signal Corps pigeon once flew a distance of 3.700 kilometers.
And now, roughly 5000 years after the first practical pigeon fanciers were born, we’ve arrived at an age where pigeon racing is more popular than ever. At least in some parts of the world. In the West, the popularity seems to have toned down. However, we’ll keep promoting the pigeon sport enthusiastically! Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this brief overview of Pigeon Racing History. If you’re a pigeon fancier yourself, make sure to check out our natural pigeon supplements that will help keep your pigeons in top shape. We’ve showcased some down below.
Also, for a more specific insight in the development of pigeon racing, we recommend this video from the Royal Pigeon Association.