Birds were incorporated in many different ways within the Roman society. The upper class, including royals, would keep exotic birds, such as peacocks, as pets for display as a way to demonstrate their wealth. They were also seen as a delicacy and enjoyed across the empire especially during feasts. Popular ones included peahen, pheasant and geese as well as bird eggs such as ostrich eggs, although rarely eaten. Some birds also had associations with Roman goddesses. Peacocks and peahens were sacrificed to Juno, the goddess of marriage, the Greek counterpart Hera. Therefore both birds became linked with fertility and marriage. The peacock is mentioned several times in connection with Juno in Ovid’s Metamorphoses and was known as the goddess’s sacred animal. Different birds were also enjoyed for entertainment purposes, they were hunted and dined on.
For more information about the meanings of animals in Roman art, see our relevant blog post: Animal Symbolism in Roman Art.