The flocks: sheep and goats

This article is also available in: Italiano

After having talked about fruit for a long time, today we finally venture into the world of meat and herd animals, an essential source of many goods, as well as a reserve of proteins par excellence. A long hunter, man has begun to domesticate animals since the end of the last ice age, placing his attention on 2 different species: sheep and goats.


The first animal bred (after the dog), the sheep has managed to obtain a prominent place in human development, contributing to the development of herding in an absolutely decisive way. Descendant of the mouflon, this mammal made its appearance on the Iranian highlands, becoming extremely popular in every corner of the world. In addition to its meat and milk produced by it, in fact, it quickly became famous for its wool, so coveted by men of all times. The value acquired from this fabric was so great that it pushed the shepherds to select more and more valuable varieties starting from 6000 BC.

Syrian refugees in Lebanon with sheep

By virtue of its relationship with the human being, over the millennia many stories and legends related to this animal were born, in particular in Christianity and Judaism. In the Jewish world, lamb is in fact a symbol of purity and, precisely for this reason, used as a maximum ritual sacrifice. In Easter, in particular, it is considered a way to remember the labors of the Jews during Exodus, an absolutely central moment for monotheists around the world.


Another animal strongly linked to sheep farming is without a doubt the goat, still one of the best known and appreciated farm animals in the world. Like sheep, it originates from the Iranian plateau, in particular from the Zagros mountains, a place where for the first time there is news of farms. Thanks to its docility and the many goods produced, it has had a global diffusion, even going so far as to become invasive species in certain locations. Although not very appreciated in Central and Northern Europe, it has had a huge development in the Middle East and Africa, places where lack of meat fat and high digestibility of milk have made it one of the staple foods of many diets.


Unlike sheep, however, in the Christian tradition it is often associated with the devil and negative symbols, this both because of its appearance and because of the parable “of the sheep and the goats”. In a famous Gospel episode contained in Matthew 25: 31-46, Jesus compares the former to the good men and the latter to the wicked, giving, in a certain sense, the difference to this animal which, since then, will be associated more and more to witchcraft and the like.

In the Quran

The flocks are already mentioned in the Koran by Surat Al Ma’idah, in which all the conditions for this meat to be considered halal / “licit” will be announced, only 2 verses apart. In general, however, these two animals had always played a central role in Arab-Jewish culture, becoming undisputed protagonists together with cow and horse, other animals that, not surprisingly, spread from the Middle East throughout the world.

Surat Al Ma’idah, vv.1

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