Classical 1000 BCE-500 CE

740 BCE  — Rise of Isaiah, the most prominent of the Hebrew vegetarian prophets, and the prophet who most emphasized opposition to animal sacrifice.

600-500 BCE –Buddhism and Jainism rise in India. Buddha and Mahavir (a Jainist teacher) emphasize vegetarianism and compassion for all beings. Said Mahavir, “It is not enough to live and let live. You must help others live.” This is the idea embodied in the Jain word “ahimsa.” Both Jainism and Buddhism may have evolved from the beliefs and practices of the Bishnoi, Sindhi, and Thari people. The renowned Indian conservationist Valmik Thapar, described the Bishnoi in his 1997 book Land of the Tiger as “the primary reason that desert wildlife still exists on the subcontinent. Link forward to 1778. (Adapted from M. Clifton, 2007)

560 – 600 BCE — Athenian leader Solon poisons river during a siege of this city.  (Hatami & Gleick, 1994).

580 BCE — Birth of Pythagoras, Greek scientist and philosopher, who taught vegetarianism and the equality of women as part of a theory of reincarnation.

430 BCE —  Spartans  poison  cisterns of the Piraeus, the source of most of Athens’ water during Peloponnesian War.  (Hatami & Gleick, 1994).

256 BCE — India — Seven Pillars — King Ashoka (Piyadasi) of India issues Seven Pillar edicts, one of which states: “Twenty-six years after my coronation various animals were declared to be protected — parrots, mainas, ruddy geese, wild ducks, bats, queen ants, terrapins, boneless fish, fish, tortoises, porcupines, squirrels, deer, bulls, wild asses, wild pigeons, domestic pigeons and all four-footed creatures that are neither useful nor edible… ”

Asoka practiced a form of Buddhism which like Hinduism and Jainism holds that animals should not be eaten, and that an aged or disabled cow or work animal should be retired and well-treated. Asoka sent missionaries to Thailand and Sri Lanka to teach Buddhism, including his son Arahat Mahinda. Interupting a hunt upon arrival in Sri Lanka in 247 B.C., “Arahat Mahinda stopped King Devanampiyatissa from killing the deer and told the king that every living creature has an equal right to live,” according to Sri Lankan elephant conservationist Jawantha Jayewardene. Persuaded, the king became a Buddhist and “decreed that no one should kill or harm any living being,” Jayewardene continues. “He set apart a large area around his palace as a sanctuary that gave protection to all fauna and flora. This was called Mahamevuna Uyana, and is believed to be the first sanctuary in the world.” Arahat Mahinda and the other Asokan emissaries also introduced animal sheltering as a central function of monasteries wherever they went. Buddhist monasteries in Thailand and Sri Lanka to this day often double as animal shelters, though at some the custom was long ago distorted into keeping just a lone chained temple elephant. (M. Clifton, 2007)

According to Buddhist scholar Ven. S. Dhammika, Ashoka is significant today. “…With widespread disillusionment in prevailing ideologies and the search for a political philosophy that goes beyond greed (capitalism), hatred (communism) and delusion (dictatorships led by “infallible” leaders), Asoka’s edicts may make a meaningful contribution to the development of a more spiritually based political system.”

34 BCE — Approximate date of the birth of Jesus of Nazereth. In accurate historical context, Jesus appears to have been the most militant leader of his time of Jewish opposition to animal sacrifice, which was then still practiced–in very high volume–at the Jerusalem temple. Jesus built directly upon the teachings of the vegetarian prophet Isaiah, and his direct predecessor in advocacy, the vegetarian John the Baptist. The Jerusalem Christian church, founded by Jesus’ brother James, taught and practiced vegetarianism, and historian Keith Akers argues in The Lost Religion of Jesus (2001) that after about 200 years of recorded existence, the congregation became the forebears of the Sufi sect within Islam. “The Sufis express an extraordinary interest in Jesus and have sayings of Jesus and stories about Jesus found nowhere in Christianity,” according to Akers. “Especially interesting and significant is the treatment of Jesus by al-Ghazali, an 11th century Islamic mystic who is widely credited with making Sufism respectable within Islam.” The Jesus described by al-Ghazali “lives in extreme poverty, disdains violence, loves animals, and is vegetarian,” Akers summarizes. “It is clear that al-Ghazali is drawing on a tradition rather than creating a tradition because some of the same stories that al-Ghazali relates are related by others both before and after him, and also because al-Ghazali himself is not a vegetarian and clearly has no axe to grind. Thus, these stories came from a pre-existing tradition that describes Jesus as a vegetarian.” (M. Clifton, 2007)

Classical Greece

Greek playwright Aeschylus 525-456 BCE   refers to barbarians in Promethius Bound:   “Though they had eyes to see, they saw to no avail; they had ears, but understood not. But like shapes in dreams, throughout their time, without purpose they wrought all things in confusion. They lacked knowledge of houses turned to face the sun, dwelling beneath the ground like swarming ants in sunless caves.” (Butti, 1979)

500 BCE – forward — Greek coastal cities become landlocked after deforestation, which causes soil erosion. The siltation fills in the bays and mouths of rivers.

•• Greek philosopher Plato (427 – 347 BCE) compared hills and mountains of Greece to the bones of a wasted body: “All the richer and softer parts have fallen away and the mere skelton of the land remains.”
•• One river located in Southwestern Greece, the Maender, becomes so silted that its twists and turns come to represent a river wandering – or meandering.

Greek physician Hippocrates (460-377 BCE), considered the father of medicine,   notes the effect of food, of occupation, and especially of climate in causing disease. One of his books,   De aëre, aquis et locis (Air, Waters and Places), is the earliest work on human ecology.

400 BCE – Greek general Thucydides, one of the first historians, writes the history of Peleponesian War largely because his own mission to protect valuable timber lands in northern Greece failed.

200 BCE – Greek physician Galen observes copper miners and notes the danger of acid mists.   Galen, Hippocrites and other physicians take individual medicine to new levels of understanding. Around the same time, poet and physician Nicander condemns “deadly white lead” used as a paint and cosmetic.

Ancient Rome

Pollution is typically found in pre-industrial cities where people burn wood and work at crafts and industry. “The smoke, the wealth, the noise of Rome…” held no charms for the Roman poet Horace and many of his contemporaries. As residents of what had become the largest city in the world, ancient Romans were well aware of the problem of air pollution. They called it gravioris caeli (heavy heaven) or infamis aer (infamous air). Odors and runoff from garbage, sewage and industries such as smelting or tanning also fouled the air and water.

As dirty as Rome must have been, the Romans are also remembered for setting a new standard for public health. Public physicians are appointed to attend the poor, and hospitals are built throughout the empire. The city of Rome has aquaducts bringing clean water to gymnasiums and public baths. Many areas of the city have sewage or use reservoirs for sending freshets of waters to sweep streets clean. A similar level of public health would not return to Europe until the mid 18th century or later.

But the water – food – energy nexus was, ultimately, a problem for Rome, according to a University of Utrecht study.

500 BCE — Cloaca Maxima (big sewer) is built in Rome by Etruscan dynasty of Tarquins. As Rome grows, a networks of cloacae (sewers) and aquaducts are built.

Pliny_the_ElderNaturalis Historia by Pliny the Elder, ACE 77–79.  “I have included in thirty-six books 20,000 topics, all worthy of attention…” Pliny says in the introduction.    These cover topics including geography, anthropology, zoology, botany, agriculture and mining.  “The nature of the animated beings which exist upon [the world], is hardly in any degree less worthy of our contemplation than its other features; if, indeed, the human mind is able to embrace the whole of so diversified a subject.”  In Chapter 34, Pliny writes about the influence of the environment on animals:  “Africa and Egypt produce wolves of a sluggish and stunted nature;those of the colder climates are fierce and savage. That men have been turned into wolves, and again restored to their original form,  we must confidently look upon as untrue, unless, indeed, we are ready to believe all the tales, which, for so many ages, have been found to be fabulous.” Pliny also wrote about mining and wrote about mine safety, noting, for example, the use of bladders as respirators by workers in zinc smelters.

51 CE — Caesar attacks water supplies during siege of Uxellodunum by undermining one of the local springs; the shortage of water leads to the surrender of the Gauls. (

46-120 CE — Plutarch, Roman biographer and historian, wrote  “On the Eating of Animal Flesh” and about animal intelligence.  Although better known for his biographical book Parallel Lives,  Plutarch influenced the 19th century vegetarianism of American Transcendentalist and Abolitionist leaders including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bronson Alcott (and his daughter Louisa May Alcott), and Henry David Thoreau. Following the example of Plutarch, who founded a successful vegetarian community at Chaeronea, the Alcotts founded a vegetarian commune called Fruitlands in 1843, which ran afoul of an ill-timed dalliance by Bronson Alcott with a female member who was not his wife. Plutarch also persuaded the conversion to vegetarianism in 1811-1812 of the British Romantic poet Percy Shelley and of his second wife Mary, whose 1818 novel Frankenstein was the first prominent literary expression of anxiety about human scientific meddling in the life process. Other prominent vegetarians who attributed their beliefs in part to Plutarch included French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau and Russian novelist and advocate of vegetarianism Leo Tolstoy. (M. Clifton, 2007)

30 CE Roman governor Pontius Pilate uses sacred money to divert a stream to Jerusalem. The Jews are angered at the diversion and tens of thousands gather to protest. Pilate’s soldiers mingle among the crowd and with daggers hidden in their garments, attack the protesters. A great number are slain and wounded and the sedition ended. (; Josephus 90)

80 CE  The Roman Senate passes a law to protect water stored during  dry periods so it can be released for street and sewer cleaning.

100 CE  Hero of Alexandria experiments with solar powered pumps.

100 CE   —   Occupational disease is well known in ancient Rome. Workers in lead and mercury mines and smelters are known to suffer from the metals, according to Rome’s famous engineer Vitruvius.   While slaves are often used in the lead and mercury mines, Plutarch recommends that only criminal slaves be used. It was not just, he said, to expose non-criminals to these conditions.

100 – 400 CE – Decline of Roman Empire may have been partly due to lead poisoning, according to modern hi storian and toxicologist Jerome Nriagu. Romans used lead acetate (“sugar of lead”) to sweeten old wine and turn grape pulp into a sweet condiment. Usually the acidic wine or pulp was simply left in a vat with sheets of lead. An aristocrat with a sweet tooth might have eaten as much as a gram of lead a day. Widespread use of this sweetener would have caused gout, sterility, insanity and many of the symptoms which were, in fact, present among the aristocrats. High levels of lead have been found in the bones of aristocratic Romans. Far more than simply using lead pipes or lead utensils, the direct consumption of lead-sweetened wine and foods created serious and widespread lead poisoning among upper-class Romans.

341 CE  — Sri Lankan King Buddhad-stra found a higher calling as a veterinarian.

497 — Formation of the Shaolin Temple in Henan, China, by Ba Tuo, a vegetarian Buddhist evangelist from India. Although Shaolin from 527 on was also influential in spreading the non-vegetarian branch of Buddhism throughout China, strict followers of Ba Tuo have remained vegetarian despite centuries of oppression from foes including dog-eater sects, Genghis Khan, tyrannical Chinese warlords and emperors, and the Communists under Mao tse Tung. Rather than bear arms against other living beings, the monks of Shaolin gradually invented, developed, and popularized the practices of judo, ju-jitsu, and karate.

535 CE  — Legal code (Institutes) of Roman emperor Justinian issued. In the section on the Law of Things, the first entry is:

“By the law of nature these things are common to mankind—the air, running water, the sea, and consequently the shores of the sea.”

537 CE –As the Roman Empire begins to decline, the Goths besiege Rome and cut almost all of the city’s aqueducts except the underground Aqua Virgo. (

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