Falconry on Portuguese stamps - First Day Cover with Souvenir-Sheet
Date of Issue: 23 March 2013
Historically, falconry was a popular sport and status symbol among the nobles of medieval Europe, the Middle East, and Mongolian Empire. Many historical illustrations left in Rashid al Din's "Compendium chronicles" book described falconry of the middle centuries with Mongol images. Falconry was largely restricted to the noble classes due to the prerequisite commitment of time, money, and space. In art and in other aspects of culture such as literature, falconry remained a status symbol long after it was no longer popularly practiced.
The historical significance of falconry within lower social classes may be underrepresented in the archaeological record, due to a lack of surviving evidence, especially from non literate nomadic and non- agrarian societies. Within nomadic societies like the Bedouin, falconry was not practiced for recreation by noblemen. Instead, falcons were trapped and hunted on small game during the winter months in order to supplement a very limited diet.
Falconry is the art of hunting using trained birds of prey. The earliest evidence of this practice is a bas-relief found in the Khorsabad ruins of ancient Mesopotamia, dating from 1,400 B.C. From its original place of birth, in Asia, falconry travelled westward with the Mongolian invasions. This practice was also introduced in China, where the first written records were found, dating back to the 7th century B.C.
In the Iberian Peninsula, this form of hunting has been practised since the 5th century A.D., having been introduced by the Sueves and the Visigoths and later perfected with the Crusades and through contact with Arab peoples. Falconry experienced its "Golden Era" during the Middle Ages, when it became the favourite entertainment of medieval lords and a privilege of the nobility. European courts employed professional falconers to train and care for these luxury birds. The finest secrets of this art, which were part of oral tradition, were passed down from generation to generation. The need to compile all knowledge related to this sport led Kings to commission their falconers to write treatises on the subject, in order to keep the most precious and genuine aspects of this art. These writings are presently considered a genre of its own in medieval literature.
In Portugal, falconry flourished from the first dynasty onwards, having been considered the noblest of all forms of hunting. In 1568, King Sebastian created the position of Chief Falconer, or Chief Hunter, whose functions were to oversee the Royal falconry. In the first decades of the 18th century, state falconry experienced a period of great refinement and splendour, rivalling with the best houses in Europe. The training of birds and the execution of moves were taken to the highest level during the reigns of King Joseph and Queen Mary.
The French Revolution and the emergence of a new world order left little room for falconry, a sport too intimately associated with monarchy and former values. The new Republican regime, changes in tastes and habits, the increasing practice of hunting with firearms and World War I led to the fast decline of falconry in Europe, causing it to be virtually forgotten.
Nowadays, falconry is becoming increasingly popular, being considered an extraordinary and eco-friendly form of hunting. Modern falconry is based on solid technical and scientific knowledge. Falconers are behind the increasing knowledge on birds of prey and their conservation in the last decades. The species used in this sport are bred in captivity for this purpose and their ownership and trading regulated by Portuguese legislation and international regulations. In Portugal, the individuals who practise this sport are represented by the Portuguese Association for Falconry.
On an international level, the I.A.F. (International Association for Falconry and Conservation of Birds of Prey) represents more than fifty associations from various countries worldwide. In 2010, the UNESCO recognised falconry as part of the world's historical and artistic heritage, having officially declared this activity as intangible heritage of humanity and added it to the corresponding list.
Source: Correios de Portugal