When Julius Caesar had celebrated his triumphs in Egypt in 46 BC, he returned to Rome with an extensive and exotic menagerie. The main attraction among the imported animals was what seemed a very “strange” specie with long neck resembling both to a camel and leopard. That strange specie was a giraffe, the first ever seen in Europe.
The Romans were quite confused and did not what to make of such an animal. Because it seemed to them to embody characteristics of both the camel and leopard, they named it “cameleopard.”
Caesar had quickly found a purpose to the animal and had the giraffe torn to shreds by lions in the arena. This was probably a statement of his power, by disposing of a rare creature in a random manner. The housing of giraffes in Europe declined with the fall of the Roman Empire. Giraffes became again “unseen” species in Europe until the Middle Ages.
In the Middle Ages, Lorenzo de’ Medici, Italian statesman and ruler of the Florentine Republic, had read of the spectacle of Caesar’s giraffe and saw an opportunity to improve his reputation in Florence by following Caesars steps.
In 1486, the Medici giraffe was presented to Lorenzo possibly by al-Ashraf Qaitbay, the Burji Sultan of Egypt.
The giraffe caused a great stir and was a real attraction on its arrival in Florence. Reputedly, this was the first giraffe to be seen in Italy since Ancient Rome. However, the giraffe didn’t survive for long and another giraffe was not seen in Europe in the next 300 years.