Cockfighting has a history which traces back to times before Christ. However, before it even became a sport, the bird was regarded as an admirable animal, drawing respect from men. The fighting cock was a subject of religious worship. The ancient Syrians worshipped the fighting cock as a deity. The ancient Greeks and Romans associated the fighting cock with the gods Apollo, Mercury, and Mars. Magellan claimed that in Borneo, the bird was so sacred that no one could eat its flesh. In South Canara, the bird was claimed to ward off evil demons. In Sumatra, the gamecock was worshipped – a temple was built to it, and rituals performed to honor the deity.
Cockfighting occurred in the temples and the dead bird which lost the battle was prepared to be presented to the deities. It would be laced in a gold cauldron, and soaked in gums and spices. Then its body was burned on an altar, and its ashes placed in a golden pot or urn.
In the times before Christ, approximately 3000 years ago, during the times of the Phoenicians, Hebrews, and Canaanites, cockfighting was popular. Breeding gamecocks for fighting in a pit was considered a art, and trading these birds was profitable. In Egypt, in the times of Moses, cockfighting was a favorite pastime. During the height of the Greek civilization, Themistocles, a general who was preparing to drive away the invading Persians, decided to hold a cockfight the night before the battle to inspire his men by showing the courageous nature of the fighting cocks. Persian traders loved to gamble by pitting their fighting birds against each other. They would often carry their birds with them, and pit at fight in the marketplace and trading centers.
In the first century after Christ, Julius Caesar led Rome into enjoying the sport of cockfighting. He was the first citizen of Rome to be an enthusiast of the sport. Caesar ultimately introduced cockfighting into England. In the 16th century, cockfighting was flourishing in England. During the time of King Henry VIII, cock fights were held at Whitehall Palace. The game became a national sport at one point, and exclusive schools were required to teach students the points of cockfighting, such as breeding, walking, and conditioning of the gamecock. At its very height of popularity, even the clergy encouraged the sport. Church yards, and even inside churches, were used as an arena for cockfighting. The sport declined in England during the reign of Queen Victoria when she banned the sport with a Royal decree. Today, cockfighting is almost non-existent.
In Spain, cockfighting has existed for the longest period of time. How is arrived there is uncertain. Theories point to traveling Phoenicians or the conquering Moors. Today, cockfighting is a popular sport in Bilbao, Oviedo, Madrid, Barcelona, and Valencia. Many Filipino breeders travel to Spain to obtain breeding stock. Many gamecocks in the Philippines have a blood strain of Spanish game cocks.
In the United States, famous presidents who were lovers of the game were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Abraham Lincoln. It was socially acceptable and encouraged for a gentleman to have a flock of gamecocks and to be an expert on the sport. At one point, the U.S. became a center for cockfighting activities and events. Cockfights were even held in the committee rooms of the president. It is said that the fighting cock almost became the national emblem of the United States. It lost by one vote to the American Eagle. The sport declined when the Civil War began.