The term laurices refers to the fetus of the rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) prepared without evisceration and consumed as a table delicacy. The word is the plural of the Latin word laurex (variant laurix, n. masc., pl. laurices; English singular occasionally laurice), assumed to have been borrowed from an Iberian source. The word is normally found in the plural number, since, due to their size, more than one would be served at a time. The rabbit was adopted by the Romans from Hispania, whence it spread over western Europe, as did likewise the custom of consuming laurices.
As the domestication of rabbits became established, the source of laurices was extended to newborns, because it became possible to harvest them without sacrificing the breeding doe, the time of birth being able to be monitored.
Earliest Historical Mention
Leporum generis sunt et quos hispania cuniculos appellat, fecunditatis innumerae famemque baliarum insulis populatis messibus adferentis. - (fetus ventri exectos vel uberibus ablatos, non repurgatis interaneis, gratissimo in cibatu habent; laurices vocant)....
There is also a species of hare, in Spain, which is called the rabbit; it is extremely prolific, and produces famine in the Balearic Islands, by destroying the harvests. The young ones, either when cut from out of the body of the mother, or taken from the breast, without having the entrails removed, are considered a most delicate food; they are then called laurices.
Gregory of Tours
In these days Roccolenus being sent by Chilperic came to Tours ...Now these were the days of holy Lent during which he often ate young rabbits.
Since Roccolenus is described by Gregory as being an impious rascal, Gregory's mention of this practice has been interpreted as disapprobation.
Pope Gregory the First
It is said that Pope Gregory I authorized the consumption of laurices during Lent and other fasts, declaring them to be a marine species, like fish or shellfish. For this reason there was a great burgeoning of cuniculture in monasteries during the early Middle Ages. The demand would have been high, considering that the ecclesiastical calendar of the time specified more than 180 fast days which religionists had to observe. The economics of cuniculture are also thought well suited to the monastic setting.
- [BOS] Pliny the Elder. Bostock, John, Henry Thomas Riley eds. The Natural History, 2nd Ed., 1855. Book VIII: "The Nature Of The Terrestrial Animals", Chapter 81(55): "The Different Species Of Hares." Online version at Perseus.
- [MAY] Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia (ed. Karl Friedrich Theodor Mayhoff.) Lipsiae [Leipzig]: Teubner. 1906. Online version at Perseus.
- [LEW Lewis, Charlton T. and Charles Short, A Latin Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1879. Online version at Perseus.
- [ZEU] Zeuner, Frederick Everard. A History of Domesticated Animals. New York: Harper & Row. 1963.
- [ALBC] The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy: Rabbits Classification by Pope Gregory the Great. Site accessed 2007-02-08.
- [CERB] Club des Eleveurs de Races Belges de Ronquières en Belgique.
- [FAO] Lebas, F. et al. The Rabbit: Husbandry, Health and Production. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Rome, 1986. Online version at .
- Bostock adds a footnote to the section: "'Laurices;' we have no explanation of this word in any of the editions of Pliny. Its origin appears to be quite unknown." [BOS] Lewis & Short call it "Baleric". [LEW]
- "...désigne un met en faveur chez les Ibères et qui consiste en fœtus ou lapereaux nouveau-nés consommés entiers et qui est adopté par les Romains, plutôt snobs en matière de nourriture." [CERB]
- NH 8.81.217, [MAY].
- [ALBC], [CERB], [FAO].
- Journal of Fish Biology, Volume 65 Page 1. December 2004.