A History of the Relationships Between Man and Wolf
For many centuries, men and wolves lived together on the same territory,
engaged in a merciless battle. In European history, wolves were considered man
’s worst enemy, and fear of the animal became embedded in our cultural
heritage. France, Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom, and most European states
took action against wolves. This hostility and the fear of wolves were mainly
caused by their attacks on domestic livestock, which were harmful to many sectors
of the economy, even beyond agriculture, up until the 19th century. However,
we should not forget that wolf attacks against people themselves were not
purely a matter of legend: for a long time, they really did happen. The
frequency, and the geographical and temporal distribution of these dramatic
Research so far indicates that the French territory saw numerous tragic incidents of this kind. Although statistically, there were relatively few attacks, their psychological impact was particularly powerful. These aspects of the relationship between man and wolf prompted policies specifically aiming to lessen the “damage”, cut the risks, or simply eradicate these intolerable competitors. Thus, our cultural perception of wolves is based on a long and complex history, which has recently become subject to external influences, since wolves were eradicated.
The website Man and Wolf: 2000 Years of History aims to give the public access to the results of a national study begun in 2002. Firstly, we attempted to measure the real extent of the wolf threat from the Middle Ages to the 20th century, by collecting information on human victims in the territory that is currently France. By using a scientific process to produce university research, and transmitting calls for research from region to region (particularly among historians and genealogists), information on several thousand attacks was recovered. For over half of these, it was also possible to identify the victims and place them in their social and spatial context.
If all types of wolf attack data in the sources used here are combined, the provisional total as at 15 March 2014 stands at 9031 victims. This gives us a historical database which is unrivalled worldwide. This statistical corpus includes two key types of victims, which are carefully differentiated: victims of predatory wolves (which occasionally chose human victims), and victims of rabid wolves (which attacked men during a disturbance of their behaviour due to a rabies-induced seizure). Initially, two distinct sets of data were put together, and these can now be compared.
Here, we provide a large part of the corpus established on 15 October 2013, which may change or grow with future findings. For each victim identified, we offer the public several complementary types of information: the victim’s surname, first name, sex and age, the time of attack (year, month, day, and sometimes time of day), and place of attack, the label used for the attacker, the victim’s social status, and the nature and reference of the sources used (civil registers, correspondence, administrative enquiry, legal records, medical report, newspaper column, notarised agreement, press article, report, etc). Studied on various temporal and geographical scales, these serial tragedies elucidate the relationship between man (in his attempts at territorial management) and his environment. A preliminary assessment was offered to the public in 2007: J.-M. Moriceau, Histoire du méchant loup. 3 000 attaques sur l’ homme en France (xve-xxe siècle) (“The Big Bad Wolf: A (Hi)story. 3 000 Attacks on Humans in France from the Fifteenth to the Twentieth Century ”),Fayard, 2007, 632 pages (new, expanded and edited edition: 2008, with foreword). It includes analyses and specific explorations that are beyond the focus of this website: patterns of change over time, geographical distribution, characteristics of predatory wolves, predation methods, and the demographic and sociological characteristics of the victims. A second assessment was given in a collective work, which reframes the issue within the general context of man-wolf relationships: Repenser le sauvage grâce au retour du loup. Les sciences humaines interpellées (“Rethinking the Wild through the Return of the Wolf. A Social Science Perspective”, ed. J-M Moriceau and Ph. Madeline, 2010 (particularly p. 23-39, 41-74 and 75-89). The third stage was an overview of a long period, particularly examining the evolution of the pressure that man has inflicted on this animal since antiquity, through numerous regulatory means (traps, poisons, rewards, hunts, etc.) and agents (including an institution specific to France, the wolf-hunting officers or louveterie): J.-M. Moriceau, L'Homme contre le loup. Une guerre de deux mille ans (“Man versus Wolf: A 2000 Year War”, Fayard, 2011, 479 pages (new edition 2013, Pluriel, 573 pages, with foreword). A final assessment was provided by the creation of a historical atlas looking at all the French regions and providing an index of the 2196 family names and the 1736 towns appearing in research as of 15 June 2013: J.-M. Moriceau, Sur les pas du loup. Tour de France historique et culturel du Moyen Âge à nos jours (“In the Footsteps of Wolves: A Historical and Cultural Tour de France from the Middle Ages to the Present Day”), Montbel, 2013, 350 pages. For each stage, the scientific perspective of the investigation in relation to social issues was specified.
In addition to making the data available to the public for the first time, this site offers considerable information on the sources and methods used to collect and analyse the documentation. Aside from studying attacks on humans, the research team carried out other projects, which will appear in coming months and particularly include data on hunting in France and Europe.
The website Man and Wolf: 2000 Years of History is consequently just a first stage. This project could not have been completed without the contributions of many colleagues, researchers, students, and genealogists, whose names are listed in the “Credits” section. Nevertheless, I wish to thank Julien Alleau and Cyril Guesnon here. These two young historians specialising in wolves, from Caen University, have both helped me with this project. This website is a participative venture, and is therefore open to all. We have taken great care, but certain factual errors (if only transcription errors) may have slipped past us. Please do not hesitate to bring these to our attention, so that we can improve the quality of our service. Similarly, as findings are made, readers may discover new information: we would be very grateful if they could pass it on to us. In the future, when we update this site, this will allow us to offer the public an even larger and richer database.
Should you have any remarks, comments, corrections, or additional information, please contact: Cyril.firstname.lastname@example.org - Jeanemail@example.com
Caen, octobre 2013-mars 2014, Jean-Marc Moriceau