Royal privilege, exclusive recreation, desert prince passion: the exact beginnings of the art of falconry are clouded in mystery. This archaic hunting tradition has accompanied mankind throughout history with the first recorded contact between falcon and man marking the beginning of an eternal bond more than three thousand years old. Two millennia before the birth of Jesus, nomadic equestrian peoples hunted in the central Asian steppes. Spreading outward, falconry became an integral part of many diverse cultures over the course of centuries, stretching from Japan to North America. The Middle Ages marked the golden period of falconry in Europe, where it quickly attained distinctive status, receiving royal recognition as the most noble of all sports.
Arabian Bedouins were the masters of falconry, in many cases teaching western royalty the age-old art. During the Crusades, falconry brought the cultures together like nothing else: Friedrich II of Hohenstaufen, duke of Swabia, was a passionate falconer and imported a falcon expert from the orient to aid him with his opus The Art of Hunting with Birds.
The imagery of a falcon in flight, wings spread in sovereign watchfulness over land stretching from horizon to horizon, was symbolic for the supremacy of kings. The art of falconry bloomed in Europe until the eighteenth century. In the East, however, it continued to flourish under royal attention, with the expansion of Islam bringing falconry into all regions of Arabic culture, where it continues to be practiced today.
The falcon is typically depicted in flight or at rest on a wakir—a portable pedestal. The subuq and mursil—the leashes attached to the falcon’s legs—have become symbols of the falcon’s submission to the falconer.
The contact between this famed bird of prey and its trainer is intimate and intense, with falcon and falconer understanding each other’s gestures, commands, and abilities. Both creatures share in the spoils of the hunt as a reaffirmation of their bond, a bond rooted in an activity once needed for survival, but which today represents pure luxury.
The falcon, a supreme and luxurious symbol of time immemorial.