Though chickens were first domesticated for their eggs and cockfights, it didn't take long for man to realize they were a welcome addition at the dinner table. Some 4-5 thousand years ago, chickens were first kept and raised by man in south Asia. This practice spread and by 1500-2000 BC, the Egyptians were clearly fond of them as archeological finds from this era well documents. You can find chicken paintings and other artifacts linking them to Pharoahs like Tutankhamun and other well known emperors of the time. It's unclear if they were part of worship or diet but regardless, chickens have had a long running history with man.
More recently, the Greeks and Romans not only raised chickens but based on one of the earliest cookbooks around – written by a first century gourmet Roman chef – chicken was clearly an integral part of their diet. Several recipes include chicken legs, thighs and breast meat all being seasoned and prepared a certain way based on years of practice and fine tuning. We also know Romans learned how to farm chickens from the Greeks but it appears they may have been the first to caponize their birds as well. It's still unclear who was first as many believe China and some regions throughout southeast Asia were performing this procedure much earlier. Perhaps we'll never know for sure but we do know Capons were enjoyed and in some cities required by law!
That's right. In 162 BC there a law was passed making it illegal to eat fattened hens. The attempt here was to conserve grain which was in short supply due to harsh drought. Eating fat chickens would create the demand for replacement birds which would require more grain to be consumed. It was at this time that many believe the capon came to exist. Witty chicken breeders knew castrating male birds would cause them to grow plump and fat. These "neutral" birds weren't hens so they could be consumed legally and without consequence. It's quite possible this is where the capon was first farmed with any intention and from there it seemed to gain popularity.
But the Romans didn't only grow chickens for food. They routinely sacrificed chickens to the gods. Butcher shops proclaimed being "close to the gods" with regular beheadings. And still others were kept alive once deemed as sacred. These sacred chickens were used to help make financial, maritial and even military decisions. To some, the way a "chosen" bird ate grain could be interpreted to mean something prolific and in some cases, these interpretations had a huge impact on how the world was being shaped. There is no doubt the impact of chicken on the development of early civilized man is etched throughout the history books.
During the middle ages capons seem to take root as the most popular meat throughout Europe. So much so there was concern of over indulgence and dependency. Stuffed capon, roast capon, capon stew, capon pie – the list grew as the chicken became mans most consumed animal. It was during this time the impact of chickens on mans diet was outlined and then finely detailed. Between all the serving of eggs and chicken, it was plain to see the role of chicken was becoming an ever bigger part of our very existence.