The first known documented vegan was the ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras.
While Pythagoras was the first to speak for a meatless diet, humans have been plant-based forever. Early humans mainly would have eaten a plant-based diet, many anthropologists agree (2).
Pythagoras was a philosopher and mathematician, lived in ancient Greece from ca. 570 to ca. 490 BCE. He also lived for many years in ancient Egypt and Italy.
He’s one of the most famous and controversial ancient Greek philosophers.
What was Pythagoras’ philosophy?
Pythagoras is best known today for his mathematical theorem.
The famous formula of Pythagoras’ theorem is a2 + b2 = c2.
He got involved with cosmology, mathematics, and philosophy.
Pythagoras himself wrote nothing. Our knowledge of Pythagoras’ sayings is entirely derived from the reports of others. Many question these reports, saying that some writings are the views of other philosophers, written in the name of Pythagoras.
Was Pythagoras the first vegan?
Pythagoras for centuries was considered the father of vegetarianism.
A diet without the presence of meat was referred to as a “Pythagorean diet” for years, up until the modern vegetarian movement began in the eighteenth century.
There are many controversial opinions, whether Pythagoras was vegan, vegetarian, or plant-based:
Pythagoras the plant-based:
- Aristoxenus said that Pythagoras was not a strict vegetarian and only avoiding to eat some types of meat (Diogenes Laertius VIII. 20),
- Aristotle reports that the Pythagoreans refrain from eating only some animal parts (Aulus Gellius IV. 11. 11–12).
Pythagoras the vegetarian:
- Eudoxus said that Pythagoras didn’t consume meat at all and also even refused to associate with butchers (Porphyry, VP 7),
- Additionally, Dicaearchus (one of Pythagoras’ most well-known doctrines) was teaching that all animate beings are of the same family (Porphyry, VP 19). That suggested that we shouldn’t be eating other animals.
The most common belief is that Pythagoras and his followers followed vegetarianism for several reasons. Mostly due to religious and ethical reasons.
Pythagoras believed all living beings have souls, so meat and fish shouldn’t be eaten.
The father of modern vegetarianism
Pythagoras’ principles influenced academics and religious thinkers for centuries.
This type of thinking, of
- and harmonious coexistence between species
led to the foundation of the Vegetarian Society in England in the mid of the eighteenth century.