Last updated
Shepherds travelling in Chambal, India Shepherds, Chambal, India.jpg
Shepherds travelling in Chambal, India
Shepherd with grazing sheep in Fagaras Mountains, Romania Rumunia 5806.jpg
Shepherd with grazing sheep in Făgăraș Mountains, Romania

A shepherd or sheepherder is a person who tends, herds, feeds, or guards herds of sheep. Shepherd derives from Old English sceaphierde (sceap 'sheep' + hierde 'herder'). Shepherding is one of the world's oldest occupations, and existing in agricultural communities around the world and an important part of pastoralist animal husbandry.


Because of the ubiquity of the profession, many religions and cultures have symbolic or metaphorical references to the shepherd profession—i.e. Jesus, called himself the Good Shepherd, [1] or ancient Greek mythologies highlighting shepherds such as Endymion or Daphnis. This symbolism and shepherds as characters have been at the center of pastoral literature and art.


Middle Age livestock shelter or paridera in a natural cave in Piedra River in the monk's old path from the monastery to the roe deer salt ponds, Aragon, Spain Paridera Cueva del Rio Piedra.jpg
Middle Age livestock shelter or paridera in a natural cave in Piedra River in the monk's old path from the monastery to the roe deer salt ponds, Aragon, Spain
A Kurdish shepherd, 1958 Iraqi Shepherd.tif
A Kurdish shepherd, 1958

Shepherding is among the oldest occupations, beginning some 5,000 years ago in Asia Minor. Sheep were kept for their milk, meat and especially their wool. Over the next thousand years, sheep and shepherding spread throughout Eurasia. Henri Fleisch tentatively suggested the Shepherd Neolithic industry of Lebanon may date to the Epipaleolithic and that it may have been used by one of the first cultures of nomadic shepherds in the Beqaa Valley. [2] [3]

Some sheep were integrated in the family farm along with other animals such as chickens and pigs. To maintain a large flock, the sheep must be able to move from pasture to another pasture. This required the development of an occupation separate from that of the farmer. The duty of shepherds was to keep their flock intact, protect it from predators and guide it to market areas in time for shearing. In ancient times, shepherds also commonly milked their sheep, and made cheese from this milk; few shepherds still do this today.

In many societies, shepherds were an important part of the economy. Unlike farmers, shepherds were often wage earners, being paid to watch the sheep of others. Shepherds also lived apart from society, being largely nomadic. It was mainly a job of solitary males without children, and new shepherds thus needed to be recruited externally. Shepherds were most often the younger sons of farming peasants who did not inherit any land. In other societies, each family would have a family member to shepherd its flock, often a child, youth or an elder who couldn't help much with harder work; these shepherds were fully integrated in society.

Shepherds would normally work in groups either looking after one large flock, or each bringing their own and merging their responsibilities. They would live in small cabins, often shared with their sheep, and would buy food from local communities. Less often shepherds lived in covered wagons that traveled with their flocks.

Shepherding developed only in certain areas. In the lowlands and river valleys, it was far more efficient to grow grain and cereals than to allow sheep to graze, thus the raising of sheep was confined to rugged and mountainous areas. In pre-modern times shepherding was thus centered on regions such as the Middle East, Greece, the Pyrenees, the Carpathian Mountains, Scotland and Northern England.

The shepherd's crook is a strong multi-purpose stick or staff, often fashioned with a hooked end.

Modern times

Shepherds at work, 2017, Beskids, Carpathian Mountains Koniakow miyszani owiec (redyk wiosenny) 05.jpg
Shepherds at work, 2017, Beskids, Carpathian Mountains
Shepherd with his horse and dog on Gravelly Range, Madison County, Montana, August 1942 Russellshepherd.jpg
Shepherd with his horse and dog on Gravelly Range, Madison County, Montana, August 1942

In modern times, shepherding has changed dramatically. The destruction of common lands in Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth-century moved to shepherd from independent nomads to employees of massive estates. Some families in Africa and Asia have their wealth in sheep, so a young son is sent out to guard them while the rest of the family tends to other chores. In the US, many sheep herds are flocked over public BLM lands. Wages are higher than was the case in the past. Keeping a shepherd in constant attendance can be costly. Also, the eradication of sheep predators in parts of the world has lessened the need for shepherds. In places like Britain, hardy breeds of sheep have frequently been left alone without a shepherd for long periods. More productive breeds of sheep can be left in fields and moved periodically to fresh pasture when necessary. Hardier breeds of sheep can be left on hillsides. The sheep farmer will attend to the sheep when necessary at times like lambing or shearing.

By country

Transhumance ways of the Vlach shepherds in the past Transhumance ways of the Vlachs.jpeg
Transhumance ways of the Vlach shepherds in the past


First Shepherd's Fair was announced to take place in the Cyprus Village of Pachna, on August 31, 2014, in the printed editions of Cyprus Weekly and in the Greek language daily, Phileleftheros . [4]

Australia and New Zealand

Shepherd's watch box, New South Wales Shepherds watch box.JPG
Shepherd's watch box, New South Wales

European exploration led to the spread of sheep around the world, and shepherding became especially important in Australia and New Zealand where there was great pastoral expansion. In Australia squatters spread beyond the Nineteen Counties of New South Wales to elsewhere, taking over vast holdings called properties and now stations.

Once driven overland to these properties, sheep were pastured in large unfenced runs. There, they required constant supervision. [5] Shepherds were employed to keep the sheep from straying too far, to keep the mobs as healthy as possible and to prevent attacks from dingoes and introduced predators such as feral dogs and foxes. Lambing time further increased the shepherd's responsibilities.

Shepherding was an isolated, lonely job that was firstly given to assigned convict servants. The accommodation was usually poor and the food was lacking in nutrition, leading to dysentery and scurvy. When free labour was more readily available others took up this occupation. Some shepherds were additionally brought to Australia on the ships that carried sheep and were contracted to caring for them on their arrival in the colony. Sheep owners complained about the inefficiency of shepherds and the shepherds' fears of getting lost in the bush. [6]

Typically sheep were watched by shepherds during the day, and by a hut-keeper during the night. Shepherds took the sheep out to graze before sunrise and returned them to brush-timber yards at sunset. The hut-keeper usually slept in a movable shepherd's watch box placed near the yard in order to deter attacks on the sheep. Dogs were also often chained close by to warn of any impending danger to the sheep or shepherd by dingoes or natives.

In 1839 the usual wage for a shepherd was about AU£50 per year, plus weekly rations of 12 pounds (5.4 kg) meat, 10 pounds (4.5 kg) flour, 2 pounds (0.91 kg) sugar and 4 ounces (110 g) tea. The wage during the depression of the 1840s dropped to £20 a year.

During the 1850s many shepherds left to try their luck on the goldfields causing acute labour shortages in the pastoral industry. This labour shortage leads to the widespread practice of fencing properties, which in turn reduced the demand for shepherds. [7] Over 95% of New South Wales sheep were grazing in paddocks by the mid-1880s. An 1890s census of fencing in New South Wales recorded that 2.6 million kilometres of fencing had been erected there with a contemporary cost of A$3 billion. Boundary riders and stockmen replaced shepherds working on foot, who have not been employed in Australia and New Zealand since the start of the 20th century. [8]


Dumuzid, later known as Tammuz, was an important rural deity in ancient Mesopotamian religion, who was revered as the patron god of shepherds. [9] [10] In his role as Dumuzid sipad ("Dumuzid the Shepherd"), he was believed to be the provider of milk, [10] which was a rare, seasonal commodity in ancient Sumer due to the fact that it could not easily be stored without spoiling. [10] Under this same title, Dumuzid was thought to have been the fifth antediluvian king of the Sumerian city-state of Bad-tibira. [9] In the Sumerian poem Inanna Prefers the Farmer, Dumuzid competes with the farmer Enkidu for the affection of the goddess Inanna and ultimately wins her favor. [11] [12] Ancient Near Eastern peoples associated Dumuzid with the springtime, when the land was fertile and abundant, [10] [13] but, during the summer months, when the land was dry and barren, it was thought that Dumuzid had "died". [10] [13]

Metaphorically, the term "shepherd" is used for God, especially in the Judeo-Christian tradition (e.g. Psalm 23, Ezekiel 34), and in Christianity especially for Jesus, who called himself the Good Shepherd. [1] The Ancient Israelites were a pastoral people and there were many shepherds among them. It may also be worth noting that many biblical figures were shepherds, among them the patriarchs Abraham and Jacob, the twelve tribes, the prophet Moses, King David, and the Old Testament prophet Amos, who was a shepherd in the rugged area around Tekoa. [14] In the New Testament, angels announced the birth of Jesus to shepherds.

The same metaphor is also applied to priests, with Roman Catholic, Church of Sweden and other Lutheran, and Anglican bishops having the shepherd's crook among their insignia (see also Lycidas ). In both cases, the implication is that the faithful are the "flock" who have to be tended. This is in part inspired by Jesus's injunctions to Peter, "Feed my sheep", which is the source of the pastoral image in Lycidas. The term "Pastor", originally the Latin word for "shepherd", is now used solely to denote the clergy of most Christian denominations.

The Good Shepherd is one of the thrusts of Biblical scripture. This illustration encompasses many ideas, including God's care for his people. The tendency of humans to put themselves into danger's way and their inability to guide and take care of themselves apart from the direct power and leading of God is also reinforced with the metaphor of sheep in need of a shepherd.

According to Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, every messenger of God had the occupation of being a shepherd at one point in their lives, as he himself was as a young man. Narrated by Jabir bin Abdullah: We were with Allah’s Apostle picking the fruits of the Arak trees, and Allah’s Apostle (peace and blessings of Allah be to him) said, "Pick the black fruit, for it is the best." The companions asked, "Were you a shepherd?" He replied, "There was no prophet who was not a shepherd." (Sahih Bukhari, Chapter ‘Prophets’, Volume 4, Book 55, Hadith 618) This includes Jesus, Moses, Abraham, and all other prophets according to Islam.

Sikhism also has many mentions of shepherd tales. There are many relevant quotations, such as "We are the cattle, God almighty is our shepherd."

This concept has also been used frequently by critics of organized religion to present an unflattering portrayal.

A Shepherdess with her Flock by Verboeckhoven Eugene Verboeckhoven, A Shepherdess with her Flock.jpg
A Shepherdess with her Flock by Verboeckhoven

The shepherd, with other such figures as the goatherd, is the inhabitant of idealized Arcadia, which is an idyllic and natural countryside. These works are, indeed, called pastoral, after the term for herding. The first surviving instances are the Idylls of Theocritus, and the Eclogues of Virgil, both of which inspired many imitators such as Edmund Spenser's The Shepheardes Calender . The shepherds of the pastoral are often heavily conventional and bear little relation to the actual work of shepherds.

In the poem "The passionate shepherd to his love", by Christopher Marlowe, a shepherd is depicted as a partaker of rural paradise, and capable of giving things worth more than that a town resident could give. [15]

Many tales involving foundlings portray them being rescued by shepherds: Oedipus, Romulus and Remus, the title characters of Longus's Daphnis and Chloe, and The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare. These characters are often of much higher social status than the characters who save and raise them, the shepherds themselves being secondary characters. Similarly, the heroes and heroines of fairy tales written by the précieuses often appeared as shepherds and shepherdesses in pastoral settings, but these figures were royal or noble, and their simple setting does not cloud their innate nobility. [16]

See also

Related Research Articles

Inanna Ancient Mesopotamian goddess

Inanna is an ancient Mesopotamian goddess associated with love, beauty, sex, war, justice and political power. She was originally worshiped in Aratta and Sumer under the name "Inanna", and was later worshipped by the Akkadians, Babylonians, and Assyrians under the name Ishtar. She was known as the "Queen of Heaven" and was the patron goddess of the Eanna temple at the city of Uruk, which was her main cult center. She was associated with the planet Venus and her most prominent symbols included the lion and the eight-pointed star. Her husband was the god Dumuzid and her sukkal, or personal attendant, was the goddess Ninshubur.

Utu ancient Mesopotamian Sun god and god of justice

Utu, later worshipped by the East Semitic Akkadian-speaking Babylonians as Shamash, was the ancient Mesopotamian sun god, god of justice, morality, and truth, and the twin of the Mesopotamian goddess Inanna, the Queen of Heaven. His main temples were in the cities of Sippar and Larsa. He was believed to ride through the heavens in his sun chariot and see all things that happened in the day. He was the enforcer of divine justice and was thought to aid those in distress. According to Sumerian mythology, he helped protect Dumuzid when the galla demons tried to drag him to the Underworld and he appeared to the hero Ziusudra after the Great Flood. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, he helps Gilgamesh defeat the ogre Humbaba.

Cain and Abel The first sons of Adam and Eve in the Bible

In the biblical Book of Genesis, Cain and Abel are the first two sons of Adam and Eve. Cain, the firstborn, was a farmer, and his brother Abel was a shepherd. The brothers made sacrifices to God, each of his own produce, but God favored Abel's sacrifice instead of Cain's. Cain then murdered Abel, whereupon Yahweh punished Cain by condemning him to a life of wandering. Cain then dwelt in the land of Nod, where he built a city and fathered the line of descendants beginning with Enoch.

Ereshkigal Ancient Mesopotamian goddess of death and the underworld

In Mesopotamian mythology, Ereshkigal was the goddess of Kur, the land of the dead or underworld in Sumerian mythology. In later East Semitic myths, she was said to rule Irkalla alongside her husband Nergal. Sometimes her name is given as Irkalla, similar to the way the name Hades was used in Greek mythology for both the underworld and its ruler, and sometimes it is given as Ninkigal, lit. "Lady of the Great Earth".

Transhumance Type of pastoralism

Transhumance is a type of pastoralism or nomadism, a seasonal movement of livestock between fixed summer and winter pastures. In montane regions, it implies movement between higher pastures in summer and lower valleys in winter. Herders have a permanent home, typically in valleys. Generally only the herds travel, with a certain number of people necessary to tend them, while the main population stays at the base. In contrast, horizontal transhumance is more susceptible to being disrupted by climatic, economic, or political change.

Pyrenean Sheepdog Dog breed

The Pyrenean Sheepdog, the Chien de Berger des Pyrénées in French, is a small to medium-sized breed of herding dog from the Pyrenees Mountains region of France. It is found herding flocks of sheep throughout the Pyrenees alongside the much larger Pyrenean Mountain Dog which is kept as a flock guardian.

Herdwick Breed of sheep

The Herdwick is a breed of domestic sheep native to the Lake District in North West England. The name "Herdwick" is derived from the Old Norse herdvyck, meaning sheep pasture. Though low in lambing capacity and perceived wool quality when compared to more common commercial breeds, Herdwicks are prized for their robust health, their ability to live solely on forage, and their tendency to be territorial and not to stray over the difficult upland terrain of the Lake District. It is considered that up to 99% of all Herdwick sheep are commercially farmed in the central and western Lake District.

Bad-tibira Place

Bad-tibira(Sumerian: 𒂦𒁾𒉄𒆠, bad3-tibiraki), "Wall of the Copper Worker(s)", or "Fortress of the Smiths", identified as modern Tell al-Madineh, between Ash Shatrah and Tell as-Senkereh in southern Iraq, was an ancient Sumerian city, which appears among antediluvian cities in the Sumerian King List. Its Akkadian name was Dûr-gurgurri. It was also called Παντιβίβλος (Pantibiblos) by Greek authors such as Berossus, transmitted by Abydenus and Apollodorus. This may reflect another version of the city's name, Patibira, "Canal of the Smiths".

Maremmano-Abruzzese Sheepdog Italian breed of flock guardian dog

The Maremmano-Abruzzese Sheepdog or Maremma Sheepdog, usually referred to simply as the Maremmano or Abruzzese Sheepdog, is a breed of livestock guardian dog indigenous to central Italy and the northern parts of Southern Italy, particularly to Abruzzo and the Maremma region of Tuscany and Lazio. It has been used for centuries by Italian shepherds to guard sheep from wolves. The literal English translation of the name is "The dog of the shepherds of the Maremma and Abruzzese region". The English name of the breed derives from that of the Maremma marshlands where, until recently, shepherds, dogs and hundreds of thousands of sheep over-wintered. The breed is today abundant, although sheep herding has decreased substantially. The breed is still widely employed in Abruzzo, where sheep herding remains vital to the rural economy and the wolf remains an active predator.

Kuruba, is a Hindu caste native to the Indian state of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. They are the third-largest caste group in Karnataka. Traditionally, they were shepherds, militiamen from the hills, armed vassals, or postmen. They practiced sheep/goat and cattle pastoralism, in that they either herded exclusively sheep, or a mixed herd of sheep and goats, or cattle.

Livestock guardian dog

A livestock guardian dog (LGD) is a dog type bred for the purpose of protecting livestock from predators.

Dumuzid Ancient Mesopotamian god

Dumuzid or Dumuzi, later known by the alternative form Tammuz, is an ancient Mesopotamian god associated with shepherds, who was also the primary consort of the goddess Inanna. In Sumerian mythology, Dumuzid's sister was Geshtinanna, the goddess of agriculture, fertility, and dream interpretation. In the Sumerian King List, Dumuzid is listed as an antediluvian king of the city of Bad-tibira and also an early king of the city of Uruk.


Geshtinanna is the ancient Sumerian goddess of agriculture, fertility, and dream interpretation, the so-called "heavenly grape-vine". She is the sister of Dumuzid and consort of Ningisida. She is also the daughter of Enki and Ninhursag. She shelters her brother when he is being pursued by galla demons and mourns his death after the demons drag him to Kur. She eventually agrees to take his place in Kur for half the year, allowing him to return to Heaven to be with Inanna. The Sumerians believed that, while Geshtinanna was in Heaven and Dumuzid in Kur, the earth became dry and barren, thus causing the season of summer.

Sheep Domesticated ruminant bred for meat, wool and milk

Sheep are quadrupedal, ruminant mammals typically kept as livestock. Like all ruminants, sheep are members of the order Artiodactyla, the even-toed ungulates. Although the name sheep applies to many species in the genus Ovis, in everyday usage it almost always refers to Ovis aries. Numbering a little over one billion, domestic sheep are also the most numerous species of sheep. An adult female is referred to as a ewe, an intact male as a ram, occasionally a tup, a castrated male as a wether, and a young sheep as a lamb.

Goat Domesticated mammal (Capra aegagrus hircus)

The domestic goat or simply goat is a subspecies of C. aegagrus domesticated from the wild goat of Southwest Asia and Eastern Europe. The goat is a member of the animal family Bovidae and the subfamily Caprinae, meaning it is closely related to the sheep. There are over 300 distinct breeds of goat. It is one of the oldest domesticated species of animal, according to archaeological evidence that its earliest domestication occurred in Iran at 10,000 calibrated calendar years ago.

History of the domestic sheep

The history of the domestic sheep goes back to between 11000 and 9000 BCE, and the domestication of the wild mouflon in ancient Mesopotamia. Sheep are among the first animals to have been domesticated by humans. These sheep were primarily raised for meat, milk, and skins. Woolly sheep began to be developed around 6000 BCE. They were then imported to Africa and Europe via trading.

Ur-Ninurta, c. 1859 – 1832 BC or c. 1923 – 1896 BC, was the 6th king of the 1st Dynasty of Isin. A usurper, Ur-Ninurta seized the throne on the fall of Lipit-Ištar and held it until his violent death some 28 years later.

Greek Shepherd Dog breed

The Greek Shepherd or Greek Sheepdog is a breed of livestock guardian dog from Greece. Thought to be ancient in origin, the Greek Shepherd is very closely related to livestock guardian dog breeds from neighbouring countries; it is believed that some dogs are simultaneously claimed to be other breeds as they migrate annually across national borders with the flocks they protect in search seasonal pastures.

Cão de Gado Transmontano Dog breed

The Cão de Gado Transmontano or Transmontano Mastiff is a breed of livestock guardian dog from Portugal. It originates in the historical province of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro in north-eastern Portugal, and is a rare breed confined mostly to this area.

Ancient Mesopotamian underworld Concept of the underworld in ancient Mesopotamian culture

The ancient Mesopotamian underworld, most often known in Sumerian as Kur, Irkalla, Kukku, Arali, or Kigal and in Akkadian as Erṣetu, although it had many names in both languages, was a dark, dreary cavern located deep below the ground, where inhabitants were believed to continue "a shadowy version of life on earth". The only food or drink was dry dust, but family members of the deceased would pour libations for them to drink. Unlike many other afterlives of the ancient world, in the Sumerian underworld, there was no final judgement of the deceased and the dead were neither punished nor rewarded for their deeds in life. A person's quality of existence in the underworld was determined by his or her conditions of burial.


  1. 1 2 Gospel of John 10:11
  2. L. Copeland; P. Wescombe (1966). Inventory of Stone-Age Sites in Lebanon: North, South and East-Central Lebanon, p. 49. Impr. Catholique. Retrieved 29 August 2011.
  3. Fleisch, Henri., Notes de Préhistoire Libanaise : 1) Ard es Saoude. 2) La Bekaa Nord. 3) Un polissoir en plein air. BSPF, vol. 63, 1966.
  4. "Philenews – Κύπρος Ειδήσεις Πολιτική Κοινωνία Ψυχαγωγία".
  5. Coupe, Sheena (gen. ed.), Frontier Country, Vol. I, Weldon Russell, Willoughby, 1989, ISBN   1-875202-00-5
  6. Pemberton, P. A., Pure Merinos and Others, ANU Archives of Business & Labour, Canberra, 1986, ISBN   0-86784-796-4
  7. Chisholm, Alec H., The Australian Encyclopaedia. 8. Sydney: Halstead Press. 1963. p. 103
  8. Outback magazine, "Outback Story", Issue 62, Jan/Dec 2009
  9. 1 2 Black, Jeremy; Green, Anthony (1992). Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary. The British Museum Press. p. 72. ISBN   0714117056.
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 Jacobsen, Thorkild (2008) [1970], "Toward the Image of Tammuz", in Moran, William L. (ed.), Toward the Image of Tammuz and Other Essays on Mesopotamian History and Culture, Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, pp. 73–103, ISBN   978-1-55635-952-1
  11. Kramer, Samuel Noah (1961), Sumerian Mythology: A Study of Spiritual and Literary Achievement in the Third Millennium B.C.: Revised Edition, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, p. 101, ISBN   0-8122-1047-6
  12. Wolkstein, Diane; Kramer, Samuel Noah (1983). Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer. New York City, New York: Harper&Row Publishers. pp. 30–49. ISBN   0-06-090854-8.
  13. 1 2 Ackerman, Susan (2006) [1989]. Day, Peggy Lynne (ed.). Gender and Difference in Ancient Israel. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press. p. 116. ISBN   9780800623937.
  14. Book of Amos 1:1
  15. GradeSaver. "Christopher Marlowe's Poems The Passionate Shepherd to His Love Summary and Analysis".
  16. Lewis Seifert, "The Marvelous in Context: The Place of the Contes de Fées in Late Seventeenth Century France", Jack Zipes, ed., The Great Fairy Tale Tradition: From Straparola and Basile to the Brothers Grimm, pp. 920–1, ISBN   0-393-97636-X