In ancient religions, eggs (but not necessarily hen’s eggs) played an important role in the fertility rites held during the spring Equinox at the end of March. Eggs were used symbolically in the orgiastic worship rituals held in honor of Dionyssus, as well as in the rituals surrounding the worship of the ancient fertility goddess Kyveli. Many ancient tombs have been found containing the remains of eggs, symbolic of rebirth.
Hen’s eggs, however, were slow to enter the human diet, especially the Western diet. The chicken is the last addition to the poultry yards of ancient Greece and Rome, and there is considerable disagreement over the date of its arrival. Some sources point to the fifth century B.C., others go further back, arguing that chickens first appeared in Central Europe around 1500 B.C. and reached Greece some 400 years later. Homer doesn’t mention chickens.
When the hen’s egg finally did enter the larder of the ancient Greeks, it wasn’t very well esteemed. There are very few mentions of recipes with hen’s eggs in ancient Greek texts, although there is ample mention of the delicate peacock’s egg, which was considered far superior.
Egg cookery really took off with the Romans. Eggs are mentioned frequently in the Ars Magirica, by the great Roman chef Apicius, who is said to have invented baked custard–milk, honey and eggs beaten and baked in an earthenware dish at low heat. Beaten eggs were used as a thickening agent to bind sauces and stews, and hardboiled eggs were an ingredient in many ancient Roman dishes.