This article covers some interesting fact on the history of ancient Roman and Egyptian Dogs and their roles throughout civilization.
Guardian dogs or as we call them today, guard dogs are well known back into ancient times. Records show that one of the first breed of dogs to be used as guardians were the ancestral mastiff-type landraces of what were classified as “Livestock Guardian dogs”. These dogs were used to protect livestock against other animals such as leopards, bears, wolves or any other intruder.
In ancient times, the almost extinct Bandogges / Bandog which is a large Mastiff or Molossian (Neapolitan Mastiff) type of dog, were chained throughout the day and released at night to protect their properties, villages and camps. There is however some controversy regarding Mollossians which claim that they were for the most part used by Roman’s in battle. Dogs in ancient Rome and Egypt were all highly valued but with differences in focus.
Ancient Roman Dogs
In Roman time, people would put large Mosaics of dogs at the entrance of their homes to warn trespassers that the area was protected by their dangerous guardian dogs. This is the Roman version of signs we see now a days that may say “Guard Dog on Duty”.
Many have written on the different types of dogs used in the Roman Army during the different eras. Below are 4 known types.
- Canes pugnaces (attack dogs in chain mail and spiked collars)
- Canes villatica (guard dogs)
- Canes nare sagaces (tracking dogs)
- Canes pedibus cleres (chasing dogs)
There is one breed however known as the Cane Corso that was used highly by the Romans. This large Mastiff was very much used as a Guard dog. Its very name can be translated as “Guard Dog”. The Cane Corso, was a dog often depicted in ancient engravings. It was the dog chosen as a farm dog that protected their home, family and livestock. Dogs were also known to alert owners of unseen spirits as was regularly shown in Roman myths, legends and roles.
Another popular breed was the Vertragus (which was a hunting dog with amazing skills and speed). This type of dog was an ancestor of the modern Italian Greyhound. This dog was used as a guard dog as well as a hunting dog. It was often noted that owners slept with their Vertragus hound because it was said that the dog generated a lot of heat and would keep them warm. Writing on these dogs were found dating back to 63 BCE.
Writing show dogs were originally bred and used by the Etruscans of Italy before the rise of Rome. Little is known on how the Etruscans viewed the dogs, however it is well known that the Romans used the dogs in all aspects of their lives. They cared for their dogs as if they did for their family members and they also honored them after death by putting them in tombs and epitaphs.
Ancient Egyptian Dogs
Egyptian dogs served in many roles including, hunting, guard, military, and household pets. In Egyptian, the word for dog is Iwiw which translates to “their bark”. The dog breeds of Egypt were the Basenji, Greyhounds, Ibizan, Pharaoh, Saluki and Whippet Dogs.
The Egyptian dog Abuwtiyuw that is transcribed as Abutiu (died before 2280 BC) was one of the earliest domesticated animals with a known name. This dog was believed to have been a Royal Guard dog that lived in the 6th Dynasty (2345-2181 BC) and had a ceremonial burial in Giza Necropolis by an unknown Pharaoh. This dog was known to have been a slighthound, which is a lightly built hunting dog very similar to a Greyhound.
Egyptians are credited with the invention of the dog collar. The first know painting dates back to 3500 BCE where it depicts a man walking with a collared dog on a leash.
Dogs were highly valued in early Egyptian times. They were part of the family and when a dog died, the dog was mummified with the same care as when humans died and were mummified. Family members would shave their bodies including eyebrows. Shaving eyebrows showed a symbol of grief. Dogs were regularly buried and mummified with their owners.