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Dogs in Ancient Rome?

By Akela, in 'Latin Culture', Jul 20, 2010.

  1. Akela dat affluenter

    • Princeps Senatus
    An article describing various dog breeds that tend to raise one's insurance costs:) said that Rottweilers descend from an ancient Roman breed(?).

    I never even knew that Rome had dogs... Well, they had wolves, so dogs must not have been too far away, but still...

    On the other hand, even The Mummy had dogs wondering around in Ancient Egypt...

    Do you, guys, know anything about dogs being mentioned in Ancient Rome?
  2. Cinefactus Censor

    • Censor
    litore aureo
    Pompei rather than Rome, but there is the famous mosaic, Cave Canem.
  3. Akela dat affluenter

    • Princeps Senatus
    Cave Canem, of course. Why do I never manage to put 1 and 1 together? :hysteric:

    That dog looks nothing like Rottweiler, though :(
  4. Cinefactus Censor

    • Censor
    litore aureo
    Trying to think of a literary reference made me remember Aeneid IV

    Massylique ruunt equites et odora canum uis
    The African horsemen rush out and the keen scented powerful hounds

    No idea if they are Rottweilers either!
  5. Decimvs Aedilis

    • Aedilis
    I love that line! Literally: The keen-scented power of the dogs.

    I love it.

    Also, one of the most touching things that I have ever read in Latin is a grave marker for a dog. I will try to remember to find and post the actual Latin later, but it was something like: Custodian of the wagons, you never once barked inappropriately, and now, as a shade, you guard your own (area/space/ashes). It was longer than that, but I remember being moved almost to tears while translating it in a class.
  6. Akela dat affluenter

    • Princeps Senatus

    I remember there was a chained little dog that burnt at Pompeii...

    Edit: Apparently there is a video of Pompeii body casts, with the poor dog beng one of them:

  7. Reziac Member

    [hat type="canine professional" duration="40 years"]

    There's a great deal of apocrypha about origin of dog breeds. Supposedly Rottweilers were the "ancient cart dogs of Rome" but there's really no proof; rather it was an assumption based on where they were common when Europeans started writing down such observations. Sometimes even a history that was "never in doubt" is disproved by DNA studies, such as were done on Pharaoh and Ibizan Hounds -- turns out they're not 5000 year old breeds after all, but rather are relatively modern recreations of an ancient type, probably only a few hundred years old.

    I expect that Rotts will prove to be a variant/descendant of the landrace Molosser type that survives in its most ancient form as the Cão de Castro Laboreiro (an Iberian flock-guardian breed which aside from its brindle markings, most people would mistake for its most immediate descendant, the American-type fieldbred Labrador Retriever). DNA studies show the Castro to be the primary ancestor of most European breeds of its general type. The Castro itself is probably an archeological remnant, or cousin, of the medieval "St.Hubert's Hound". [The "St. John's Water Dog" usually credited as the Labrador's ancestor probably never really existed either as a breed or landrace, but rather was a remnant from Castros left in Newfoundland by Portuguese sailors.]

    The mosaic appears to be one of the basic herding/pursuit landrace types (ie. a type that naturally develops in response to local conditions and demands of work) which today we might call a Border Collie.

    Aren't there Roman writings about their war dogs? These, per at least the descriptions I remember (which may not be authentic, but...) would be the basic Molossor type, shading toward mastiffs -- a big strong dog-of-all-work, with dropped ears and most typically a short coat (tho the Estrela is, per DNA, just a Castro crossed with some longhaired type). Today we see the same type mainly as mastiffs and various flock guardian breeds. The Rottweiler's known historical work, as German droving and cart dogs, is consistent with the Molossor type and temperament.

    Anyway, I expect the Romans had the same basic landrace types and variants as have appeared anywhere that dogs are expected to work for a living -- herding, flock guardian (also used for military and property guarding), hunting, vermin control, and companion. (Yes, companion is a job, of sorts. It generally included a part-time job as indoor vermin control.) With assorted local variations, which today we would call "breeds". Dogs are so useful that no post-Stone-Age culture has done without them for long.

    Tho as a general rule, the more useful the dogs, the less they're talked about historically, being more in the realm of livestock.

  8. Reziac Member

    Almost certainly not. Probably something closer to the Saluki, which is a basic landrace type of sighthound that occurs everywhere across north Africa, the Middle East, and eastward to the Himalayas. (The Afghan Hound is just a full-coated cold-weather variant of the Saluki.)

    Could also be a heavier-built takedown or holding type hound (distant ancestors of the Rhodesian Ridgeback's ancestral type, which I expect are genetically closer to the Molossers than to other hounds; most likely they originated as a mix of Saluki and Molosser types) but the fragment isn't sufficient to judge what sort of hunting they are doing.
  9. Reziac Member

    I've seen that picture. Tough to tell what it was, anyone know how large it was? Pics of the casting show no scale, and the limbs and head are both distorted.
  10. Decimus Canus Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    R. J. Yeatman, the co-author of 1066 and All That, had a cave canem sign on his gate to deter burglars. When it was pointed out to him that some burglars might not be able to read Latin he replied, "They're not the sort of burglars we want."
  11. Bestiola Speculatrix

    • Praetor
    • Praeco
  12. Reziac Member

    Yesterday I found a reference to an xray-type study that had been done on the Pompeii dog's collar, and it is inscribed with something about how the dog saved his master from a wolf attack. So it must be a big dog.
  13. Polla New Member

    Lost completely
  14. Rex Daciae New Member

    Moesia Inferior
    This topic actually brought me to the Latin Discussions forum!

    Let me share with you a modern 'Cave Canem' street sign painted in the old Roman way (high-res photo free to download) :
  15. Katarina Sophia New Member

    Hey, folks! I just thought I'd give my two cents. It's been an unfortunately long time since I've posted on this site, haha.

    I was in Cincinnati(aye, a sister city of Rome, built on Seven Hills and featuring a statue of Romulus and Remus being nursed by wolves that I have yet to see) back in April to see a Pompeii exhibit for a high school field trip. Italy had sent the actual artifacts, so it was as close to visiting Pompeii(and Herculaneum and Stabiae, of course) as one can get.

    Here are two of the pictures that I took(large, I know):
    529933_3772850286677_19366923_n.jpg 562214_3772852126723_446562356_n.jpg

    Ah, guard dogs. I've always been cat person, but such a figure of protection will always have a tender, special place in my heart.

    Don't know why the owners left without their dog, though, knowing that the dangers were obviously greater than robbers entering the house....
  16. Cambrinus Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    The owners left their dog to guard their house; not having experienced a volcanic eruption before, they had no idea what was going to happen to it.

    See the dramatic reference to a hunting dog in Aeneid 12:

    inclusumvelutisiquandofluminenactuscervumautpuniceaesaeptumformidinepennae 750venatorcursucanis et latratibusinstat;
    ille autem insidiis et ripa territus alta
    mille fugit refugitque vias, at vividus Umber
    haeret hians, iam iamque tenet similisque tenenti
    increpuit malis morsuque elusus inani est; 755

    Just whenever a hunting dog, having found a stag cut off by a river, or hedged in by the trap of crimson feather, presses upon [him] with running and with barking: while the stag, frightened by the trap and a high bank, flees forward and flees back a thousand ways. But the lively Umbrian [dog], gaping, sticks close, and right now is holding and as if [he is already] holding has snapped with his jaws and has been foiled with an empty bite;
  17. Cambrinus Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    Sorry, no idea why the translation has been scored through! It is valid.
  18. Decimvs Aedilis

    • Aedilis
    I saw the Pompeii exhibit a few years ago in Minneapolis, MN. It was excellent. I highly recommend seeing it, should it come to your town.
  19. Cambrinus Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
  20. novus Member

    In the Ecce Romani series they talk about dogs a few times. They mention dogs barking in the city of Rome, using dogs to hunt down a runaway slave and an innkeeper with a dog.

    "Mox Davus servos in agros cum canibus ducit. Latrant canes.... Canes, ubi ad arborem appropinquant, Getam ipsum non conspiciunt, sed olfaciunt."
    - From chapter 12

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