I might be a little bit obsessed with dog breeds. About a year ago, I found myself looking for a new dog. Given my background in research, it might not surprise you that I spent quite a bit of time reading about different breeds.
I made a spreadsheet with our criteria and assigned a point value to each category, then ranked my top 25 breeds from most compatible to least compatible. (We ended up with a collie, if you’re curious). All this to say: please make sure that when you choose a dog, you make sure you understand the unique characteristics and needs of its breed(s).
But what if I were a time traveller? In what place and time would I find my ideal new four-legged friend?
I’ve decided to hope into my time travel machine, go back about 2000 years, and head across to the Mediterranean. There I’ll visit ancient Rome and Greece, in the same area as modern day Rome and Greece. The Greeks and Romans kept dogs as guardians, hunting animals, and companions. Many of the main breeds are now extinct, although some have relatives or descendants alive today.
Perhaps I would start with a visit to Odysseus. His dog, Argos, was probably a Laconian. Lithe and agile, Laconians were primarily scent hounds, used as hunting dogs and popular in both Greece and Rome.
(possibly descended from the Tibetan mastiff and now extinct)
These were fighting dogs and often wore spiked collars with the ability to do some damage. Cato wrote that a dog with one of these collars was useful in discouraging wolves from attacking any domesticated dogs.
Really talented war dogs received full armor to match their owners. In the play Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare, the character Mark Antony works to whip up Caesar’s mourners against the assassins with a speech the phrase “let slip the dogs of war,” a reference to these types of dogs. They were also the sacred dog of the goddess Hecate.
This Greek breed with long hair and short legs served as a lap dog. Diogenes, the cynic, said that he was a Melitan when hungry and a Molusses when satisfied. (The word “cynic” is literally derived from an epithet used against Diogenes that meant “dog.”)
It’s possible that Alexander the Great’s lion and elephant fighting dog was a Tibetan Mastiff. Tibetan Mastiffs are still found in the 20th century.They make stubborn, fearless and strong protectors. Should you choose to adopt a Tibetan Mastiff, be prepared though. Although loving, they grow quite large and can be fiercely territorial.
Stay tuned for History – Gone to the Dogs! (Part 2)