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The Molossus ( ) is an extinct breed of dog.

History

This ancient extinct breed of dog is commonly considered to be the ancestor (in rivalry with the Alaunt, the dog of the Alans) of today's Mastiff-type dogs and of many other modern breeds. Mastiff-type dogs are often referred to as Molossus dogs or Molossers. It is one of the best-known breeds of Greco-Roman antiquity; however, its physical characteristics and function are debated. Though the Molossus breed no longer exists in its original form, it is noted as being instrumental in the development of modern breeds such as the St. Bernard, Great Pyrenees, Rottweiler, Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, and Bernese Mountain Dog.

Some scholars contend that the Molossus was a dog used by the Ancient GreeksThe Mammals of the Southern African Sub-region by J. D. Skinner, ISBN 0521844185, 2006, page 277,"... XXII. F<="">ref> for fighting. They describe it as having a wide, short muzzle and a heavy dewlap (similar to modern Mastiff breeds) that was used to fight tigers, lions, elephants, and men in battle. A Roman copy of a Greek original sculpture of a guard dog (known as the Jennings Dog) is generally considered to represent a Molossus and can be seen at the British Museummarker.

Others argue that it was primarily a lightweight dog used for hunting and herding with physical characteristics more akin to Greyhounds or possibly the versatile Catahoula Leopard Dog.

Most scholars agree the Molossus originated with the Molossis people in the mountainous regions of northwest Ancient Greece (modern Greece northwest and Southern Albaniamarker before the Common Era). The Molossians were renowned for their vicious hounds, which were used by Molossian shepherds of Epirus in the mountains of northwestern Greece to guard their flocks. The poet Grattius, a contemporary of Ovid, writes "...when serious work has come, when bravery must be shown, and the impetuous War-god calls in the utmost hazard, then you could not but admire the renowned Molossians so much."

The breed was a native to Greecemarker and the rest of the Balkans, it later migrated to Italymarker and other places of the Greek World by Hellenic tribes who started to colonize in various regions of the world. Virgil says that in ancient Greecemarker the heavier Molossian dogs were often used by the Greeks and Romans for hunting (canis venaticus) and to watch over the house and livestock (canis pastoralis). "Never, with them on guard," says Virgil, "need you fear for your stalls a midnight thief, or onslaught of wolves, or Iberian brigands at your back."Aristotle mentions them in the history of animals and praises their bravery and physical superiority.The Molossian breed was most certainly a very large dog similar to the Mastiff we know today.

References

  1. Dogue De Bordeaux: A Comprehensive Owner's Guide by Joseph Janish, ISBN 1593782152, 2003, Page 10,"... THE DOGUE DE BORDEAUX The Dogue de Bordeaux falls into a group of dogs classified as molossers, descendants of the Molossus, a dog that lived around the time of 700 BC. Based on ancient carvings and paintings, it appears that Molossus ..."
  2. The Mini-Atlas of Dog Breeds by Andrew De Prisco, ISBN 0866220917, 1990, page 149,"... and Mastiffs were crossbred with the indigenous dogs, which were probably descendants of the ancient Molossus. The dogs were bred to fight to the death in the silent, stoic, ..."
  3. A Complete History of Fighting Dogs by Mike Homan, ISBN 1582451281, 2000, Page 1,"... able dogs in battle previously known to the Romans were the Molossian dogs of Epirus, which, in their native country, Greece, were specifically trained for battle by the military. ..."
  4. The Mini-Atlas of Dog Breeds by Andrew De Prisco, ISBN 0866220917, 1990, page 136,"... Mastiff prototypes , such as the Molossus of Epirus and Babylonian Mastiff, were used as flock guards against wolves and other predators. ..."
  5. New Saint Bernard by George Gwilliam, ISBN 1582451680, 2000, page 8,"... now but it was part of the accepted culture at that time. When the Romans conquered Britain, they brought giant Molossus with them. ..."
  6. http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/history_anim.9.ix.html , The History of Animals By Aristotle ,"Of the Molossian breed of dogs, such as are employed in the chase are pretty much the same as those elsewhere; but sheep-dogs of this breed are superior to the others in size, and in the courage with which they face the attacks of wild animals."


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