Good interesting post.
The full quote by aristotle about molossian dogs (which I've only just bothered to look at) seems to suggest they had hounds for the chase (sighthounds), a sheep dog for bravely facing the attacks of wild animals (lgds - and one which was notably bigger and superior to it's contemparies) and then themselves, even before the romans, were hybridising these two types for "hard labour". I would hazard a guess that this hybrid worked as a gripping dog and maybe herder/drover?
[QUOTE]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.
Dogs that are born of a mixed breed between these two kinds are remarkable for courage and endurance of hard labour. [/QUOTE]
I would guess the romans favoured the molossian hybrid really, since they didn't want them to guard sheep. Perhaps the "molossian hound" name would suggest as much as well.
I figured while I was at it, I'd have a deeper look at the other popular quote by the poet grattius-
[QUOTE]"What if you choose to penetrate even among the Britons? How great your reward, how great your gain beyond any outlays! If you are not bent on looks and deceptive graces (this is the one defect of the British whelps), at any rate when serious work has come, when bravery must be shown, and the impetuous War-god calls in the utmost hazard, then you could not admire the renowned Molossians so much."[/QUOTE]
It's actually, I've jujst discovered, part of a very large description of all the dogs romans were aware of at that time. Pretty damn interesting in fact-
[QUOTE]But why do we traverse these wide rounds amidst small details? The foremost care is that of dogs;31 no other care comes before that throughout the whole system of hunting, whether you energetically pursue the untamed quarry with bare force or use skill to manage the conflict. Dogs belong to a p167thousand lands32 and they each have characteristics derived from their origin. The Median dog, though undisciplined, is a great fighter, and great glory exalts the far-distant Celtic dogs. Those of the Geloni,33 on the other hand, shirk a combat and dislike fighting, but they have wise instincts: the Persian is quick in both respects.34 Some rear Chinese35 dogs, a breed of unmanageable ferocity; but the Lycaonians, on the other hand, are easy-tempered and big in limb. The Hyrcanian dog, however, is not content with all the energy belonging to his stock: the females of their own will seek unions with wild beasts in the woods: Venus grants them meetings and joins them in the alliance of love. Then the savage paramour wanders safely amid the pens of tame cattle, and the bitch, freely daring to approach the formidable tiger, produces offspring of nobler blood. The whelp, however, has headlong courage: you will find him aâ€‘hunting in the very yard and growing at the expense of much of the cattle's blood. Still you should rear him: whatever enormities he has placed to his charge at home, he will obliterate them as a mighty combatant on gaining the forest. But that same Umbrian dog which has tracked wild beasts flees from facing them. Would that with his fidelity and shrewdness in scent he could have corresponding courage and corresponding will-power in the conflict! What if you visit the straits of the Morini, tide-swept by a wayward sea, and choose to penetrate even among the Britons?36 p169O how great your reward, how great your gain beyond any outlays! If you are not bent on looks and deceptive graces (this is the one defect of the British whelps), at any rate when serious work has come, when bravery must be shown, and the impetuous War-god calls in the utmost hazard, then you could not admire the renowned Molossians37 so much. With these last38 cunning Athamania compares her breeds; as also do Azorus, Pherae and the furtive Acarnanian: just as the men of Acarnania steal secretly into battle, so does the bitch surprise her foes without a sound. But any bitch of Aetolian pedigree rouses with her yelps the boars which she does not yet see â€” a mischievous service, whether it is that fear makes these savage sounds break out or excessive eagerness speeds on uselessly. And yet you must not despise that breed as useless in all the accomplishments of the chase; they are marvellously quick, marvellously efficient in scent; besides, there is no toil to which they yield defeated. Consequently, I shall cross the advantages of different breeds:â€” one day an Umbrian mother will give to the unskilled Gallic pups39 a smart disposition: p171puppies of a Gelonian mother have drawn spirit from a Hyrcanian sire;40 and Calydonia,41 good only at pointless barking, will lose the defect when improved by a sire from Molossis. In truth, the offspring cull the best from all the excellence of the parents, and kindly nature attends them. But if in any wise a light sort of hunting captivates you, if your taste is to hunt the timid antelope or to follow the intricate tracks of the smaller hare, then you should choose Petronian42 dogs (such is their reputation) and swift Sycambrians43 and the Vertraha44 coloured with yellow spots â€” swifter than thought or a winged bird it runs, pressing hard on the beasts it has found, though less likely to find them when they lie hidden; this last is the well-assured glory of the Petronians. If only the latter could restrain their transports until the completion of their sport, if they could affect not to be aware of their prey and approach without barking, they would be assured all the honour which you dogs of the metagon45 breed now hold: as it is, in the forest ineffectual spirit means loss. But you metagontes have no ignoble pedigree or home. p173Sparta,46 by common report, and Crete47 alike claim you as their own nurslings. But, Glympic48 hound, you were the first to wear leash on high-poised neck and he that followed you in the forest was the Boeotian Hagnon, Hagnon son of Astylos, Hagnon, to whom our abundant gratitude shall bear witness as pre-eminent in our practice of the chase. He saw where the easier road lay to a calling as yet nervously timorous and owing to its newness scarce established: he brought together no band of followers or implements in long array: his single metagon was taken as his guard, as the high promise of the longed-for spoil; it roams across the fields which are the haunts of beasts, over the wells and through the lurking-places frequented by them. 'Tis the work of early dawn then, while the dog is picking out the trail as yet unspoiled by another animal's scent, if there is any confusion of tracks in that place whereby he is thrown off, he runs an outside course in a wider circle and, at last discovering beyond mistake the footprints coming out, pounces on the track like the fourfold team, the pride of Thessaly, which is launched forth on the Corinthian race-course, stirred by ancestral glory and by hopes covetous of the first prize. But lest loss be the outcome of excessive zeal, the dog's p175duties are regulated: he must not assail his foe with barking;49 he must not seize on some trivial prey or on signs of a nearer catch and so blindly lose the fruit of his first activities. When, however, better fortune already attends the outlay of toil, and the sought-for lair of the wild beasts is near, he must both know his enemies are hidden and prove this by signs: either he shows his new-won pleasure by lightly wagging the tail, or, digging in his own footprints with the nails of his paws, he gnaws the soil and sniffs the air with nostril raised high. And yet to prevent the first signs from misleading the dog in his keenness, the hunter bids him run all about the inner space encircled by rough ground and nose the paths by which the beasts come and go; then, if it happens that the first expectation has failed him in the place,50 he turns again to his task in wide coursings; but, if the scent was right, he will make for the first trail again as the quarry has not crossed the circle. Therefore, when full success has arrived with its proper issue, the dog must come as comrade to share the prey and must recognise his own reward: thus let it be a delight to have given ungrudging service to the work. [/QUOTE]
My attempt to interpret is as follows-
Median(celtic?) dogs are great fighters, but undisciplined- probably big game hunting dogs.
Geloni dogs have wise instincts and dislike fighting- probably primitive pariahs or spitz type dogs.
The persian dogs were both good fighters and had wise instincts, maybe a primitive early type of mastiff retaining some independence but used for combative pursuits??
Chinese dogs were unmanageably ferocious- maybe along the lines of tibetan mastiffs, ferocious because they were independent and somewhat neglected guard dogs.
Lycaonian dogs were easy tempered, and big in limb- interestingly sound like modern mastiffs.
Hyrcanian dogs were sluts, lol. And apparently had sex with tigers. The offspring had headlong courage. I'd suspect maybe they didn't breed with tigers (call it a hunch), but instead just were bastard dogs that would attack the livestock sometimes and the tiger breeding was used to explain it. They were forgiven sometimes for attacking livestock here and there because they were very good at combating wild animals. I'd guess this is a livestock guardian (a dodgey one), but "gaining the forest" could also imply it was a hunting dog. Hard to interpret this one for me.
Umbrian dogs seem quite obviously like scenthounds. Great at tracking animals, bad at facing them. He fantasises about how good it would be if their combativeness lived up to their ability to find.
British dogs it seemed looked like shit, but were outstandingly brave, more so than perhaps any other dog encountered by the romans, even their beloved and renowned molossian dogs. They unmistakabley sound like gripping dogs to me, could almost be describing pitbulls (obviously aren't but are perhaps describing the dogs which made bulldogs the way they are).
Petronian and sycambrian dogs were obviously sighthounds, excellent for chasing antelope and hare but unable to find hiding animals.
And it interestingly goes on to say the best results in general come from crossing these dogs together. No doubt this is what the romans did to produce their dogs (for war or whatever else). Named them molossian I think because molossian dogs were the first great dog they had, one they inheritted from the greeks more so than discovered, and it provided the foundation for their dogs, which they simply added to over the next many centuries.
I think too it would have been the molossian sheepdog/hound hybrid that they initially favoured, and then yeah just continued to outcross their "molossian" dogs with dogs from far and wide and really benefited from this.
In a way I would say the only dogs that should be called molossers, are dogs that descend from this roman soup of dogs, that started with the molossian mountain dog base. Other mountain LGDs, related to the molossian sheep dog but not descending from it, really shouldn't be considered molossers for any reason that I can see?
Just as an aside-
It's fascinating that this author implies the search for dogs was almost the main motivation for why romans spread out searching far and wide.
[QUOTE]But why do we traverse these wide rounds amidst small details? The foremost care is that of dogs;31 no other care comes before that throughout the whole system of hunting, whether you energetically pursue the untamed quarry with bare force or use skill to manage the conflict.[/QUOTE]
Basically this says dogs are the most important thing to romans, whether used for hunting wild animals or managing domestic ones. Feeding themselves obviously is the top priority and dogs are the way they excelled at doing this to a degree where they could support a great civilisation.