Comment to 'akbash, anatolian, kangal, boz kangal, malakli...'
  • Thanks poseidon. On another forum I've analysed the text further line by line, I'll just copy and paste it here. I welcome critiques and corrections, don't claim to be totally correct, it's just my best attempt at interpretation- ___________________________ A small excerpt from this text has been mentioned here and there, explaining how the dogs of britain impressed the romans, but the whole text is much more interesting. I've only just now looked through it. Really a great insight not only into the notable dogs on the roman radar, but into the romans themselves.


    It's not the easiest thing to read, translated from another language and time, but I am going to post it line by line with my attempt to interpret what is being said. It should be prefaced with an understanding that the dog the roman's had before they branched out every where, was the molossian hound they inheritted from the greeks. Grattius doesn't specifically describe the molossian, you can tell it's because it's just so well known to everyone at the time he wrote the text, he merely mentions it briefly as "the renowned molossian" when comparing it to another dog. So first things first an understanding of what the molossian was is necessary. For that we go back to ancient greece where Aristotle himself gives a description-

    [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]

  Now, molossians were a people that lived in the mountains of greece. When he says "this breed" he's not referring to a breed of dogs (there was no such thing back then), but rather just the dogs that belong to the molossian people, and he describes 3 types- a hound for the chase (I'd suggest a primitive sighthound with some scenting ability, along the lines of an ibizan), a sheepdog (lgd), and a hybrid of these 2 types. The hound for the chase was nothing special according to aristotle, just like hounds from everywhere else, but the sheepdog of the molossian people was unusually large and powerful compared to sheep dogs of other peoples that the greeks knew about, and more courageous and adept when warding off wild predators.


    Crossing the two types, made a dog useful for hard labour, which I would suggest was herding/droving and catching/gripping. Probably extending to hunting and in militaristic endeavours. Ancient greece favoured these molossian dogs, I'd suggest the hybrid, for purposes of war and agriculture and on the hunt. When rome took over they merely inheritted this useful dog, it's uses, and it's name that referenced it's origins with the molossian people. Rome from the start had "molossian hounds", dogs with origins going back to the molossian people, that had since been bred and used by greek civilisation for agriculture, hunting and war. That's what they started with. However, ancient rome didn't sit on the molossian dog, they explored far and wide and obtained dogs from everywhere, as grattius explains.



    [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.


    This is a very big statement to start with, and very telling. It actually suggests the main reason rome did spread out in the way it did, was to get dogs. This seems weird to us today, but you have to understand this was the start of big civilisation, and big civilisation relied on food. You cram all people together in close proximity with out their own large territory to hunt and gather on, they need to be fed. Someone has to be out hunting and gathering well beyond their own needs to support the civilisation. "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". At this stage the farming of domestic animals is so young it's just seen as a variety of hunting, "using skill to manage the conflict". He's saying dogs make hunting and agriculture possible, so they're the most important thing to ancient rome. It makes sense for an early civilisation, it needs a lot of food to be supported, and there is no intensive commercial farming or anything of that nature, even the domestic animals are still semi-wild at this stage, and there's no fancy machinery or anything. What is required essentially is excessively effective hunting, of wild animals and semi-wild domestic animals. Outstanding dogs are the key to making this possible, and the romans took the subject of good dogs very seriously, and searched far and wide for different tribes and societies to see what kind of dogs were being produced by them, what the different dogs of their world had to offer.


    [QUOTE]The Median dog, though undisciplined, is a great fighter, and great glory exalts the far-distant Celtic dogs. [/QUOTE]


    Here he says the dogs of the celts are glorified and well known for their fighting ability. The celts kept large mean multipurpose dogs, used in tribal conflicts and to hunt dangerous animals. Often people think of the wolfhound when they think of celtic dogs, but this is really kind of simple minded based only on the celt/irish link. They were definitely not like wolfhounds in nature, however were large hairy predatory dogs. I guess if you imagine a more compact strong wolfhound, that does not have the sighthound temperament, maybe you're approaching the dog of the celts kind of. Really we no longer have an equivalent, but as we find out later, they did contribute qualities to roman-descended dogs.


    [QUOTE]Those of the Geloni,33 on the other hand, shirk a combat and dislike fighting, but they have wise instincts[/QUOTE]


    The gelonians inhabitted what is now southern russia, ukraine, romania and kazakhstan. He describes their dogs quite clearly (to me) as being primitive pariahs. Shirk at combat and dislike fighting, with wise instincts. Obviously near-wild dogs, probably not adapted for much, not well taken care of to allow for specialisation in any utilisation in particular, maintaining wise instincts because they still had to worry about their own survival.


    [QUOTE]the Persian is quick in both respects.[/QUOTE]


    Both a fighter, and wise in instincts. Indicating a primitive mastiff, still having to take care of itself and avoid being reckless, but with some leaning towards combativeness. Could be a war dog descended from livestock guardians perhaps.


    [QUOTE]Some rear Chinese35 dogs, a breed of unmanageable ferocity;[/QUOTE]


    He's saying some people (romans) like to keep chinese dogs. And he says they have unmanageable ferocity. We now know animals have unmanageable ferocity because of how they're raised more than because of it being in-built. But it's likely the chinese dogs were quite independent, they still are. And perhaps were typically neglected guard dogs like the tibetan mastiff, which would have explained the reputation for unmanageable ferocity, the seeds of which would have been planted when the romans first encountered them on their home soil, and one they then cultivated through word of mouth. Probably treating the dogs like unmanageable beasts and shackling and tethering them, causing them to indeed become ferocious unmanageable beasts. A self-fullfilling prophecy of sorts.


    [QUOTE]but the Lycaonians, on the other hand, are easy-tempered and big in limb.[/QUOTE]


    Lycaonia was anatolia, modern turkey. This is an interesting description because it could be describing modern mastiffs. Big heavy boned laid back dogs. Is it describing the malakli? I don't know, but it's certainly not describing the akbash. Sheep dogs of turkey were probably completely overlooked, and the dog of the people that they used for guarding/fighting or whatever was focussed on. Chances are the dog he's talking about (like all of these dogs) is really extinct, but a tiny splash of it lives on in the descendents of roman dogs. Or maybe not so tiny, they certainly seem to have inheritted it's pleasant nature.


    [QUOTE]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 a?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.[/QUOTE]


    This one is kind of crazy obviously, shows how ignorant people were back then, but there is still information to glean from the author's perception. First of all, hyrcania was iran and turkmenistan. Obviously these dogs did not breed with tigers, but one can try to speculate on why this legend might have arose. It suggests the hyrcanian dogs were notorious for having a habit of attacking their own livestock, but then so good at warding off other predators they could be forgiven. This is a pretty strong clue as to why the tales of unholy unions with tigers would come about, just to justify the misbehaviour of the dog, give them a reason to accept it. It's possible they didn't even feed the dogs properly, and letting them eat the odd sheep or whatever was the most practical way to leave them out guarding them.


    Then make up a story as to why their dogs eat the sheep. All in all it suggests a livestock guarding dog, that is very effective at defending livestock (when it isn't eating it). Also it should be noted the term "cattle" needn't be taken literally. Cattle used to be a generic term for all livestock, it's recently been used only for, well, cattle. I suspect these were sheep dogs. At this time dogs were not guarding cattle. They were used to hunt semi-wild cattle. This one could be interpretted in other ways, I'm not too sure about it. A mighty combatant gaining the forest could imply a hunting dog, and then the rest could be looked at differently. I don't know, but I lean towards sheep-guarding dog.


    [QUOTE]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! [/QUOTE]


    Umbria is actually in italy itself, here he's quite clearly describing a specialised scenthound, and bemoaning the fact it's courage and will-power in combative situations doesn't match it's ability to track by scent. Still typical of scenthounds today.


    [QUOTE]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.[/QUOTE]


    This is the famous exerpt from this text, used sometimes to talk exclusively about british mastiff breeds which is kind of dumb because every combative dog in the roman empire would have been influenced by these dogs to differing degrees once they were encountered. They were known to be exported out of britain and around rome with great frequency. Anyway, the "strait of morini" is the place of the shortest distance between france and england, favoured by roman boats. Grattius says if you cross it and look in britain you'll find some outstanding courageous combat-oriented dogs.


    Grattius unmistakably notes they stand out as especially courageous and useful for combative pursuits. Even more so than the renowned molossian dogs the romans and greeks had prized for centuries, and pressumably more so than all the other dogs he's talking about. He says their only problem is they don't look good, I'd suggest they were straggly scruffy relatives of the celtic fighting/hunting dogs, now more advanced and specialised for combative engagements, primarily with big game.


    More intense drives and reckless commitment and determination to close-quarter engagements than any other dog at the time had developed. It seems we're seeing the dawning of the notorious bullbreed mentality- long before bullbreeds arose, but they later arose thanks to heavy influence from this dog and inheritted qualities from it. It's likely that terriers inheritted their nature from these dogs as well. "Deceptive graces" I'm not sure what he means there. I guess it means a dog that pretends to be graceful when not in action. Like sighthounds and mastiffs both are very deceptively pleasant and gracious around the house, and then turn on when needed.


    Perhaps saying the british dogs were more crass and hard headed in temperament 24/7, so if you like deceptive grace they're no good. Perhaps somewhat like a bull terrier (and indeed bull terriers may have inheritted this nature from them, both bulls and terriers. The british dog split into bulls and terriers, and then got mashed back together to produce a similar animal to the common ancestor much later). I know I like "deceptive grace", so some romans would have as well, but he says you can't go past them for serious combative duties. Especially in war. Very much sounds like a bullbreed, and is most probably the landrace responsible for the emergence of the bullbreed's characteristics. While also being responsible for a significant hardening up of lots of mastiff type dogs across the roman empire.


    [QUOTE]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.[/QUOTE]


    Here he talks about various greek and macedonian people and their dogs, saying they're basically comparable to molossians (which is a big compliment-implies a lot combative ability), and notes that they enter into combat silently. It suggests dogs in the basic greek area are good and similar, remembering aristotle's description of the molossian dogs- hounds (probably sight), lgds and hybrids used for serious work.


    [QUOTE]But any bitch of Aetolian pedigree rouses with her yelps the boars which she does not yet see — 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.[/QUOTE]


    With a notable exception. The dogs of the aetolian people (also greek) are different to these other greek dogs (molossians and etc), in that they're noisey, and quite obviously a totally different kind of dog (although can't blame him for not understanding this). Indeed they're clearly scenthounds. Fast determined rough scenthounds by the description. Perhaps comparable to a modern plotthound.


    [QUOTE]Consequently, I shall cross the advantages of different breeds:— one day an Umbrian mother will give to the unskilled Gallic pups39 a smart disposition: p171 puppies 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.[/QUOTE]


    Here quite interestingly grattius explains the learned benefits of hybridising these different dog types. So shortly after discovering the variety of dogs in eurasia, the romans learned the value in "mongrelisation", and promptly got to mixing them all up for working purposes. And indeed if you hark back to the first line about the importance of finding dogs from far and wide for roman society, you could say this was the key to their success- the large genetic pool they opened up by exploring far and wide and obtaining dogs from wherever they went. They were able to produce outstanding working mongrels, improving their hunting and farming to extreme levels, allowing for an enormous civilisation to flourish. "In truth, the offspring cull the best from all the excellence of the parents, and kindly nature attends them", a reality still understood by those who work dogs today. Amazing that someone from thousands of years ago understood that the hybridisation provided the potential for various outstanding attributes, and then nature whittled it into the perfect package.


    [QUOTE]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 — 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.[/QUOTE]


    Here he notes the exception. If you want to hunt timid fast animals like antelope and hare, you need to stick with specialised types, giving the examples of the petronian (possibly italian?) scenthound, or the sycambrian sighthound (actually belonging to a germanic people. The sighthound can't find them when they're hidden, for that the scenthounds show their aptitude. Basically though he's saying here is where you'd avoid mongrelising types too much, and this rings true today. If you want to catch antelope or hare today you can't use a mix of all different types, you really need to stick to a "purish" sighthound, or you could run them to exhaustion with a scenthound. But yeah he's saying for the specific endeavour of hunting very very fast game you don't mix up all the types to be found, but otherwise mixing is ideal.


    [QUOTE]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. [/QUOTE]


    Here he complains about noisey petronian scenthounds giving themselves away by barking and how this results in losing prey. Lots of people still have this issue with scenthounds today, myself included, but those who use them obviously know how to use them effectively, and are perhaps more patient to follow a trail for longer. Grattius clearly doesn't like scenthounds.

    [QUOTE]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]


    Except for those of the "metagontes" it seems, which he describes as very cunning and smart silent finders. I can't work out who or where the metagontes or metagon are, although they sound like a somewhat wild tribe that live near sparta and crete, with both these places claiming them.


    Anyway yes it seems they had very wiley scenting dogs, perhaps not even scenthounds but rather a primitive pariah that was very cunning. All in all though what the romans did was find different dogs all over the place, and then experiment with crossing and working them.


    Really what modern civilisations do when they produce dogs for work, and it seems they had similar types to work with back then, for the most part, although they weren't yet accustomed to splitting them into types, merely noting a difference between the dogs of people from this area vs the dogs of people from that area.

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