Famous Dogs in History, from Ancient Greece until Today
History abounds with stories of the victorious humans who shaped the world into what it is today. But rarely do we stop and consider the dogs who worked, lived, and fought alongside these humans. Here are some of the most famous dogs in history and their stories.
In 456 BC, the city of Corinth was guarded by 50 dogs who had been trained to warn the citizens of the city when they were about to be attacked. As the Persians tried to sneak in and invade the city, they killed 49 of the 50 dogs, and had an almost clear and uninterrupted path as the citizens remained unaware of their arrival.
However, one brave dog named Soter managed to escape the Persians. He was able to alert the citizens of Corinth of the impending invasion, and the Greeks were able to rise up and defend their city against the Persians.
The citizens were so grateful to Soter that they presented him with a silver collar inscribed with the following words: “To Soter, defender and savior of Corinth.” They also erected a statue to commemorate Soter and the 49 brave dogs that died that night.
Donnchadh has become a famous dog because of his actions to save his owner Robert the Bruce in the 1300s. ( Public domain )
There are few dogs who have changed the course of history in two different countries and over centuries. A loyal bloodhound named Donnchadh, who belonged to King Robert the Bruce of Scotland, did exactly that with one faithful act.
In 1306, the English had captured Robert the Bruce’s wife and his dog, Donnchadh. They devised a plan to use Robert the Bruce’s dog to track him down and uncover his hiding place. The soldiers released the dog, who was able to find his owner, but surprised the English when he turned on them and defended his master, driving the soldiers away.
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Throughout history there have been many famous dogs. Dog statue in Keramikos cemetery in Athens, Greece. ( Konstantinos / Adobe Stock)
Robert the Bruce survived because of his dog’s intervention, and went on to become King of Scotland. Four centuries later, King George III, a direct descendant of Robert the Bruce, would aggressively enforce the British trade laws with the American colonies.
The disputes that arose between the American colonies and the British was what led to independence of the United States. Had Robert the Bruce not been rescued by Donnchadh, King George III would never have been born, and America may not be where it is today.
Barry was a famous St. Bernard rescue dog in the 1800s. This exhibit is included in the Natural History Museum in Bern. (PraktikantinNMBE / CC BY-SA 4.0 )
Legends abound of this gentle giant , who worked in the mountains of Switzerland as an avalanche rescue dog for the Great St Bernard Hospice. Barry would rescue people on the Great St. Bernard Pass, which is at an elevation of 2,400 meters (7,874 feet) between Switzerland and Italy.
It’s said that between 1800 and 1812, Barry rescued over 40 people, which helped to secure his spot in our list of famous dogs in history. He would find travelers who were in trouble and he would either dig them out of the snow, keep them warm, or run back to the monastery, where he’d alert the monks and get help.
Barry eventually retired and was sent to Bern in Switzerland, where he lived out the rest of his days peacefully until he passed on at the age of fourteen. The legend of Barry has lived on, and you can see the stories of his heroic acts at the Natural History Museum in Bern, Switzerland.
Saurr became kind in 11 th-century Trondheim. ( Public domain )
Many pet owners are guilty of treating their dogs like royalty, but in the case of Saurr, he truly was a royal dog. The story goes that in the 11th century, King Eystein of Drontheim had conquered the city of Trondheim, which he left to his son Onund to rule.
A whale later, Onund was assassinated. Enraged by this act, King Eystein gave the people a choice: to choose their new king from his slave, Thorer Fax, or his dog, Saurr. The citizens of Trondheim chose the dog, as they believed they’d have their kingdom back and would be free to govern themselves.
Legend has said that this particularly famous dog was gifted with the intelligence and wisdom of three men, and could speak in human tongues. Saurr ruled the kingdom for three years, during which he was treated like royalty, fed only the best food , and was given a gold and silver collar with jewels.
Saurr lived a pampered life as Dog King, but he was also the shepherd to the royal cattle. After ruling the kingdom for three years, Saurr died defending the cattle from a pack of wolves.
Peritas was the famous dog of Alexander the Great and accompanied him during military expeditions. ( Public domain )
Alexander the Great (356 BC – 323 BC) is known to have had one of the greatest military minds in history, and created one of the largest empires the world has ever seen. What people may not know is that he did this with his favorite dog, Peritas, by his side.
The legend of Peritas’ bravery came about when he saved Alexander the Great by protecting him from his enemies, who had him trapped. Peritas fought off the men, which bought the wounded Alexander time until his soldiers were able to reach him and save his life.
Due to the wounds he had sustained, Peritas passed away. However, his name lives on in the Indian city of Peritas, which Alexander named after his favorite dog. If you travel to Peritas, you’ll still see the statue of the loyal dog at the entrance to the city.
Illustration of Saint Guinefort, a greyhound who was made a saint in the 13th century after saving an infant from a snake. (L. Bower / CC0)
In the 13th century, a nobleman left his child in the nursery with his trusted greyhound, Guinefort. When he returned, he found the nursery room in chaos, with the baby’s cot overturned and blood on his dog’s face.
The nobleman became enraged, assuming the worst, and killed the dog before discovering that his child was unharmed. As he surveyed the scene, he realized that the brave Guinefort had killed a venomous snake, protecting his son. Filled with remorse, the nobleman buried the dog in a well, where he erected a shrine in his honor.
Word of Guinefort’s bravery reached the local villagers, who began to visit the burial place of the dog every day. The villagers ended up praying to the dog for protection and help for their children who were ill. With reports of miracles that happened at Guinefort’s grave site, he was venerated as a saint. Guinefort is the only dog in the world that has been declared a saint, “for the protection of infants.”
Balto became a famous dog after successfully delivering diphtheria antitoxin to Nome in Alaska in 1925. The lead dog for the final stretch of the expedition, he can be seen here with Gunnar Kaasen the musher of the last team. ( Public domain )
When a diphtheria epidemic swept through Nome, Alaska in 1925, during brutal winter storms and temperatures of -85 degrees Fahrenheit (-65 C), the only chance the citizens of Nome had were 20 mushers with their dog-sled teams. These teams set off on what’s become known as the “Great Race of Mercy,” to fetch the desperately needed vaccine for the disease sweeping the area.
The teams ran relays, but Balto was the leader of the last team of dogs to bring the much-needed serum into Nome. He was only three at the time, but he rose to the challenge despite gale force winds, ice, and deep snow. It took Balto and the other teams of sled dogs approximately 5 days to deliver the precious cargo. Balto eventually died from old age, but his story lives on as sled teams from around the world come together to run the serum route in the Iditarod every March.
Top image: One of the most famous dogs in history is Balto, known for helping the people of Nome in Alaska, by bringing the much needed diphtheria vaccine in the midst of Alaskan winter storms. Here he can be seen in a statue dedicated to his memory in Central Park, New York. Source: Benjamin / Adobe Stock.
By Mike Powell
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Medievalists.net. 2020, June 30. “Oh My Dog! St Guinefort and St Christopher” in Medievalists.net. Available at: https://www.medievalists.net/2020/06/dog-guinefort-christopher/
Meier, A. N.d.. “Balto the Sled Dog” in Atlas Obscura . Available at: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/balto-the-sled-dog
No name. N.d. “Peritas Alexander the Great’s Dog...” at Find a Grave . Available at: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/43734477/peritas-alexander_the_great
Reed, M. N.d. “Donnchadh Defends the King of Scotland” in Dog Breeds Center . Available at: https://dogsbreedscenter.com/dog-news/10-of-the-most-incredible-dog-stories-from-history/attachment/donnchadh-defends-the-king-of-scotland/
Stephens, Thomas. July 14, 2014. “Barry the St Bernard: from farm dog to national hero” in SWI swissinfo.ch . Available at: https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/four-legged-legend_barry-the-st-bernard--from-farm-dog-to-national-hero/40487994
I’m missing Argos, Odysseus’ dog which recognized Odyseus even after 20 years of absence and despite mighty Athena’s disguise.
They missed this guy. During WWI Stubby wandered into a training camp. The soldiers took to him and hid him from their drill sargeant. They smuggled him overseas to France where he served with distinction.He was dragging wounded off the battlefield and even caught a german spying on their position by the seat of his pants. The commanding officer was so impressed that he created a personnel file for him and began awarding him medals.After the war he toured the country as a hero. BTW he was also wounded several times.