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Study reveals Romans bred bulldog-like canines 2,000 years ago. Source: svetography / Adobe Stock

Romans Bred Bulldog-like Canines 2,000 Years Ago, But Why?

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A team of scientists measured a damaged 2,000-year-old dog skull discovered at a Roman site in Turkey. They discovered that not only did Romans breed a small flat-faced dog, similar to a French bulldog, but also that these blood-thirsty people “loved” their pets.

Canine Skull Belonged to Ancient Equivalent of a French Bulldog

A team of researchers have completed their analysis of a badly-damaged 2,000-year-old canine skull. Recovered in 2007 from the ruins of the ancient Tralleis site, located near the Turkish city of Aydın, the scientists found the skull was a brachycephalic skull, characterized by a short and broad structure. The researchers said the dog would have looked similar to the modern French Bulldog.

The French Bulldog is known as a particularly small breed with a compact muscular body and distinctive bat-like ears. As a pet, this species is valued for its friendly and affectionate nature. As well as being a very playful dog, this species makes funny snorting sounds and comical facial expressions. A new study has determined that some ancient Romans also valued these canine qualities.

Tralleis dog skull compared with the skulls of modern breed dogs. A. Pekingese, B. Tralleis dog, C. French Bulldog. (Onar, et al. / Journal of Archaeological Science)

Tralleis dog skull compared with the skulls of modern breed dogs. A. Pekingese, B. Tralleis dog, C. French Bulldog. (Onar, et al. / Journal of Archaeological Science)

Applying Craniometry to Roman Dog Skull For Answers

In 2021, Professor Aleksander Chrószcz and Dr. Dominik Poradowski from the Wrocław University of Environmental and Life Sciences joined forces with Professor Vedat Onar and a team of researchers from Istanbul University. In an article published in the Journal of Archaeological Science they explained that by measuring the skull, the researchers were able to undertake comparative analysis with the bone structures of modern dog breeds. They also took into account previous archaeozoological research into bygone canine species.

Craniometry is the scientific study of skulls, involving the taking of accurate measurements of head bones. The discipline is generally applied for forensic purposes by genetic scientists looking at human skull variations, which reveals data on race, gender, age and relationships. However, Professor Aleksander Chrószcz’s team conducted craniometry on the badly-damaged 2,000-year-old dog skull.

A Roman watchdog from a mosaic discovered in Pompeii. (Public domain)

A Roman watchdog from a mosaic discovered in Pompeii. (Public domain)

This Was No Roman Working Dog

Professor Chrószcz writes that the detailed measurements confirmed Romans bred “a relatively small brachycephalic (short-nosed) dog, lower at the withers than the well-known short-nosed Molossian hound.” Until now, it was thought that the Molossian hound was the only brachycephalic species in ancient Rome. This newly identified dog species was much smaller than the Molossian hound, and it was more similar to the modern French bulldog.

During the Roman era, working dogs were highly-trained and valued for their diverse roles. While Molossians were large, powerful guardians, Laconian dogs were trained for hunting. Meanwhile, Canes Pugnaces were bred and trained to fight in the arenas, and Vertragi served as effective pack animals.

The researchers concluded that the 2,000-year-old canine skull did not belong to a Roman working dog. In fact, the newly identified species was too short for working and the researchers found evidence to suggest it was a pet. Instead of fighting in an arena or hunting out in the open, the scientists believe this Roman dog shared “a fairly comfortable life” alongside its owners.

French bulldogs are valued for their friendly and affectionate nature. (_italo_ / Adobe Stock)

French bulldogs are valued for their friendly and affectionate nature. (_italo_ / Adobe Stock)

Blood, Love and Canine Affection in the Roman World

It is no secret that the ancient Romans were a bloodthirsty lot, and most savored seeing acts of hyper-violence in the arenas. With Romans being numb to seeing humans brutalized and torn to pieces, all previous evidence suggests dogs had a fairly rough time of it. But in this instance, the researchers found evidence to suggest the dog “was loved and cared for, not only during its life, but also after death.”

Alongside the Roman love of cults, excessive drinking and eating, violence, orgies and prostitutes, they also had a fairly complex understanding of love, and they recognized various forms of it. Romantic love was amor, familial love was pietas, while friendship was known as amicitia. As one would expect, love and relationships greatly influenced Roman art, literature and social interactions.

Love, essentially, was a fundamental aspect of human experience in ancient Roman culture. The evidence discovered suggesting this little dog was loved was cemented when the researchers discovered its owner had chosen to be buried beside his dog. This not only confirms Romans showed affection towards animals, but that they attempted to be reunited with their companions in the afterlife, reflecting the close bond between humans and their canine companions in Roman culture.

Top image: Study reveals Romans bred bulldog-like canines 2,000 years ago. Source: svetography / Adobe Stock

By Ashley Cowie

 

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The word, "breed", was used, then abandoned for "species". It should have been stuck with.

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Ashley

Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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