Dogs of Roman Britain refers to the use of dogs in the Roman Empire from the Province of Brittania under Roman rule.

The Roman Province of Britannia was known for exporting dogs. The references by Roman writers to these dogs suggest that British dogs were both fast and strong, useful in hunting and even in war. Some modern dog book authors are of the opinion that these dogs were a distinct breed of dog, and that this breed was the progenitor to the English Mastiff[1] and possibly the Bulldog.[2]

Historical references

The ancient Roman poet Grattius (or Grattius Faliscus) wrote of British dogs, describing them as superior to the ancient Greek Molossus, saying:

"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."[3]

The ancient Greek historian Strabo reported that dogs were exported from Britain for the purpose of game hunting, and that these dogs were also used by the Celts as war dogs.[4]

The Roman writer Tacitus, in the first century AD, mentions in his accounts of Britain that its principal exports were grain, hides, cattle, iron, silver, slaves, and clever hunting-dogs.

The late Roman poet Nemesianus referred to British dogs, describing them as swift and suited to hunting.[5] The even later Roman poet Claudian describes British dogs "that can break the backs of mighty bulls."[6]


"There is a strong breed of hunting dog, small in size but no less worthy of great praise. These the wild tribes of Britons with their tattooed backs rear and call by the name of Agassian. Their size is like that of worthless and greedy domestic table dogs; squat, emaciated, shaggy, dull of eye, but endowed with feet armed with powerful claws and a mouth sharp with close-set venomous tearing teeth. It is by virtue of its nose, however, that the Agassian is most exalted, and for tracking it is the best there is; for it is very adept at discovering the tracks of things that walk upon the ground, and skilled too at marking the airborne scent." Oppian, early 3rd century.[7]

In Art

The ceramic production in the Nene Valley from the 2nd-4th Centuries AD frequent included images of hunting scenes in barbotine decoration.[8] The so-called 'hunt cups' often depicted dogs chasing deer or hares.

See also


  1. ^ Fleig, D. (1996). Fighting Dog Breeds. (Pg. 26 - 27). Neptune, NJ: TFH Publications. ISBN 0-7938-0499-X
  2. ^ Wynn, M.B. (1886). History of the Mastiff. William Loxley. pp. 64–67. 
  3. ^ "Grattius - Cynegeticon". Retrieved 2009-06-07. 
  4. ^ "Strabo's Geography". Retrieved 2009-06-07. 
  5. ^ "Nemesianus - Cynegetica". Retrieved 2009-06-07. 
  6. ^ "Claudian - On the Consulship of Stilicho". Retrieved 2009-06-07. 
  7. ^ Ireland, Stanley (2008). Roman Britain: A Sourcebook (3rd ed.). Routledge. p. 216. ISBN 978-0-415-47178-7. Retrieved 2010-02-11. 
  8. ^ "Nene valley Colour Coated Ware". PotSherd. 1996. Retrieved 2014-04-22. 


External links