Category Archives: Military Animals

Ancient Discoveries: Ancient Special Forces

Welcome to Rome Across Europe! Whevener we come across something of interest, our purpose is to share it with everyone.

A few months ago we came across a game changer of sorts, the Roman War Dog. We shared this discovery in Dogs of War.

Having been watching some old TV episodes on the History Channel, we found there is more to share.

Today we are taking a look at Ancient Special Forces!

There’s lots going on with this video. If you care to jump straight to the dogs, then go to 24:55.

The beginning of this episode talks of Rome’s Siege of Byzantium. They share the world’s original version of today’s United States Navy SEALs.

Although Rome would go on to conquer Byzantium, they had to first go through these special ancient forces. Once Rome rebuilt the city they included the same forces they faced into the mighty Exercitus Romanus.

We hope you enjoyed this wonderful visual presentation of how the anceint world has influenced modern militaries. Come back tomorrow to see what we have in store, or check out what we’ve already shared.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

 

Saddles & Bits – How Romans Rode Horses

Welcome to Rome Across Europe! In the past we have had an article about War Horses of the Roman Empire, and another about The Horse Mounted Forces of the Roman Army.

Now it’s time to get down to the nuts and bolts of how they came together. Today we’re talking saddles and bits!Roman_Cavalry_2

The purpose of the saddle is to lift the weight of the rider from the horse’s spine. Both the solid framed and padded styles of 4-horned saddle can meet this basic requirement.

However it’s believed the solid wooden frame of a 4-horned saddle was inflexible, and potentially painful for a horse’s back. Each saddletree would only be able to be used on one shape of horse, and even a saddle made to fit a specific horse would cease to fit if the horse lost condition on campaign.saddletree

This would result in pressure sores, calloused and thickened skin. A solid Roman saddle with a wooden frame could be made to fit most horses, and with the addition of good padding in the form of a saddlecloth or furs any problems would lessen.

Based on the surviving evidence in the form of leather covers, their stitching, stretch and wear marks, as well as metal horn plates, a working Romano-Celtic saddle can be made today. The sizes of the horns are in part dictated by the surviving copper alloy horn plates, possibly acting as stiffeners.

Some plates are of a surprising thickness perhaps suggesting they are for protection. However these protectors or stiffeners do not give an absolute indication of the angle of horns.

This can be derived from sculptural evidence. Surviving pieces of harness fitting also give clues to the nature of harness and how the saddle was attached to the horse.

Finds presented at the Carlisle Millennium Project conference in 2004 were found during excavations on the Castle Green between 1998 and 2001. Two saddle covers were illustrated which both showed stretch marks where they had been pressed down over a wooden frame.canter12

The covers were much worn and had both been patched many times. Overall the stitch pattern used on each cover was the same as has been found on other sites, but these covers retained trapezoidal flaps of leather, about half as deep as they were long, with the widest edges lowest when on the horse.

This demonstrates that rather than just being sewn up under the saddle as originally believed, leather covers could be secured over the horns and wooden frame of the saddle. These saddle covers simply hung down the sides of the horse, even having a substantial fringed curtain of leather hanging from the lower edge.

These seem to be covers from riding saddles rather than pack saddles, protecting the rider’s legs against the girth and the edge of the wooden frame. Rather than being stitched into the saddle cover as initially thought, the girth strap could be attached directly to the saddle frame for greater stability.

Padded versions of these saddles made without a wooden frame often have a metal bar towards the front of the saddle for stability. Reconstructions are generally very heavy at 24-26lbs, and larger than examples based on a wooden frame.saddle

The weight of the rider forces the seat of the saddle downward and the horns lock around the rider’s legs. While this gives a very secure seat, the rider would find it difficult to get out of the saddle if the horse falls so some movement in the saddle is to be preferred.

The angle that the saddle sits on the horse is also very important. If the rear of the saddle is not high enough, the rider’s full weight is constantly hammering on both rear horns.

However, riders get used to trusting the rear horns and therefore using their legs to grip the front horns. In a short time the rider becomes confident enough to lean well out of the saddle, instinctively riding with the bent legs and downward pointing toes familiar from Roman monuments.

However, long periods of riding can be very hard on the rider’s legs and serious cramp can result in having to be lifted out of the saddle.

Reconstructions of tack from the 1st and 2nd Centuries are generally highly decorated with copper alloy fittings, often tinned or silvered, based on archaeological finds. Throughout the Roman period there was large scale use of amulets on horse tack made from the bases of shed antlers.Tack

The most common design was a phallus, perhaps to ward off the evil eye. The use of antler may suggest that it had some special talismanic significance.

Triplet straps hanging from the front and rear of the saddle were very useful as well for securing equipment. They were believed to have helped secure the leather cover to the wooden frame.

Horses would be directed by weight distribution, leg pressure, verbal commands and primarily the bit in the horse’s mouth held by the reins and bridle. Every horse is different and needs varying degrees of direction.

Romans used either the snaffle bit of Celtic origin, not unlike a modern bit, or the potentially severe curb bit. The Romans could also use the hackamore to increase leverage on the horse’s jaw.

Bit LessVarious metal examples have been discovered, yet many more could have been made of leather or even dried grass. A simple hackamore would have no bit, and the 1st Century tombstone found in 2005 in Lancaster seems to show a bit less bridle.

Today this system is useful for young horses, or those with sensitive mouths, but generally has not been associated with Romans. Roman hackamores would have been covered with sheepskin for the horse’s comfort.

Horsemen had to learn to neck rein, using one hand to control the horse by exerting pressure on the horse’s neck with the reins, or even at times his shield.

In the 4th Century the steppe saddle was introduced into the west by the Huns and their allies. It was a simple and strong design.4th Century steppe saddle

The proportions of the pommel and cantle can only be deduced from surviving metal decorations. The earliest such fittings from Europe are a set of early 5th Century curved and triangular-shaped gold sheet mounts from Mundolsheim, Alsace.

These suggest a very high-fronted saddle, used to display wealth and status. Lower status riders would have used lower fronted saddles, for which rare, small and functional fittings have been found from later dates.

The steppe saddle didn’t need integral padding and could be left as just bare wood, weighingabout 14lbs. It sat on several layers of wool or fur to protect the horse.

It didn’t need breast or breaching straps, although they may have been of use over long distances and rough terrain. Coming from a four-horned saddle, the Roman rider was initially concerned about sliding out of the “side door”.

They tried and hooked their legs under the front cantle to secure them in the seat, as they would hook their legs under the front horns of the 4-horned saddle. But the steppe saddle wasn’t designed for this type of riding and the position soon became very uncomfortable.

Instead, the rider would have to use a straight leg and a very deep seat when cornering. Such a position’s relatively easy on the riders’ legs and can be maintained for long periods of time.

The issue of just how Romans mounted their horses is still unresolved. Contemporary books mention mounting from either side of the horse.

Fences and Infantry were both good mounting blocks and, in armor, it’s just possible to mount while stationary with the assistance of a spear. Rope attached to the spear and used to carry the weapon over the shoulder could’ve made a simple mounting step.In Armor

The rider needed to trust his mount unconditionally. Not only did the Equites Romani lack stirrups, but for some maneuvers he would also not be using any reins.

Control came from weight distribution, verbal commands and leg pressure. Roman horses were probably unshod, and took time for the horse to learn how to respond to neck reining.

Cavalry horses also had to become used to the Roman saddle, as well as the rider’s armor and equipment. Riders then had to find a way of carrying their shield, bow, arrows, lance and javelins, either hanging from the saddle or themselves.

As the late 6th Century Strategikon states, riders must be able to hang their lance from their shoulder while drawing the bow and placing an arrow on the string. They must then be able to replace the bow and ready the lance.

Put simply riders must learn to look like Roman Cavalrymen, comfortable with their kit and weaponry.Late Riders

The bits placed in the horse’s mouth and connected to the reins were often harsh so as to provide an immediate response from the animal. There is ample evidence that Roman riders wore spurs as well.

Horses and riders trained in purpose-built pens and then progressed to long marches and the practice of maneuvers, such as charges and counter-charges on a variety of terrains. There were also hippika gymnasia to provide incentive to perfect riding skills.

When all is said and done, the quality of Roman riders came down to their saddles and bits. It’s just that simple.Ancient Roman horse bits

We hope you had an enjoyable enough time today learning the intricacies of the Roman Cavalry riding. Please come back tomorrow to see what we have in store for you.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Comitatus. Recreating Roman Cavalry.

War Horses of the Roman Empire

Hello and welcome to Rome Across Europe! At the end of August we looked in on a topic that has never been far from battles, military animals.

In this opening article we looked at Dogs of War. Just like today, man’s best friend has also been holding its own as either a soldier or rehabilitation companion when put in harm’s way.

Moving forward, we’re going to look at next most relied on animal for fighting. Today we discover the Roman War Horses!Germanic Battle

When someone speaks of the Imperium Rōmānum, an initial thought to cross a person’s minds is the magnificent size of her dominions. Because of this vastness, Rome had to maintain its Exercitus Romanus that was capable of crushing any possibility of rebellion.

Similar to the Greeks before Alexander the Great, the Romans relied primarily on its Legiones, the phalanx and other engines of war for fighting. Horses were mainly used for chariots, light skirmishing and hauling supplies.roman_chariot

With so many lands under Rome’s’ control, it’s natural that they would use different types of horses. Particular favorites appear to be the Arabian, the Andalusian, the Camargue, the Dales Pony, the Fell Pony and the Galician Pony.

As Rome was a military empire, the horse was an essential element in communications, transport and fighting. That is why the Romans were smart enough not to rely on just one specific breed of horse.

The Romans inherited knowledge of horses from the Greeks and amassed a corpus of expertise which covered the best types of horses to employ the most effective tackle and training methods to use, and the most effective veterinary practices.

Stallions from ParthiaPersiaMedia, Armenia, Cappadocia, Hispania and Libya were the most prized. Preferring larger animals, horses were also selected for their temperament, stamina, and resistance to extreme environments and food deprivation.

Training ensured horses became used to group charges, flashing weapons, battle noises and strange animals such as elephants which the enemy might field.

Horses were fed barley and each member of the Equites Romani was allotted 6 bushels each month. According to Polybius a horse received 3.5 lb per day.Calvaryman

Despite every care taken, horses ran the risk of disease and injury. The most common, by far, was lameness for horses were largely unshod. In battle, less serious wounds to the animal could be treated but the biggest threat came from infected wounds.

Roman monuments certainly show us a small stocky animal. Recent work on bone evidence suggests that actual military horses were what we would call ponies, robust specimens of 13.2 hands with small regional differences.

Much has been written on the size of the Roman horse. To generalize, there is a consensus that Roman horses in the west were around 13 to14 hands (hh), with some as tall as 15 hh.

Certainly it is safe to assume that strong animals were needed to carry armored riders over considerable distances, and speed would have been a resulting consideration. Size was crucial in determining speed of maneuver, and thusly the effectiveness of Roman Cavalry.

Andalusian Horseandalusians

Cave paintings show that horses have been present on the Iberian Peninsula as far back as 20,000 to 30,000 BC. Throughout history, the Iberian breeds have been influenced by many different peoples and cultures who occupied Spain, including the Celts, the Carthaginians, the Romans, various Germanic tribes and the Moors.

The Andalusian, also known as the Pure Spanish Horse (Pura Raza Española), was identified as a talented war horse as early as 450 BC, and was prized by the nobility. They are known for their intelligence, sensitivity and docility.

Andalusian horses are elegant and strongly built, yet compact. Andalusians have long, thick manes and tails. Their most common coat color is gray, although they can be found in many other colors.

Andalusians stallions and geldings average 15.75 hh (61.5 in) at the withers and 1,129 lb in weight. Mares average 15.5 hh (60.5 in) and 908 lb.

Members of the breed have heads of medium length, with a straight or slightly convex profile. Necks are long and broad, running to well-defined withers and a massive chest.Andalusian

They have a short back and broad, strong hindquarters with a well-rounded croup. The breed tends to have clean legs, with no propensity for blemishes or injuries, and energetic gaits.

The mane and tail are thick and long, but the legs do not have excess feathering. Andalusians, when treated with respect, are quick to learn, responsive and cooperative.

Mitochondrial DNA studies of the modern Andalusian horse of the Iberian peninsula and Barb horse of North Africa present convincing evidence that both breeds crossed the Strait of Gibraltar.

They were used for breeding with each other, influencing one another’s bloodlines. Thus, the Andalusian may have been the first European “warm blood”, a mixture of heavy European and lighter Oriental horses.

Arabian Horsearabians

The Arabian, or Arab horse, is a breed of horse that originated on the Arabian Peninsula. With a distinctive head shape and high tail carriage, the Arabian is one of the most easily recognizable horse breeds in the world.

Horses with these features appeared in rock paintings and inscriptions dating back 4,500 years. In ancient history throughout the Ancient Near East, horses with refined heads and high-carried tails were depicted in artwork, particularly that of Ancient Egypt in the 16th Century BC.

It is also one of the oldest human-developed horse breeds, with archaeological evidence of horses in the Middle East that resemble modern Arabians. Throughout history, Arabian horses have spread around the world by both war and trade, used to improve other breeds by adding speed, refinement, endurance, and strong bone.

The Arabian developed in a desert climate and was prized by the nomadic Bedouin people, often being brought inside the family tent for shelter and protection from theft. Selective breeding for traits including an ability to form a cooperative relationship with humans created a horse breed that is good-natured, quick to learn, and willing to please.

The Arabian also developed the high spirit and alertness needed in a horse used for raiding and war. This combination of willingness and sensitivity requires modern Arabian horse owners to handle their horses with competence and respect.Arabian

The Arabian is a versatile breed and dominate the discipline of endurance riding, a trait certainly used by ancient riders.

Arabian horses have refined, wedge-shaped heads, a broad forehead, large eyes, large nostrils, and small muzzles. Most display a distinctive concave, or “dished” profile.

Many Arabians also have a slight forehead bulge between their eyes that adds additional sinus capacity, believed to have helped the Arabian horse in its native dry desert climate.Bronzed Head

Another breed characteristic is an arched neck with a large, well-set windpipe set on a refined, clean throatlatch. In the ideal Arabian it is long, allowing flexibility in the bridle and room for the windpipe.

Other distinctive features are a relatively long, level croup, top of the hindquarters, and naturally high tail carriage. Well-bred Arabians have a deep, well-angled hip and well laid-back shoulder.

Most have a compact body with a short back. Arabians usually have dense, strong bone, and good hoof walls.

The breed is described as standing between 14.1 to 15.1 hh (57 to 61 inches) tall, “with the occasional individual over or under.” All Arabians, regardless of height, are classified as “horses” even though 14.2 hh (58 inches) is the traditional cutoff height between a horse and a pony.

A common myth is that Arabians are not strong because they are relatively small and refined. However, the Arabian horse is noted for a greater density of bone than other breeds, short cannons, sound feet, and a broad, short back.

All of which give the breed physical strength comparable to many taller animals. Basically, even a smaller Arabian can carry a heavy rider or travel longer.

The Arabian is also classified as a “hot-blooded” breed and, like other hot-bloods, Arabians’ sensitivity and intelligence enable quick learning and greater communication with their riders. However, their intelligence also allows them to learn bad habits as quickly as good ones, and they do not tolerate inept or abusive training practices.

Camargue horsecamargues

The Camargue horse is an ancient breed of horse indigenous to the Camargue area in southern France. Its origins remain relatively unknown, although it is generally considered one of the oldest breeds of horses in the world.

For centuries, possibly thousands of years, these small horses have lived wild in the harsh environment of the Camargue marshes and wetlands of the Rhône delta. There they developed the stamina, hardiness and agility for which they are known today.

Traditionally, they live in semi-feral conditions and are used to herd the black Camargue bulls used in bullfighting in southern France. Camargue horses galloping through water is a popular and romantic image of the region.

Camargue horses are always gray. This means that they have black skin underlying a white hair coat as adult horses.

They are born with a hair coat that is black or dark brown in color, but as they grow to adulthood, their hair coat becomes ever more intermingled with white hairs until it is completely white. They are small horses, generally standing 13.1 to 14.3 hh at the withers, and weighing 770 to 1,100 lb.camargue

Despite their small size, they have the strength to carry grown adults. Considered rugged and intelligent, they have a short neck, deep chest, compact body, well-jointed, strong limbs and a full mane and tail.

Some researchers believe the Camargue are descended from the ancient Solutré horse hunted during the Upper Paleolithic period. Extensive archeological evidence has been found in the present-day Burgundy region of France.

The Camargue breed was appreciated by the Celtic and Roman invaders who entered the Iberian Peninsula. Their genealogy is closely tied with Iberian horses, especially those of the northern part of the peninsula.

Dales Ponydales

Horse remains dating to Roman times were found in the Ribchester area of the Dales, during North Pennines Archaeology’s excavations at land behind the Black Bull Inn in 2009. The Romans themselves named an ancient British tribe to the east of the Pennines the Gabrantovici (Horse-Riding Warriors).

The breed is known for its strength, hardiness, stamina, courage, intelligence, and good disposition.

The Dales Pony is ideally 14 to 14.2 hh (56 to 58 inches). The head is straight, neat, and broad between the eyes, with a fine muzzle and incurving ears.Dales Pony

The body is fairly short in the back, with a broad and deep rib cage, long, broad and well-muscled quarters, a well-muscled neck of a good length joining neatly into strong withers and strong sloping shoulders.

The legs are very muscular, with hard, dense bone, clearly defined tendons, flexible pasterns, and large round hooves with open heels. The mane, tail and leg feathers are straight, silky and abundant.

Fell PonyFell Ponies

The Fell pony shares its origins with the now-extinct Galloway pony which was also the root of the Dales pony. It is believed to have originated on the border between England and Scotland, quite probably pre-dating Roman times.

They are primarily a working breed of pony with activity, stamina, hardiness and intelligence that enables them to live and thrive in tough conditions out on the fells in the Lake District.

The Fell pony was originally used as a packhorse, carrying lead, slate, copper and iron ore. They were also used for light agriculture and the transportation of bulky farm goods such as wool.Fell Pony

With their sturdy bodies, strong legs and equable disposition, and being good, fast walkers, they would travel up to 240 mi a week. They were favoured by the Vikings as packhorses as well as for plowing, riding and pulling sledges.

By the Iron Age, equines were in relatively common use in Britannia. They averaged 12.1 hh in height and resembled the modern Exmoor breed in terms of overall build.

By the later part of the Roman occupation, somewhat later than the improvements in other domestic species, the average height of British ponies had increased to around 13 hh.

Galician PonyGalacians

The Galician Pony (cabalo galego or poldro galaico in Galician) is a breed of pony developed in Galicia. It is thought to have developed partly from a mix of Celtic horses, Roman horses and horses brought to Galicia by the Swabians.

The ponies are hardy and rugged. They are between 3.9 and 4.6 feet in height, with a short body and strong legs. They have a straight profile, and usually are bay in color.Galician Pony

There was a strong love for quality horses in Roman society. This love sometimes becoming so extreme it neared worship.

Particular stories of Romans going to great lengths for their horses survive to this day. Particular celebrated horses were practically treated as royalty. Their hooves were painted with gilt and they were given spectacular presents.

In fact, the “Mad Emperor” Caligula is said to have presented his favorite horse, Incitatus, with a house complete with furniture. Caligula also insisted that friends come to dine with his horse and in turn invite their own horse to dine with them.Reiterstatue

Rome was built on the backs of its infantry, but got some help from its horses. We hope you enjoyed learning a bit about the varieties of horses used by the Romans.

Come back soon to check out what we have in store for you. Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

References:

Archer, Rosemary, Colin Pearson and Cecil Covey. (1978). The Crabbet Arabian Stud: Its History and Influence. Northleach. Gloucestershire: Alexander Heriot & Co. Ltd. ISBN 0-906382-00-9.

Azzaroli, A. (1985). An Early History of Horsemanship. ISBN 9789004072336.

Bennett, Deb. Conquerors: The Roots of New World Horsemanship. Solvang, CA: Amigo Publications Inc. ISBN 0-9658533-0-6.

Bonnet, Jocelyne. La fabrication des mythes: Une approche ethno-historique du cheval camarguais. (ethnology thesis) Université Montpellier III (in French). The fabrication of myths: an ethno-historic approach to the Camargue horse.

Cartwright, Mark. Roman Cavalry. May 2014.

Davis, Caroline. The kingdom of the horse: a comprehensive guide to the horse and the major breeds. New York: Howell Book House. ISBN 978-0-87605-037-8.

Edwards, Gladys Brown. The Arabian: War Horse to Show Horse (Revised Collector’s ed.). Covina, California: Rich Publishing, Inc.

Loch, Sylvia (1986). The Royal Horse of Europe: The Story of the Andalusian and Lusitano. London: J. A. Allen. ISBN 0-85131-422-8.

Mason, I.L. A World Dictionary of Livestock Breeds, Types and Varieties. 4th Edition. C.A.B International. 1996.

Wentworth, Judith Anne Dorothea Blunt-Lytton. The Authentic Arabian Horse. George Allen & Unwin Ltd.

About Fell Ponies.

History of the War Horse. The Roman Empire and its Enemies.

Dogs of War

Welcome back to Rome Across Europe! Over the course of the past year we’ve discovered many things about the Romans and how they have greatly influenced modern-day life.

From food to military strategies to architecture, the legacy of the Imperium Rōmānum has lasted the test of time. Today we’re going to expand this further by focusing on Rome’s use of dogs in warfare.

Almost as long as dogs have been domesticated by man, dogs have had a history in warfare. Since ancient times, War Dogs have been used as scouts, sentries and trackers.

Their uses have been varied and many roles for dogs in war are obsolete and no longer practiced. The concept of the War Dog, however, still continues to exist though in modern military usage.Modern War Dog

Dogs have been used for many different purposes. Different breeds were used for different things, but always met the demands of the handlers.

In ancient times, the dogs would be strapped with armor or spiked collars and sent into battle to attack the enemy. This strategy was used by various civilizations, such as the Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, Sarmatians, BagandaAlansSlavsBritons and the Romans.spartan-dog

One of the earliest military-related uses was for dogs to be put on sentry duty. Just like today, the dogs would be used to defend camps or other priority areas day or night. The dogs would bark or growl to alert guards of a stranger’s presence.

The earliest use of War Dogs in a battle recorded in classical sources was by Alyattes of Lydia against the Cimmerians around 600 BC. The Lydian attack dogs were particularly effective against enemy cavalry, killing some invaders and routed others, according to one contemporary source.

Archeologists suspect that humans have been using dogs in warfare since the animals were first domesticated more than 15,000 years ago. As warfare has progressed the dogs’ purposes have changed greatly.

In 281 BC, Lysimachus was slain during the Battle of Corupedium and his body was discovered preserved on the battlefield and guarded vigilantly by his faithful dog.Attacking

Then in 231 BC, the Roman Consul Marcus Pomponius Matho lead the Legio Romanus through the island of Sardinia. Using “dogs from Italy” to hunt out the natives, the Romans were able to conquer the Sardinians who fought a guerrilla warfare.

In 120 BC, Bituitus, King of the Arvernii, attacked a small force of Romans led by the Consul Quintus Fabius using just the dogs he had in his army.

The year 55 BC saw Julius Caesar landing in Britannia opposed by Celtic warriors and their dogs. This makes the English Mastiff one of the oldest recorded breeds according to Caesar’s description of them in his accounts.Disrupting Cavalry

Often War Dogs would be sent into battle with large protective spiked metal collars and coats of mail armor.

It was also common practice for the Romans to strap buckets of flaming oil to the backs of their War Dogs and send them into the enemy’s front lines to disrupt the opposing cavalry. These dogs were called piriferi, or fire bearer.

Gifts of War Dog breeding stock between European royalties were seen as suitable tokens for exchange throughout the Middle Ages. Other civilizations, like the Spanish Conquistadors, used armored dogs to defend caravans or attack enemies.

The British used dogs when they attacked the Irish and the Irish in turn used Irish Wolfhounds to attack invading Norman knights on horseback. A single Wolfhound was often capable of taking a mounted man in armor off his horse, where the lightly armed handler would finish him off if necessary.

Frederick the Great used dogs as messengers during the Seven Years’ War with Russia, and Napoleon also used dogs during his campaigns. Dogs were used up until 1770 AD to guard naval installations in France.

The earliest official use of dogs for military purposes in the United States was during the Seminole WarsHounds were used in the American Civil War to protect, send messages and guard prisoners. Dogs were also used as mascots in American World War I propaganda and recruiting posters.WWI Poster

Romans gathered up dogs from throughout the Empire and separated them into 3 categories: Celere – those that ran down wild animals; Pugnaces – those that attacked wild animals; and Villatici – those that guarded farms.

These “groups” of dogs can be roughly translated into what would be modern day hounds, the Cane Corso and Neapolitan Mastiff respectively.  To augment the Canis Pugnaces abilities, dogs from England were brought back to the Empire.

It was said of the Pugnaces Britanniae “they were inflamed with the spirit of Mars the god of war”. Interestingly enough, many believe the infusion of the dogs from England is responsible for the undershot bite in the Cane Corso.

War Dogs were typically one of a pair of breeds. They were either the Molossus of the Molossia region of Epirus or Cane Corso from Italy.

The Molossus was the strongest known to the Romans, and was specifically trained for battle.Molossian

This ancient extinct breed of dog is commonly considered to be the ancestor of today’s Mastiff-type dogs and of many other modern breeds. Mastiff-type dogs are the best-known breeds of Greco-Roman antiquity.

Most scholars agree that the Molossus originated with the Molossis people in the mountainous regions of North West Ancient Greece and southern Albania. The Molossians were renowned for their vicious hounds, which were used by Molossian shepherds in the mountains of northwestern Greece to guard their flocks.

The breed later spread to Italy and other places in the Greek World by colonizing Hellenic peoples from Greece and the rest of the Balkans.

Some scholars contend that the Molossus was a dog used by the Ancient Greeks for fighting. They describe it as having a wide, short muzzle and a heavy dewlap that was used to fight tigers, lions, elephants and men in battle.Molossian Attack

Centuries later the Roman Army would routinely deploy its own War Dogs, with whole companies composed entirely of dogs. The Canis Molossus was the Legion’s preferred breed for combat.

The Romans first encountered these Molossians of Epirus during the Macedonian Wars and renamed them Pugnaces because of their willingness to fight. As was the Roman way, what they assimilated they improved upon.

Molossian dogs were also used by the Greeks and Romans for hunting (canis venaticus) and to watch over the house and livestock (canis pastoralis).

“Never, with them on guard,” says Virgil, “need you fear for your stalls a midnight thief, or onslaught of wolves, or Iberian brigands at your back.”Dogs Used

Aristotle mentions them in the history of animals and praises their bravery and physical superiority. The Molossian breed was most certainly a very large dog similar to the Mastiff we know today.

The poet Grattius, a contemporary of Ovid, writes “…when serious work has come, when bravery must be shown, and the impetuous War-god calls in the utmost hazard, then you could not but admire the renowned Molossians so much.”

A Roman copy of a Greek original sculpture of a guard dog, known as the Jennings Dog, is generally considered to represent a Molossus and can be seen at the British Museum.Molossian_Hound,_British_Museum_Jennings Dog

The Cane Corso’s genealogy can be traced back to the Canis Pugnax, a Roman War Dog from the 1st Century. They would accompany their handler onto the battlefields where they would act as an unprecedented guardian.Cane Corso Sculpted

The tenaciousness of this dog was so extreme they were used in the arenas to fight against larger wild animals, just like the Molossus.

The Cane Corso spiked collars around their neck and ankles, made more dangerous by the large curved knives protruding from its ring. Sometimes they were starved before battle, then unleashed on the unsuspecting enemy.

The Corso was also an Auxilia Warrior in battles for the Romans. The story of the Cane Corso, aka Italian Mastiff, overlaps extraordinarily with the history of the Italic peoples in both splendor and misery.On Patrol

Cane Corso has maintained, through natural selection over the centuries, the closest possible contact with the environment and the roles which man has asked this companion to play.

The past of the Cane Corso is largely present and current, as if time just slipped away. From its ancestors, the Molossus and Canis Pugnax of Rome, the Corso had an aggressive and combative nature.

Its name derives from cane da corso, an old term for a catch dog used in rural activities with cattle and swine, boar hunting and bear fighting. Cane Corso were also used to guard property, livestock, and families, and some continue to be used for this purpose today.Cane Corso vs Bull

Historically it has also been used by night watchmen, keepers, and by carters and drovers. Its distribution was limited to some regions of Southern Italy, especially in BasilicataCampania, and Apulia.

The Cane Corso became excellent in interpreting human gestures through its extensive contact with humans. In small settlements in the south of Italy, the Corso has maintained an archaic system of agriculture and a multipurpose dog.Cane Corso Puppy

Not recommended for novice dog owners, Cane Corso puppies require strong leadership and consistent training. This made it a perfect dog for the Exercitus Romanus.

It’s funny that this breed was used for combat since the Corso are typically very docile and sweet in nature. Because of its training, though, Cane Corso would fight if provoked or in a protective manner.

Around the 1100’s the term Cane Corso began to be associated the light Molossian.Cane Corso

The fall of the Roman Empire predicated the fall of the Roman War Dog. However, this was not the end for this type of dog.

Unlike the Molossus which became extinct, the Cane Corso seemingly melted into the Italic landscape. While no longer the piriferi, the War Dog did find a home with the Italian country folk and with others across the world.

As long as there is warfare, “Man’s Best Friend” will always have a part in it. From scouting to sniffing out bombs to guard duty, War Dogs are simply a highly trained version of the dogs we have at home.Fun

Hopefully, even if you’re a cat person, you enjoyed reading about how dogs factored into Roman warfare. Check back soon to see what we have on deck.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

AelianOn the Nature of Animals.

Carosio, Renzo. Old World Cane Corso.

De Prisco, Andrew. The Mini-Atlas of Dog BreedsISBN 0-86622-091-7. 1990.

Di Munteanu, Corso. History of the Cane Corso.

Forster, E.S. Dogs In Ancient Warfare. Greece & Rome. (1941).

Greenhalgh, P.A.L. Early Greek Warfare: Horsemen and Chariots in the Homeric and Archaic Ages (Cambridge University Press, 1973, 2010).

Homan, Mike. A Complete History of Fighting DogsISBN 1-58245-128-1. 2000.

MHN. The Dogs of War — A Short History of Canines in Combat.

Morral, Timothy. History of the Pit Bull.

Newton, Tom. K-9 History: The Dogs of War! Hahn’s 50th AP K-9.

New York Times. Dogs of War in European Conflict; Egyptians and Romans Employed Them in Early Warfare — Battle Dogs in 4000 BC. February 21, 1915.

Stannard, David. American holocaust: the conquest of the New World.

The American Kennel Club. Get to Know the Cane Corso.