|Domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris)|
This ancient breed dates to 700 BC and is considered to be the ancestor (in rivalry with the Alaunt, the dog of the Alans) of today's Mastiff-type dogs and of many other modern breeds, and could weigh over 200 lbs. Mastiff-type dogs are often referred to as Molossus dogs or Molossers. It is one of the best-known breeds of antiquity; however, its function and physical characteristics are debated.
This large ancient breed was, along with the Tibetan Mastiff, an important ancestor of modern breeds such as the modern Molossus in Greece, the English Mastiff, Saint Bernard, Great Pyrenees, Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, Yugoslavian ?arplaninac, Afghan Shepherd and Bernese Mountain Dog and its most direct relative, the Molossus of Epirus.
Dogs were used by the Epirotan tribes in war, and were undoubtedly used much earlier in history. The Roman Empire, starting with Marcus Aurelius, also used dogs in combat. The Romans trained the Molossian dog specifically for battle, often coating them in protective spiked metal collars and mail armor, arranging them into attack formations.
Some scholars contend the Molossus was used by the Ancient Greeks for fighting. A Roman copy of a sculpture of a guard dog (known as the Jennings Dog) on display at the British Museum, is generally considered to represent a Molossus, which in turn is very similar to remaining breeds of livestock guardian dogs from Epirus, as well as from Europe and Central Asia.
Most scholars agree the Molossus originated with the Molossis people in the mountainous regions of ancient Epirus (part of modern Albania and Greece). The Molossians were renowned for their vicious hounds, used by Molossian shepherds in the mountains of Epirus to guard their flocks. The poet Grattius, perhaps 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."
The breed was native to ancient Epirus (present day Albania and Greece) and the Balkan region. It later spread to Italy, around the Mediterranean and across Europe. Virgil says the Ancient Greeks and Romans used the heavier Molossian dogs for hunting, to guard the home, and watch over livestock. "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." Aristotle mentions them in The History of Animals, praising their bravery and physical superiority.
Although this ancient breed is extinct, some breeders are looking to recreate the ancient Molossus by crossing existing molosser breeds. These "Molossus" pups from Italy can cost $5,000 each.