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the Souli mountains with Kiafa castle, a strong fort in a natural fortress setting

In “Dogs Monthly”, August 2001, and in his book “Mastiffs, the Big Game Hunters” Col. David Hancock writes about the Dog of Soulioton (of the Souliot people) referencing the testimony of lord Truro: “the German boarhounds were around 28 inches (71.12 cm) at the shoulder for the medieval hunt; the extra size came later from the Suliot [sic] Dogs introduced as Parade dogs for continental regiments. Lord Truro introduced one of these dogs to Britain: it was a huge hound. The Souli Mountains are in what was Molossia, an area famed for its giant hounds and fierce flock guardians. The pursuit of a giant dog led the German boarhound being bred with these Suliot Dogs” [see photo of Souliot type bitch with puppy from local strain of livestock guardian dogs still bred nearby in Northern Greece; very much a large boarhound in Irish wolfhound mould].


map of the Souli area in N. Greece

The molossian dog is well recorded by the ancient Greeks who described two forms: the huge shepherd’s dog or flock guardian, usually white [photograph of Greek White Sheepdog, native LGD breed nationally recognised by the Kennel Club of Greece], and a giant hound, sometimes referred to as the Suliot Dog, from Epirus. The heavy hounds, or dogues, used in boar hunting to close with the quarry and ‘hold’ it, as opposed to just pursuing it, they called ‘Indian dogs’, linking them with Hyrcania, near the Caspian Sea. The holding or gripping dogs are the true mastiffs, with both the words Fila and Perro de Presa in breed titles translating as ‘seizing, gripping or holding’. In Germany in the 19th century, German regiments patronised parade-dogs at their head, rather as the Irish Guards favour the Irish Wolfhound as a regimental emblem. These were boarhounds with their stature increased by the blood of Suliot Dogs, used as outpost sentries in the eastern campaigns. Boarhounds were usually around two feet at the withers in the central European hunt, not truly giant.” [two feet  60 cm. The Bullenbeissers were medium (Danzig type) to small (Brabant type) dogs.].


depiction of Cerberus from the Pergamon altar

“The Rev.M.B.Wynn, in his ‘the History of the Mastiff’ of 1886, writes: “…readers and translators should be very guarded how they render molossus as a mastiff, for the true molossian was an erect-eared (altas aure) slate coloured (glauci) or fawn (fulvus) swift footed…dog, identical or almost so, with the modern Suliot boarhound.” [see image upper right] This is a significant statement coming from such a mastiff devotee. Hamilton-Smith, writing at the end of the last century stated that Great Danes were most likely the true Molossian hound of antiquity. Interestingly, he also states that Caelius and others refer to a race of blue or slate-coloured Molossi (Glauci Molossi). The strangely under-rated American writer, James Watson, in his masterly “The Dog Book” of 1906, writes on the Great Dane: “As to the origin of the dog there is not the slightest doubt whatever that it is the true descendant of the Molossian dog.”


Hercules capturing Cerberus. Louvre museum Cerberus was the monstrous dog of Hades, lord of the underworld in Greek mythology. It’s no coincidence that from the Souli mountains springs Acheron, the river connecting the world of the living with that of the dead. The legend of Cerberus likely started there, inspired by the ferocious and gigantic Molossian dogs who swiftly dispatched the adversary to Hades.


the source of Acheron river in the Souli mountains, at an altitude of 1600 meters, near Glyki.

Hancock continues: “I support that; the ancient Greeks always referred to the mastifflike dogs as ‘Indian’ dogs coming from the east, linking them with Hyrcania up near the Caspian Sea. The Molossian dog took two forms, a flock guardian, rather like today’s Maremma or the Kuvasz, and a huge hound. The latter emerged again at the end of the last century in the form of the Suliot Dog, named after the Suli area of what was Molossia, imported into Central Europe and sometimes seen as the mascots  of famous regiments. Lord Truro had one; most admirers called it a boarhound. In his ‘Dogs and their Ways’ of 1863, the Rev. Charles Williams relates that: “Colonel Smith saw one at Brussels, marching at the head of the Regiment of Clairfait, and another at that of Bender, both little inferior to Shetland ponies.” (source)

note: Bender was Colonel-Proprietor of the Austrian Infantry Regiment N°41 from 21.10.1778 to 20.11.1798. He was appointed Commanding General of the Austrian Netherlands. In late November 1790 he marched into Brussels with 30,000 men and in a few weeks secured Belgium  for the return of Duke Albert of Teschen as supreme governor. This was perhaps the occasion mentioned above, when Col. Smith saw the dogs marching in Brussels at the head of the infantry regiments. Walloon Austrian General Clerfait, born in the Netherlands, had defeated the Turks in Romania, at Mehadia & at Calafat on the Danube (1790) and in 1792 defeated the French in the Netherlands. Although he was the Commander of the entire army from 1792, in 1775 he had received the proprietorship of the Walloon Austrian Infantry Regiment N°9 which, being Walloon himself, he kept until his death. These events have taken place after the Austro-Russian-Turkish war of 1735 – ’39 and contemporary to the Austro-Turkish war of 1787-91 & the concurrent Russo-Turkish war of 1787-’92. During these numerous encounters and military campaigns it is quite plausible that many dogs changed hands and were taken to Austria, Germany and Russia as spoils of war and magnificent symbols of victory in battles against the Ottoman Empire. 

The Countess of Blessington in Ireland was presented with a giant Suliot Dog by the King of Naples. Lady Blessington was one of the Powers of Kilfane, who at one time were the only people who patronised the Irish Wolfhound. Suliot Dogs came from Epirus in Greece, location of the Molossian people, and were giant hounds, used as outpost sentries in the Austrian Army and as ‘parade dogs’ or mascots of German regiments. They were used to give added stature to German boarhounds (the hunting dogs being nearer to 26 inches at the shoulder than the 30 inches minimum of today’s Great Danes). Lady Blessington’s Suliot Dog is likely to have been used as a sire at Kilfane; it was an imposing specimen. (source)

“Richardson had a number of bitches, and by using Lady Blessington’s (née Sally Power of Kilfane) hound, produced dogs of great size and quality. Capt. H. D. Richardson wrote in the Irish Penny Journal of May 1841, an article on the Irish Wolfdog […]. Richardson’s opinions have great impact on wolfhound type as we know it today, and he was profoundly influential on Captain Graham” (from The History and Development of the Irish Wolfhound by A. Killykeen-Doyle). We know that Great Danes were used in the revival of the Irish Wolfhound, but Great Danes at the time were interchangeably known as “boarhounds” and it is a reasonable hypothesis that some of these boarhounds acquired from Europe could have in fact been Souliot Dogs or their descendants. It is recorded by Killykeen- Doyle above that “Richardson had a number of bitches, and by using Lady Blessington’s (née Sally Power of Kilfane) hound, produced dogs of great size and quality”. Was this “hound” actually the Suliot dog given to the Countess of Blessington by the Kind of Naples? According to her biography the Countess and her family traveled to Naples several times between 1823 and 1826. The King at the time of her first travel was Ferdinand IV, whose palace includes the magnificent fountain of Diana and Actaeon (see below) featuring some of the best representations of both types of the Molossian hounds in art. The artist was perhaps portraying dogs owned by the King or known to him from other studies in the region. The area of Naples [ancient Greek city of Neápolis (Νεάπολις = New City) founded in the second millennium BC] and Sicily had a very strong Greek element continuously since the ancient times to this day; it is to Naples that some of the displaced Souliotes fled to when their homeland was finally sacked by the Ottomans (see further down); Naples is where the Neapolitan mastiff was ‘discovered’; ancient Greek landraces and types of livestock guardians and hounds have been ‘transplanted’ throughout South Italy and Sicily since antiquity.

Another very interesting link between the Irish countess and Greece was her friendship with Lord Byron, who himself had travelled to Epirus previously, in 1809/10 (at the time the Pashalik of Yanina, which included Epirus, most of Albania and the western portions of Thessaly and Greek Macedonia) accompanied by his friend John Hobhouse (whose recollections from the journey we visit further on); the Countess was introduced to Byron in Genoa where he was living at the time and it’s fair to say they were fascinated by each other; “he burst into tears during their farewell” and she published her famous “Conversations of Lord Byron” in 1836; the Blessingtons left for Naples and the poet left for Greece, where he joined the struggle for independence in earnest and met his untimely death, at Missologhi, in 1824. Byron was known for his love of dogs and in particular Newfoundlands (although his were quite different than Newfoundlands of today). There is an engraving with his second ‘newfoundland’ Lyon in Missolonghi, on the year of his death; it may indeed have been a Newfounland dog – or it might have been presumed to be a Newfoundland dog because Byron previously owned a Newfoundland (Boatswain, who perished in 1808 and the subject of his famous poem ‘Epitaph to a Dog’), and he also received a Newfoundland as a present in 1823, from someone in Italy; mutually – contradicting information exists about this dog, if it was called Lyon or Neptune for example; other sources record that Byron took two of his dogs with him to Greece, the presumed Newfoundland and an “Italian bulldog” (proto-Mastino or Corso?) called Moretto; there is no definite information to confirm that the other dog was indeed a pure-bred Newfoundland; if it was the dog in the engraving it looked like a Newfoundland; but it also looked very much like a huge Molossian dog of the LGD mountain type that could have been acquired locally; this particular type of LGD still exists in Greece today, and is predominantly black or black with white markings; there is also a strain of Epirotic LGDs that are predominately black and differ in type from the recognised variety of the Molossus of Epirus. A very good example is pictured below. (This type, neglected by the Kennel Club of Greece, just like the Souliot, is now being standardised with an admixture of various Balkan LGD phenotypes in the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia under the name Karaman or Macedonian Shepherd, although there is also a livestock guardian landrace under this name in the Karaman province of modern Turkey… just to add a bit more confusion!)  


So, I wonder: was it Byron who first excited the Irish lady about Souliot dogs with his recollections from his journeys in Epirus, and thus initiated her interest, which resulted in her receiving one such dog as a present from the King of Naples? we’ll never know, perhaps, unless some evidence comes to the surface, but it’s possible; I intend to visit the seat of the family in Kilfane and try to find out more; but here is another fascinating twist in the story; I would love to know the exact date and circumstances that are associated with this very interesting

Berlin woolwork of a boy and Lord Byron’s dogs“.

Lord Byrons dogs

The smaller dog on the right could be either a ‘newfoundland’ or a Greek livestock guardian type (compare with this dog), which in itself is interesting – but then turn your eye to the very large dog on the left: it looks very much like a Souliot dog, does it not? And the picture was made, of all places, in Berlin, Germany – where the Souliot dogs were  reportedly transported and generically designated ‘boar hounds’… before they later went into the meltingpot, with others, to become the Grand Dogues of the German Nation; another coincidence? The more one looks, and digs deeper, the more and more such “coincidences” and connections appear… 

Still on the subject of Irish connections, it’s interesting to look at some old photographs and illustrations of Irish hounds that look quite different than the Irish Wolfhound we are familiar with today, and some of them as we know had been European imports of ‘boarhounds’ or Great Danes or indeed even, perhaps, Souliot (Epirotic) dogs. Especially the first illustration on this page and the engravings are of particular interest. The “Nemet Dog” in this other page is none other than Cedric The Saxon, the British-owned Great Dane of Mr. Thornton’s that was exhibited in 1885 at the first Club show, and who sired, among others, Hecla, out of a mainly Deerhound dam; “The Irish Wolf-dog by W.P. Smith, 1835”, on the same page, looks decidedly greyhound in type, while the very Dane-like and smooth-coated Cheevra was indeed Cedric The Saxon’s granddaughter and a very important dam who contributed no less than 74 (!) puppies to the Irish Wolfhound’s resurrection. Yet, let’s continue with Hancock: 

“But breed researchers seem to miss such important information so easily available to them. Why have Great Dane researchers not recorded the use of the blood of the Suliot dog in their breed? [why indeed] In 1863, the Rev. Charles Williams was observing that Lord Truro had one, brought from Germany, which he described as a boar-hound. He went on to state (using Colonel Hamilton Smith’s research) that in the war between the Austrians and the Turks, the Moslem soldiers employed them to guard outposts. Many were captured by the Imperial forces and taken to what is now Germany. Colonel Smith saw them ‘marching’ in Brussels  as mascots to regiments, describing them as roughly Shetland pony size and resembling “the Danish dog”. One giant specimen was presented to the King of Naples“. So either these particular “boar hounds” were native German or they were indeed taken from the Ottomans, in which case the boar – hound was not entirely German, if you follow my train of thought…yet it lost its original name and geographical designation, once it became German property; now where have seen that before? oh yes, the same happened with Danish dogs… and the same happened with Greek dogs, when their native land became the property of the Ottoman Empire… the Souliot name was not completely erased from history, thanks to some pesky British authors, but every other Greek or Kurdish or Armenian breed in Asia Minor and the former Byzantine Empire became, well, Turkish, such as the Anatolian or Kangal – and its links to the Molossians and previous ancestors forgotten or removed from the ‘official’ histories. The same thing happens again and again every time – conqueror’s spoils… Similar for example is the quite modern case of the Central Asian landraces that became Soviet and subsequently Russian. Of course prior to all that dogs were landraces naturally evolved; and before that they were the ancestral species and emerged in the Far East and/or Europe long before modern states; so how far back does a breed histoty ‘begin’ if we are to include its ancestors in our research? the national identity does not really apply to old breeds that have histories spanning many centuries or even millennia and transcend the ever-changing borders; it can only really apply to the modern part of those breed histories that relates to the time when they were transformed from landraces to pedigree breeds; or, it’s applicable to recently man-made breeds that were exclusively developed within defined territories belonging to specific countries and at specific historical periods. Our breed with its very rich, widespread and colorful history, is not one of those purely ‘National breeds’, whatever the modern books might say to the contrary and whatever specific or arbitrary ‘nationality’ the Kennel Clubs, for their own practical convenience or national affiliation and servitude, choose to ascribe to it. 


“Suli” (sic) by Edward Lear, who visited Greece between 1848-1849

“The Suliots were the inhabitants of the Suli mountains in Epirus, a people of Greek-Albanian origin. This area of Epirus was occupied by the Molossii [sic] whose dogs have long been associated with the short-faced or mastiff-type dogs. It is my view that far too much is made of the Molossian dog or Molossers as ancestors of the mastiff group. The Molossii were famous for their big hounds and huge flock guarding dogs. The Greeks themselves admired the huge tough “Indian” dogs, the type made famous by the Assyrians. I support the perhaps oversimplified summary of “Celts and Cretans for scenthounds, Arabs for sighthounds and mastiffs from Tartary“, Hancock continues.

and elsewhere:

Wynn, the acknowledged Mastiff expert of the 19th century, wrote: “Many good dogs are only 28 or 29 inches.” The introduction of outside blood in any breed has long-lasting effects. When working and living in Germany on three separate occasions and researching the Great Dane there, it was apparent that boarhounds in the medieval hunt were around two feet at the shoulder. It was the introduction of Suliot Dog blood, giant hounds from Epirus, used as outpost sentries in the Austrian army and as parade dogs by German regiments, which raised the height of the German boarhound.” (source) he concludes. And we leave Hancock for now, to continue our study with the help of other sources, that this meticulous Dog historian, and others, have so diligently recorded and pointed out to us. 


a young male of Souliot type in Greece. The height of the table is 75 cm (30 in)

FromDogs the Ultimate Dictionary of over 1000 Dog Breeds“, Desmond Morris, 2001, Random House UK, page 618: “Also known as the Suliot Boarhound, this extinct breed was employed as a property guard and, during wartime, as a protector of military outposts. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Suliots were a tribe inhabiting the mountains near Parga in what is now the extreme north-western corner of modern Greece, and this dog was their impressive guardian. It was a local form of the ancestors of the breed which today we call the Great Dane. Described as ‘ full in mouth, fierce, coarse in aspect and rugged in coat’ this huge guard dog is reputed to have been the largest canine that ever existed, standing 4ft (121 cm) tall. As a guard dog, its ears were traditionally cropped. Writing on the history of the mastiff in 1886, M.B.Wynn comments: ‘…the true Molosser…identical or almost so, with the modern Suliot Boarhound’ “.

From the Naturalist’s Library, 1840, by Sir William Jardine (source) :

“The Chaonian [Chaonia being the NW part of Epirus], no doubt, had also a mixed origin, or were a domesticated race of Chaontes, or Chrysean [golden] wild dogs, allied to the Molossian, which race was a broad-mouthed breed, and therefore connected with the drover, or watch-dog, but not with the bull-dog or mastiff; for that kind was unknown, until the march of Alexander made Greece acquainted with it. The Chaonian is most likely still to be seen in the great watch-dogs of Epirus, and even in the race of Asia Minor [A/N: the Anatolian LGD breeds].

Caelius and others advert, however, to a race of blue, or slate-coloured Molossi (Glauci Molossi), not highly esteemed by the sportsmen of antiquity; which, nevertheless, we are inclined to consider as the sources of the French Matin, so unphilosophically represented by Buffon as one of the great progenitor breeds of dogs, though it is only an inferior descendant of what is now called the great Danish dog, or, more properly, the great house-dog [Lager Hund = stock dog] of the northern German nations. This race was anciently of an iron-blue colour, and approached, in the form of the mouth, the present Suliot dogs. The Molossi, unlike bull-dogs, who seldom, if ever, give tongue, were prone to barking.  Virgil styles the race Acer Molossus. Nimesianus speaks of rural Molossi. The present breed of the Morea still retains its ancient characters, and is not of mastiff form. […]  and the Romans, servile copiers of Greek ideas, applied the same name of Molossian to the British bull-dog, when they became acquainted with it. [and there you have the root of the molosser malarkey]. 


the bluish color is still characteristic of the Souliot landrace.

The Arcadian dogs, Leonicii Leontomiges [lion-mixed], said to be sprung from lions, show an approach to mastiffs, only that they were not with drooping ears; for Megasthenes, being, we believe, the most ancient writer who notices that peculiarity, would scarcely have mentioned it as such in Persia, if it had been known among any breed of dogs in Greece […] (and yet it was, as we see here , here & here).

Among the breeds of dogs known to the classical writers of antiquity, by report more than by personal information, was that styled Elymaean. It seems to have belonged to the Elymaei, a tribe of the deserts bordering on Bactria and Hircania, but to have extended as far as Egypt ; for it is depicted on the monuments of Thebes. Cirino [Cyriac of Ancona, Greek], and the commentator on Fracastors Alcon, show the probability, that from this name arose the modern appellation of Lyemer, in French, Limier, applied to the blood-hound, because it was formerly used to track game, such as wild boar, etc, through the forest, until the huntsman, who held it by a length named lyemme, or leash, came upon the lair of the animal […]

Of the Indici, or Indian dogs, by Aristotle reported to be a hybrid race between the dog and tiger, we may conjecture, as this intermixture is physiologically inadmissible, that the Greek philosopher trusted reports conveyed to him from the east, and originating either in the love of the marvelous, which oriental nations constantly betray, or in the misapprehension of terms used in the description of the spotted, or brindled parent animal, by the Greeks understood to be a tiger or a panther; when the words of the natives, which conveyed this idea, may have confounded the hunting-leopard with a brindled canine of the woods, such as the Lyciscus tigris, we have already noticed ; or a species of Lycaon (Canis pictus), of central Asia, now lost by absorption in the mastiff race; or in abroad-mouthed spotted, or brindled dog, nearly allied to it, then called the Lybian Matagonian, and formerly also about the temples of Ceylon; for this was likewise pretended to be a crossed race with a wild beast. Several other races of dogs are mentioned by the Greek classical writers of antiquity; but we know little more of them than their names, and with what breeds it was recommended to cross them. But the cattle, and shepherd-dogs, equally valuable in hunting and in watching flocks, are described as by far the largest and most useful. In this race was intermixed the blood of the Chaon, already noticed. […]  They were of the same kind as the Epirotic Molossi, and most likely the progenitors of the subsequent western boar-hounds.



Canis Haitensis, H. Smith.

The specimen from which the figure and the following description were taken, was brought to Spanish-Town, Jamaica, by a French officer taken prisoner when General le Clerc’s army endeavoured to escape from the victorious progress of the negroes [sic].

The owner described it to be a wild hound, of the race formerly used by the Spaniards for their conquests in the western hemisphere, when they were trained like blood- hounds ; and a breed of them having been lost in the woods of Haiti, had there resumed its original wild state, continuing for several ages to live independent, and occasionally committing great depredations upon the stock of the graziers. The individual was obtained from the vicinity of Samana Bay, among others purchased from the Spanish colonists, for the odious purpose of hunting the French negro people, which at that time refused to return to slavery, after, by a national decree of France, their liberty had been by law established. The dog was of such an aspect, as at first sight to strike the attention. In stature, he was at least equal to the largest Scottish or Russian greyhound, or about twenty-eight inches high at the shoulder, with the head shaped like the wirehaired terrier ; large light brown eyes ; small ears, pointed, and only slightly bent down at the tips ; the neck long and full ; the chest very deep ; the croup slightly arched; the limbs muscular, but light, and the tail not reaching to the tarsus, scantily furnished with long dark hair ; the muzzle was black, as well as the eyelids, lips, and the whole hide ; but his colour was an uniform pale blue-ash, the hair being short, scanty, coarse, and apparently without a woolly fur beneath. On the lips, inside of the ears, and above the eyes, there was some whitish-grey ; and the back of the ears was dark slate colour. The look and motions of this animal at once told consciousness of superiority. As he passed down the streets all the house curs slunk away; when within our lodging, the family dog had disappeared, although he had neither growled or barked. His master said he was inoffensive, but requested he might not be touched. The hair, from the ridge of the nose, feathered to the right and left over the eyes, forming two ciliated arches, and the brows appeared very prominent. We were assured, that he followed a human track, or any scent he was laid on, with silence and great rapidity; but, unlike the common blood-hound, when he came upon his quarry, it was impossible to prevent his attacking and seizing his victim. According to the owner, who, it seemed, was the person the government had employed to purchase these dogs, the Spanish graziers were equally anxious to destroy all the old dogs of the breed they could find in the country, and to secure all the young for domestication ; because, when bred up on the farms, they were .excellent guardians of the live stock, defending them equally against their own breed, and human thieves ; and, as they attacked with little warning, strangers could not easily conciliate them by any manoeuvres.

Plate I Feral dog of St Domingo

We think this to be the race of St. Domingo greyhounds indistinctly mentioned by Buffon. We saw another specimen, evidently of the same race, but belonging to the northern states of South America, brought by a Spanish cattle-dealer to the port of Kingston ; the animal was of inferior stature, though still a large dog. The head appeared broader at the muzzle, the back flatter, and the hair was longer, coarser, more shaggy, and of a dark blackish ash, without any spot. A third, likewise blackish ash, came from Cuba ; but neither of the last had the greyhound lurcher aspect, but seemed to have a cross of the Spanish common cattle-dog. Portraits of these kind of dogs occur in some of the Spanish old masters ; and, considering the evident resemblance they bear to the old northern Danish dog, it may be conjectured that the race was originally, brought to Spain by the Suevi and Alans, and afterwards carried to the New World for the purposes of war. There is also in Mexico a small feral dog ; but the accounts hitherto received are so obscure, that we shall defer to notice it until we describe the Alco. But, on the Pampas of South America, there are numerous troops of Perros zimarrones, or feral dogs, having the undetermined form of the mixture of all the breeds that have been imported from Europe, and thus assuming the shape of cur-dogs, or of a primitive species. They have the ears erect, or the tips but slightly bent forward. They are bold, sagacious ; not hostile to man, but destructive to the calves and foals of the wild herds. When taken very young, they may be tamed ; but, when old, they are totally irreclaimable. They hunt singly, or in troops ; burrow in the open country ;and, when redomesticated, they are distinguished for their superior courage and acuter senses.”

Compare the above “Cubam bloodhound” with this harlequin, which I believe could be one of the Great Danes used in the creation of the Dogo Argentino. Very similar in head type: 


Jardine continues: “The Great Wolf-dog is not common in central Europe; and appears at present almost confined to Spain, where, no doubt, it was introduced by the Goths. It is a large race, little inferior to the mastiff, with a pointed nose, erect ears, a long silky coat, and a very bushy, or rather feathery tail, curled over the back. In colour it is mostly white, with great clouds of fulvous, or brown. The account given by Olaus Magnus shows, that in his time this variety abounded in the north of Sweden and Norway. [a Pyrenean Mountain dog type? ]

The Molossian and Spartan dogs are described (Hughes‘s Travels in Greece, Vol. i. p. 484) to vary in colour through different shades, from dark brown to bright dun, their long fur being very soft, thick, and glossy. In size they are equal to an English mastiff. They have a long nose ; delicate ears, finely pointed ; magnificent tail ; legs of a moderate length; with a body nicely rounded, and compact. There seems reason to think, that these four-footed tenants of Greece have preserved their pedigree unimpaired ; as they possess all that strength, swiftness, sagacity, and fidelity, which are ascribed to them by the ancient authors. Hence, it would seem, that the Spartan and Molossian were of the same breed, or, at least, held in equal estimation. We are, however, told by Ulisius, that the Spartan were totally degenerated in his time, while the Molossian remained in their pristine rigour.

Fountain of Diana & Actaeon

The Fountain of Diana & Actaeon in the Palace of Caserta, South Italy, the seat of the Kind of Naples, depicts the Molossian, sighthounds, drop-eared scenthounds and gazehounds.

source for larger image

THE WATCH-DOGS. The Canes laniarii.

We might now proceed with the greyhound race, so nearly allied to the wolf-dogs, but that, geographically, there lies between them another of the same great family, distinguished by short hair, and a nose somewhat more widened ; still, upon comparing the skulls, their close resemblance to that of the wolf is undeniable. The race we have now before us occupying a zone of the northern hemisphere, more temperate than the former, and extending from the east of Asia to the west of Europe, with a few straggling even to Africa and Mexico. We are inclined to consider them as originally descended from our Lysiscan group, and the same whence the very different names of Chao, Caow, Kύων, Coo, [Cu in Irish] and, finally, our word Cur are derived. The typical colour of this tribe of dogs is rufous, and their aberrant, the mixture of it with black and white, or the fusion of them into bluish-grey. Great Britain having, from the remotest period, other valuable races of dogs, seems never to have fostered the large breeds, unless the ancient slow-hound, parent of the Manchester and southern dogs, were of this group, before, by crossing with real hounds, it assumed their characters. It is in this tribe that some of the largest and fiercest dogs of antiquity should be sought; and that where the southern nations have found their Matin, or Mastino, which the English have improperly transferred to our original great bull-dog, by altering it into mastiff, and the Germans name Bauerhund, or farm-dog. Although, doubtless, some intermixture of the mastiff race may be believed to have occurred in the breeds known by the ancients in the north and east of Greece, it is probable that the Epirotic, Molossian, Chaonian, Hircanian, Albanian, and Iberian dogs, were at least partially of the present group.

Such were also those of the Cymbers, and, in general, of the colonizing nations during their movement towards the west. Hence, we find, that in several European languages, this tribe is confounded with the mastiff called Alan and Alano, because that people may have reared a remarkable breed of them. The dogs of this group are possessed of less sagacity than the former; they are much less docile, have considerable courage, are watchful and noisy, and therefore are chiefly intrusted with the care of cattle, the property of the farms and of the humbler classes, and thence are so greatly crossed by all kinds of races, that they are the chief parents of the mongrel dogs of the west.

More ‘Cuban bloodhounds : in Spain a dog of this type would be called ‘Alano’, while it is obviously a boarhound/Great Dane type. 

Chasseur and Cuba Bloodhounds


see also Dogo Cubano

Beginning with those that appear to approximate most closely to the original type, we find the Turkmen Watch-dog. This is a large, rugged, and fierce race, equalling the wolf in stature, shaped like the Irish greyhound, and with equally powerful jaws ; the ears are erect, the tail rather hairy, their colour a deep yellowish-red, and so like a Natolian wolf, that a friend being present, in Asia Minor, at a wolf hunt, allowed one to pass out of a brake, because he mistook him for one of the Turkmen dogs, and his Greek guide called out Lyke (wolves) ! when it was too late to fire. There are among them a few white and black, evidently crossed-dogs from another origin. This race extends wherever the Turk men, or Toorkee people reside, from central high Asia to the Bosphorus, and is everywhere employed to guard their tents and cattle. We believe it is also in similar use among the Kurds; and, in a former article, it appeared, that in the mountains north of the Mekran, and west of the Indus, dogs of this description were likewise the guardians of the peasantry. (çoban köpeği, Anatolian flock guardian dog)


The Suliot Dog is one of the largest breeds known, and is most likely the true Molossian of antiquity. It is fuller in the mouth, fierce, coarse in aspect, and rugged in fur. We never saw any that had not the ears cropped, and the tail rough, with straggling hair; they were tan coloured, with dark brown or blackish surfaces on the back, shoulders, and about the ears.

In the last war between Austria and the Turks, the Moslem soldiers employed many to guard their outposts; and, in the course of the campaigns, a great many were captured by the Imperial forces, and secured by the officers as private property, or adopted by the corps as regimental pets. One of these was presented to the King of Naples, and was reputed to be the largest dog in the world, being little less than four feet high at the shoulder. We saw one at Brussels, marching at the head of the regiment of Clerfayt, and another belonging to that of Bender, both little inferior to Shetland ponies.

Their cars were cropped, but the head more nearly resembled that of a large Danish dog than a mastiff ; the hair was rugged whitish beneath, but buff, rufous, and black, from the eyes to the tail, much resembling the wolf in colour and hardness.

The watch-dogs of Hungary, eastern and southern Germany, partake of the above characters, but are of smaller size ; the ears small, turned downwards, and villous. They were formerly used in boarhunting, and are figured by Redinger [Ridinger] under the name of Sau-ruden. Canis sullus of Gmellin [sic; Canis Suillus of Gmelin].


Molossian LGD, Suliot type.

THE DANISH DOGCanis glaucus, Nob.

In western Russia, Denmark, and northern Germany, this variety of the great cur race is found ; it differs from the foregoing in being smoother, the forehead round, the ears short, partially drooping, and the colour, in general, a light slaty-blue, with some white about the mouth, breast and limbs.

It is a tall and very handsome dog, but, for want of attention, is very often partially disfigured by crossings of more degraded races ; yet, when we refer to the feral dog of St. Domingo, so nearly allied to the Dane in form, stature, and colour, and reflect, that originally it was imported by Spaniards from Europe, we may be justified in assuming, that the same race existed in Spain, and was first carried thither by the conquering Goths, or Suevi. In Sweden, the Danish dog was formerly used in couples to support a smaller breed of hounds, called Elk-finders, in the chace of that powerful animal, to retard it until the horse men came up, or to drive it in the direction where the rifle-shots were posted. There is a good figure of this variety in Buffon’s quarto edition.

The Drover, or Cattle-dog of Cuba and Terra Firma, in America, we have seen in great numbers, and they perform a service which those of their tribe in Europe are scarcely fit for. We have often witnessed, when vessels with live stock arrive in our West India colonies, and the oxen are hoisted out by a sling passed round the base of their horns, the great assistance they afford to bring them to land. For, when the ox first suspended by the head is lowered, and allowed to fall into the water, men generally swim and guide it by the horns ; but, at other times, this service is performed by one or two dogs, who, catching the bewildered animal by the ears, one on each side, force it to swim in the direction of the landing place, and instantly release their hold when they feel it touches the ground ; for then the beast naturally walks up to the shore.

These dogs have the form of the Dane, and the colours of a wolf, with a long truncated tail, and generally a black spot over each eye, covering their small half pendulous ears; their eyes are small, very bright, and the hair is rugged. There are some equal to mastiffs in bulk and bone ; but it is likely that they are a cross with the Cuba breed of that race. We regard this breed as the continuous domesticated animal, of which the feral of St. Domingo is the wild representative, and both as imported from Spain.

Section II.—Canes Laniarii. The Watch and Cattle Dogs.

Skulls very like the former (the Wolf Dogs); stature mostly large, some very large ; fur short ; instinct of watching ; hunt ; bold ; moderate sagacity ; moderate powers of smelling; not very docile ; ears erect or partly turned down. Inhabited originally the temperate zone of the northern hemisphere.


Canis…………     Turkman Watch-dog

Canis Suillus, … Suliot Watch and Boar-hound.

…………………         Molossian Dog.

Canis (Glaucus),…  The Danish Dog.

Canis laniarius…   The Matin Dog.

…………………        The Cattle Dog of Cuba.

Section III.— Canes Venatici, Grayii. The Greyhounds.

Skulls like the former, but the plane of the head more rectilinear ; stature high ; chest deep ; loins arched ; abdomen drawn up ; tail long, slender, in the original breeds only fringed ; ears small, pointed, mostly turned back and down ; small powers of scent ; little sagacity ; little personal attachment ; great swiftness ; hunt by the sight ; livery black, white, and slaty. Inhabited originally the temperate and warm zones of the northern hemisphere in the old world, to the tropics.

Races with long fur:

The Brinjaree Dog of India.

The Persian Greyhound.

The Arabian Bedoueen.

Canis hirsutus, The Russian and Tartar Greyhound.

  1. Scoticus, The Scottish Greyhound.
  2. Hibernian,. The Irish Hound (largest of all).
  3. Graius, The Greek Greyhound. “

Photo 34

The Greek Sighthound, one of the probable ancestors of the Suliot Hound

for the readers’ amusement, and my own, here’s some more obsolete canis lupus familiaris nomenclature:

from Edward Wotton, 1552 (Oxoniensis De differentiis animalium libri decem)

  • Canis Medus
  • Canis Melitensis
  • Canis Meliteus
  • Canis Menelais
  • Canis Molossicus
  • Canis Petronius
  • Canis Perseus
  • Canis Salentinus
  • Canis Seres
  • Canis Sicamber
  • Canis Tuscus
  • Canis Umber

and some more  🙂

From : The Boxer – Complete Information On The History, Development, Characteristics, Breeding, Feeding, Care And Management, by John P. Wagner (1939)

Wagner quotes John E. L. Riedinger [Ridinger] of Augsburg (1698-1767):
“The main portion of most old time German hunting packs were made up of coarse haired, big dogs with bush tails and wolfish heads called ‘Ruden.‘ They were supplied to the courts by the peasants in immense numbers and suffered great losses at every hunt, therefore no particular pains were taken to breed them. The Doggen and Bullenbeisser, however, knew instinctively how to tackle the game from behind and hold it in a way that kept them from serious injury yet gave the hunters time to reach the kill therefore they were more valuable to the hunt and were accordingly highly prized and painstakingly bred.” (Wagner, 1950, p. 27) [and that’s what I was referring to, writing about specialized boarhounds, in my previous post].




LONDON 1845.


Colonel H. Smith, who, in his “Introductory Remarks”, states that the Molossian dog is most probably the source of the French mátin, subsequently introduces to our notice a dog which he terms a Suliot dog, and which, he says, “is most likely the true Molossian of antiquity.” It is one of the largest breeds known; fierce, coarse in aspect, rugged in fur, but nearly resembling that of the large Danish dog. “We never,” he continues, “saw any that had not the ears cropped, and the tail rough with straggling hair; they were tan-coloured, with dark brown or blackish surfaces on the back and shoulders and about the ears. In the last war between Austria and the Türks, the Moslem soldiers employed many to their outposts; and in the course of the campaigns a great many were captured by the Imperial forces, and secured by the officers as private property, or adopted by the corps as regimental pets. One of these was presented to. the King of Naples, and was reputed to be the largest dog in the world, being little less than four feet high at the shoulder. We saw one at Brussels marching at the head of the regiment of Clerfayt, and another belonging to that of Bender, both little inferior to Shetland ponies.”

old watermill

the old watermill at the source of Acheron river, Souli (source)

The learned writer does not tell why he terms these Suliot dogs. Suli is a district of Southern Albania, about thirty miles in length and twenty miles in breadth; whereas it is very likely that these dogs are natives of the region north of the Balkan, to Wallachia. In fact he subsequently identifies this dog with the watch-dogs of Hungary (which differ principally in their smaller size) and also of Southern Hungary, and regards the boarhounds (Canis Suillus, Gmel.) figured by Redinger [Ridinger] as the same. We have already expressed an opinion that the old boar-hounds of Germany, if we are to trust to the figures given by artists, are between the Danish and the old rough greyhound. [I think here Martin is misrepresenting or perhaps misunderstood Smith, thinking that the latter identified the rough Sauruden and the Hungarian dogs as ‘boarhounds’  of Souliot or Dane type, which clearly is not the case]. 

Colonel H.Smith regards the Molossian race of antiquity as identical with the Danish dog, or great house-dog of the northern German nations. The molossi were slate-coloured dogs (glauci) and prone to barking. We are not so sure of this identity. The term molossus seems to have been very vaguely employed. Nor does it appear that the molossus of the Greeks or Romans was obtained from the German tribes, whose dogs were used in battle, and were renowned for courage. [here again Martin made a mistake, thinking that Smith implied that the Greek or Roman Molossians were acquired from the Germans, when in fact it’s the other way around].

Albania and Epirus were in former times noted for a noble race of dogs: now the Chaonian and Molossian, breeds were anciently from Epirus; but the question is, what were these breeds?—certainly not mastiffs. Were they, as Colonel H. Smith contends, identical with the great Danish dog and mátin? We are not prepared to say.

In his road from Arta to Joännina, Mr. Hobhouse noticed a breed of dogs, not unlike the true shepherd breed in England, but much larger, being nearly as big as mastiffs, with sharper heads, and more curled and bushy tails. Are not these descendants of the old Chaonian or Molossian race?


Suliot boarhound type

Among the more celebrated breeds of great antiquity were the Chaonian and the Molossian: the former, a large kind of dog of a wolfish aspect, and said to be of wolfish origin; the latter, of which its fabulous creation in bronze by Vulcan, and its animation by Jupiter, is humorously described by M. Elzéar Blaze, appears to have been used both for hunting and as a guard. Virgil styles it acer Molossus, and Lucretius notices its resounding bark. Most of this breed were of a slate colour. In later days the mastiff or bulldog was called Molossian; but the ancient acer Molossus was distinct and very different. There was a race of Arcadian dogs, said to be descended from lions, probably from the circumstance of their being large and powerful. Certain Spartan and Laconian races, termed Alopecides and Castorides, were said to be of a mixed breed between the dog and fox. There was besides a race of dogs called Cypseli, or footless, perhaps very swift greyhounds. Aristotle alludes to a hybrid race of Indian dogs, between the dog and tiger. This, if not a large brindled dog, may have been a cheetah or hunting leopard; but it does not appear that this animal, whatever it might have been, was introduced into Greece, and the same observation applies to the Elymaean hound. The breeds of Greece, as in all countries, though at first distinct, would soon produce numerous mixed races, varying in size, colour, and other qualities; and to these the Romans, as they extended their empire, added from time to time, carefully selecting from other countries the most courageous and powerful, both for the pursuit of game and the sanguinary combats of the amphitheatre.


Molossus of Epirus, LGD  Mountain type

With respect to the mastiff race, it would appear that Alexander the Great first made it known in Greece, having met with the breed during his march to the Indus. He received presents of dogs of gigantic stature, which were no doubt Thibetian mastiffs, dogs of the ancient Indi and Seri (the Seri were the people of Afghanistan). To these dogs Aristotle applied the name of Leontomyx [lion-mixed]. An allied breed, perhaps the same race, existed in England before the Roman conquest, as did also a breed of large bulldogs. These were highly valued in Rome for the combats of the circus. Col. H. Smith, indeed, thinks there was only one of these breeds anciently in England, viz., a large bulldog, nearly equaling the mastiff in size, and that the latter was brought to our island by the Cimbric Celtae. Probably he is correct. Another foreign dog with which the Romans became acquainted, and to which they were very partial, was the beautiful Maltese, with long silken hair. This is now extinct, or has merged into other breeds. It was a favourite with the ladies. Besides these, the Romans procured a spaniel breed, the Canis Tuscus proles de sanguine Ibero, from Spain [Spanish Water Dog, or proto-poodle, also found in ancient Cyprus; in Italy it probably evolved into the Lagotto and in France into the Barbet]; the Phasianian [supposed to be used in fowling], from Asia; the Petronian, from the Sieambri [sic; see Sicambri] beyond the Rhine [also, supposedly, a bird-dog]; and the Althamanian, from Macedonia, noticed for its cunning and wiles.”


Souli in 1833






The Great Dane

“This is a dog of gigantic stature ; he is, indeed, perhaps, one of the very largest dogs with which we are at present acquainted, standing from thirty to thirty-two inches in height at the shoulder, or even more. In form, the Dane is very powerful, but yet graceful ; his head is elongated, but the muzzle does not taper to a point—it is, on the contrary, somewhat truncated, looking as if it had been originally intended to be longer, but had been abruptly cut short within an inch of what should have been the muzzle. The coat of the Dane is close and short, and its colour, although occasionally fulvous or yellow, is more frequently a bluish, slaty white, marked with spots, or rather blotches, of brown and black. The ears of the Dane are short, and droop, but very slightly. I never yet saw an imported specimen that had not the ears cropped off close to the skull. In its native country the Dane is employed chiefly in boar-hunting; it was also formerly used in the chase of the elk. It is not improbable that the Danes brought this dog with them to Ireland when they invaded that country, and that it was employed as an auxiliary in wolf-hunting. Once the matter came to a regular grapple, few dogs could have proved more serviceable; and few could have afforded a better cross with our own ancient wolf-dog. That such crossing did take actually take place, is more than probable; and hence the many misconceptions that have since arisen relative to the real characters of our genuine Irish wolf-dog. Hamilton Rowan had some very fair specimens; so had Lord Altamont—also Lord O’Neil ; but by far the finest I ever had the good fortune to see, was ” Hector,” the property of his Grace the Duke of Buccleuch, still living, about ten years ago, at Dalkeith palace. (Since dead, and preserved by Mr. Carfrae of Edinburgh).


Carl Borromäus Andreas Ruthart (1630-1703): A Huntsman With His Hound Chasing A Boar In A Wooded Landscape, Ducks In A Pond In The Foreground. 

Hector stood a trifle more than thirty-two inches in height at the shoulder ; notwithstanding that when I measured him he was close upon his twentieth year, and consequently much drooped. I had the honour of receiving an interesting communication from the duke respecting him, in which his grace stated, that Hector had been purchased by his brother, Lord John Scott, from a student at Dresden, and that the breed were called, in Germany and Saxony, ” boar-dogs.” His grace also informed me that Hector was the tallest dog he had ever seen.

Hector was very good-natured, and far from being quarrelsome. He frequently took a walk into the little town of Dalkeith, on which occasions he was often followed by the street dogs, and they would sometimes even venture upon an attack. Until an absolute aggression was made, however, Hector contented himself with proceeding on his way in dignified contempt; but if a Newfoundland, mastiff, or other dog at all approaching to his own size, dared to meddle with him, he would “turn him up” in a twinkling, and, raising his hind leg, treat him with the strongest mark of canine contumely.

I had a son of Hector’s, not, however, true bred, but produced from a South American dam, of the so-called tiger-hound breed [it is amazing that Richardson in the 1840s owned a South American tiger hound! I wonder if it was in fact a Pachon Navarro or Perdiguero de Burgos Spanish Pointer. It is interesting that split noses is mentioned as a disqualifying fault if Great Dane standards which means it must have occured from time to time; was it a result of Richardson’s cross – or the legacy of some German pointer blood, carrying the Spanish pointer- or even Catalburun recessives?]. “Lincoln” was his name. This was, without exception, the best dog I ever knew. In attachment and sagacity he more than equaled the spaniel, and his courage was of the most indomitable kind. Often have I seen him from my window engaged in conflict with two or three large Newfoundland dogs resident in the neighbourhood, and have rushed to the rescue, but have as often found him victorious ere I could interfere. Lincoln’s only fault was a propensity to kill cats ; and of this he was eventually cured, by one of those animals, at whom he rushed with open mouth, mistaking his fury for play, and rubbing herself, purring, against the very jaws that were open to crush her.

I must here record an instance of this noble dog’s sagacity.

I was in the habit of bathing every morning at the extremity of the chain pier of New haven, about the distance of a mile from where I dwelt. At this time I was a student of medicine, and, during the summer months, attended the Botanical lectures of Dr. Graham, delivered in the Botanic Garden, Inverleith-row, on my way home from the sea, and very near the house of my respected and kind stepfather, Dr. Chejine. I used to take Lincoln with me on those occasions, and, on my return, used to dismiss him at the garden gate, and go in to lecture. On one occasion I recollected, when about half way home, that I had forgotten my towel, in the shed appropriated to the accommodation of bathers at the pier end. More in jest than earnest, I turned to the dog, and said, showing my empty hands, “Lincoln, I have lost my towel, go and seek it.” To my surprise, the sagacious creature, after looking for an instant, first at my empty hands, and then at the towel of my companion, turned and set off at a rapid pace back towards Newhaven. At the moment I thought but little of the matter ; for I concluded that the dog would retrace his steps for a short distance, and then return ; but he had not reappeared when I reached the gate of the Botanic Garden : so I entered, and, as usual, heard lecture ; but what was my astonishment when, lecture being over, I left the gardens, and found the faithful and intelligent animal waiting for me, with my missing towel in his mouth.

Colonel H. Smith (Nat. Lib. Mam., vol. x.) describes the boar-dog as an allied breed to the Dane, yet not altogether identical with him, and speaks of one that stood “little less than four feet high at the shoulder.” It was doubtless so reputed; but Colonel Smith did not himself either see or measure the dog in question. I doubt not but that the animal was very tall, but I most strenuously deny any dog being as large as a horse [four feet measured from the top of the head and not the shoulder].


boarhunt, Franz Snyders (1579-1657), National Gallery, Rome

I am also disposed to the belief that the smooth Dane is the true dog, and his rough brother a cross. Colonel Smith also styles the boar-dog the “Suliot dog.” Now Suli is a very limited district of Albania, occupying scarcely six hundred square miles in extent, and lying south, whereas these dogs are natives chiefly of the regions north of the Balkan. I think that Colonel Smith has been led into this misnomer from a hasty view of Gmelin’s Latin designation of the great Dane, Canis Suillus, derived evidently from the employment to which the dogs were devoted, viz., hunting the sus or hog, and not from the locality where they were bred. In the older paintings, the boar-dogs are evidently of the great Danish stock, with a dash of the great rough greyhound ; and probably such were many of our later Irish wolf-hounds, after the original breed had grown somewhat scarce.”

[Finally a critical observation making the obvious connection between the redundant binomial nomenclature Canis Suillus and Souli, which suggests a genuine case of mistaken identity. [It could actually be a genuine coincidence; the etymology* of Souli is uncertain but it definitely isn’t a derivative of the scientific name for sus scrofa (wild boar)]; Richardson seems to suggest that when these gigantic dogs were seen marching as regimental mascots, Smith made inquiries about their identity and origin, heard they were boar hounds and then used the latin translation (canis suillus) to erroneously connect these dogs with Souli in Greece. I find this rather far-fetched as there are several problems, if not logical fallacies, in Richardson’s suggestion: why would Smith connect the canis suillus to Souli, if he hadn’t heard about Souli in the first place ? Did he look up a map of Europe to find place names sounding like Suillus and finding only Souli ? Was Col. Smith such an idiot that didn’t know – and didn’t care to find out before he committed his thoughts on paper or made them public knowledge – that suillus meant “of the swine” and not ” of Souli ” ? Isn’t that a totally outrageous proposition for Richardson to make, at a time when latin was every literate person’s second language, much as the English language is now? I tend to look at the simplest explanations first, always, as they are the most probable and turn out to be true in more cases than not. So, either Smith knew about Souli (as he was a military man and therefore likely to have studied the events related to the Greek War of Independence) or he didn’t. If he didn’t know a place called Souli existed (he did, as we’ll see later), there’s two possible ways he might have learned about it: either he was told that’s where these dogs originated, and that they had been taken by Ottomans, when he asked his military colleagues where did these parade dogs came from, or, hearing that they were boarhounds, he rushed home, looked up the scientific name for boarhound (canis suillus) and then made the entire story up. Which one of these two explanations is most probable ? why on earth would a respectable fellow and military officer (that used to be, probably still is to some extent, especially in the British army, a synonym for integrity and honor) risk reputation and ridicule, by telling porkies ? What I think did happen is, Smith genuinely inquired about these dogs, he was genuinely told by colleagues that they were spoils of war taken from Ottomans (they might have actually told him that the dogs came from Souli in Albania, as we’ve seen already that Epirus during the Turkish occupation was but a part of the administrative area which included South Albania, central and Northern Greece), knew that there had been a place called Molossia there, knew about the Molossian dogs and their two varieties of a LGD type and a big game hunting type, and having observed with this own two eyes that these parade dogs were boarhound in type, made the obvious connection. Maybe the sources lied to him, they didn’t really know or they made up the story, maybe these dogs were particularly tall Belgian mastiffs – that is possible (although unlikely, as we will see further on) – but Smith wouldn’t have made it up; and he wouldn’t have mentioned Souli by name, had he not had it from reliable sources. If he hadn’t been told these dogs were from Souli, specifically, he wouldn’t have said Suliot. He would have said Albanian or some other more general place name. He would have said Turkish dogs, Ottoman dogs, whatever. The suillus explanation proposed by Richardson is rather a disingenuous suggestion towards Smith. I’m convinced Smith just recorded what he was told or what he knew from several sources, as we’ll see further on, and so is Hancock – who knows more about dogs in general and about Colonel Smith in particular. 

A little more attention to Charles Hamilton Smith‘s biography offers some very interesting details that confirm he was indeed well in position to correctly make the assertions he did, and that he had first hand information, therefore he could confirm or dismiss the statement, cross-checking it’s accuracy from other sources. This suggests to me he was convinced those were Souliot dogs that he saw, and for good reason. First of all, he was Flemish himself and born in Flanders. His military career began in 1787, when he studied at the Austrian academy for artillery and engineers at Mechelen and Leuven in Belgium. So he was there when he saw the dogs parading in Brussels in 1790. He served with soldiers and officers of Austrian, British, German and many other nationalities, in Holland and Brabant, so he had every opportunity to learn about dogs in the area and in particular, boarhounds used in these countries, as well as to find out exactly where those regimental mascots had come from. He served with the German Baron Charles von Hompesch’s Hussars who fought on the British side, as a mounted rifleman regiment, against France between 1794 and 1802. (So he had the opportunity to find out about boarhunting and boarhounds in Germany from his colleagues). He served in the 8th King’s Royal Irish Light Dragoons that saw action between 1794 – 1795 in N. France (so he probably served with Irishmen too). He was “a great naturalist and an accurate and unwearied artist”. “From the knowledge of military affairs displayed in this work it excited Napoleon’s interest at St. Helena”. His published works include: 1. ‘History of the Seven Years’ War in Germany by Generals Lloyd and Tempelhoff. With Observations, Maxims, &c., of General Jomini. Translated from the German and French,’ vol. i. n.d. [1809]. 2. ‘Secret Strategical Instructions of Frederic the Second. Translated from the German,’ 1811. 3. ‘Selections of Ancient Costume of Great Britain and Ireland, Seventh to Sixteenth Century,’ 1814. 4. ‘Costume of Original Inhabitants of the British Islands to the Sixth Century. By S. R. Meyrick and C. H. Smith,’ 1815. 5. ‘The Class Mammalia, arranged by Baron Cuvier, with Specific Descriptions by Edward Griffith, C. H. Smith, and Edward Pidgeon,’ 2 vols. 1827. 6. ‘Natural History of Dogs,’ vol. i. 1839, vol. ii. 1840. Afterwards reissued in 1843 as vols. iv. and v. of the ‘Naturalists’ Library.’ 7. ‘Natural History of Horses,’ 1841. In 1843 this was vol. xii. in the ‘Naturalists’ Library.’ 8. ‘Introduction to the Mammalia,’ 1842; issued in 1843 as vol. i. in the same ‘Library.’ 9. ‘Natural History of the Human Species,’ 1848. This volume was devised to harmonise with the publications in the ‘Naturalists’ Library.’ Prefixed to it was his portrait. It was reprinted at Boston, U.S.A., in 1851, with an Introduction by Samuel Kneeland, jun. M.D. Most of his works were illustrated by his own drawings.”. I think it’s quite obvious the man was fairly capable of identifying a dog type. He spoke German, he was a Naturalist well versed in terminology and nomenclature, he studied a wide array of animals and dogs. Most interestingly, Hamilton Smith had painted “Privates of the Greek Light Infantry Regiment” (see further on). And who served in that regiment ? Souliotes, men from Souli! So, case closed, as far as I am concerned. Hamilton Smith is a very reliable source – in this particular case at least. 

I mentioned earlier the Blessington – Byron connection, taking place in Italy, just before the Countess leaves for Naples and the poet leaves for Greece. There’s more. Souli had been evacuated in 1803, before the War of Independence broke out in Greece, but Byron had already visited Epirus (1809-10) and he famously had his portrait painted wearing Albanian (possibly Souliot) dress. He knew the Souliotes, he wrote poems about their bravery, had tremendous respect for them and their military prowess and what he does when he returns to Greece in 1823 to join the war on the side of the freedom fighters, is that he tries to recruit them, in his capacity as the Commander – In – Chief of the rebels in western Greece, based in Missolonghi.  He was successful and scores of these highly experienced fighters joined his regular army. But what have the Souliotes been doing in the 20 years between 1803 and 1823? What they knew best – fighting. Many had fled to the Ionian islands to make a living as professional soldiers. Some went to Corfu, where they joined the Russian Army. Not only did they serve in the Legion of Light Riflemen but also in the British Army’s 1st Greek Light Infantry  of “The Duke of York’s”. And where did these Souliot regiments see action? In Naples, of all places (where the Countess of Blessington acquired her Souliot dog) in 1805, in Genoa in 1814, in Dalmatia etc. They also joined the French forces in various units, such as the Battaglione dei Cacciatori Macedon and the Regimento Macedone, both based in the Kingdom of Naples. (The simplest explanation therefore is that the King of Naples’ Suliot Dog was given to him by Souliotes relocated there). Oh, and they also served in the Russian Greek battalion of Balaklava, based in Sebastopol, which saw action during the Crimean War, the Napoleonic Wars, the Russo-Turkish war and Austrian – Russian – Ottoman war. More coincidences ? I don’t think so. Since ancient times, one way various dogs and landraces got around, was with army movements. Follow the military campaigns, and you are following the dogs, their history, distribution and evolution. 

Richardson’s could have been a good dismissal of the Souliot theory altogether, but for the small details of Hamilton Smith’s credentials and expertise, first-hand information and amble opportunities to obtain them and cross-check them. Even if we are to dismiss his assertions as purely anecdotal, or conjecture based or influenced by his knowledge of other mentions about such dogs, there’s also the not so small matter of the actual documented existence of such dogs in Souli and the area since ancient times and to this day. And not just any dogs, but dogs of boarhound make and shape, resembling a rustic proto-Dane; and so impressively large in size, that many local anecdotes exist about these giants and their ferocity, among locals; people who have never read or even heard of any of these authors and their literary duels; people who are not formally educated and unaware of their own history even, and were never told about the ancient Molossians, so their knowledge is not from theory and books, but real life and social history; they saw the dogs; they see them still; they also remember the tales told by their fathers and forefathers, about their dogs and their feats on the rugged mountains ; of course these reports are always to be taken with a pinch of salt as many are wild exaggerations; but what is much more amazing is that such dogs, undernourished, malnourished, without any veterinary care whatsoever, without endoparasite prevention or other treatments, living a truly Spartan existence and harsh life from puppyhood against the elements, left to fend for themselves as they guard unattended flocks on the mountains for long periods of time, still managed to reach sizes to astonish even learned dog experts. It must be in the genes. And survival of the fittest. Either that of they are figments of our imagination. We dreamed them up… But no, they do exist – to this day, and we have the photographs and they fit the descriptions and the local records, the oral as well as the written & pictorial history…more coincidences?] 

Souliot valley

Souli - it's valley, mountains and fortified settlements in 1812. 
At the height of its power, the Souliot autonomous confederecy 
consisted of some 12 thousand inhabitans in some 70 villages.

*footnote on the etymology of Souli. Three main explanations seem to be mostly mentioned: a) that the placename Souli derives from the nearby ancient Greek Selaida or Soulaida, inhabited by the Selloi (who according to Aristotle were the original Greek / Hellenes) b) that Souli derives from the name of a Turk who was killed there c) that it derives from the Albanian term sul which can be idiomatically interpreted as ‘watchpost’, ‘lookout’ or ‘mountain summit’. Less known is the hypothesis linking Souli with ancient Sollium (Σόλλιον), a Corinthian colony on the Acarnanian coast opposite Lefkada island, mentioned by classic writers since 431 BC. Ancient Sollion had a castle and was a harbour. It lies to the south-west of Souli. (Molossian King Pyrrhus expanded his kingdom to include the Corinthian settlements in the region, making Amvrakia his capital). Stephanus Byzantinus (6th century AD) mentions the Suliones (Συλίονες), a Chaonian tribe. Others proposed that Souli was named after a founder of the community, and one such candidate is Soulis, a leader of Cziamides (perhaps Thyamides, from Thyamis river region). 

from The New Sporting Magazine

by Craven







The Great Rough Boar-dog.

Closely allied in form and in his gigantic proportions to the mastiff of Thibet is the great rough boar-dog of the continent of Europe. This is supposed to be the Suliot dog of antiquity; and a figure of him as such will be found in the works of Gesner. This dog has been known to stand upwards of thirtythree inches in height. I myself saw one in Edinburgh—and that, too, a whelp not more than eight or nine months old—that I measured, and ascertained to stand thirty inches and a-half at the fore shoulder. Colonel H. Smith, in the 10th vol. of the ” Naturalists’ Library” speaks of some that had attained the height of four feet (!); but it is evident that whoever measured or reported of their stature had done so from the crown of the head to the ground, even in which case the dog must have stood upwards of thirty-six inches high [over 90cm] —a stature so exceeding the very greatest that we are acquainted with, that it would require the most confirmatory evidence to satisfy me that there was no mistake. The more usual height of this dog is from twenty-six to twenty-eight inches. His general form is that of a stout, well-built mastiff; his usual colour red, or red and white, sometimes clouded or streaked with blue and yellow markings; his ears are rather pendulous, and are usually rounded off or cut away close to the skull at an early age. The hair is wiry in texture; and the tail, which is bushy, usually carried over the back, I have seen more than half-a-dozen of these dogs in Edinburgh, where they were conceived to be overgrown Russian terriers [!]. Although this dog is actually the boar-dog, still he is not so well known as such as is the great Dane or the Saxon boar-dog—an animal to be described in the next section. [A/N: it is obvious that Richardson is here, speaking of the Great Rough Boar – Dog referring to the Souliot dog and not to the Irish Wolfhound, as shown by the mention of Col. Smith’s testament and the height].


Velasquez, dwarf with dog, 1640s

This dog of Souliot / Great Dane type is very similar if not identical to the dog in the portrait of Scottish nobleman John Campbell, painted almost a century later. If the simplest explanation is the most likely, they could very well both have the same origin, just as the Spanish Mastiff and the Molossus of Epirus (see below). 




The Spanish Mastiff.

Spanish mastiff

Mastín Español (source)


Molossus of Epirus  (source)

This dog is evidently a variety of St. Bernard, and owes whatever differences he presents in form or size from that animal to the peculiar purposes for which he has been bred. The Spanish mastiff is not now so common as he was, as he is no longer used, as formerly, for the combats of the amphitheatre. He is very like the St. Bernard in form ; but is more compactly built, has less pendulous lips, and is even broader in the head. His usual colour is a slaty dun. This dog, crossed with some lighter and more active variety, is supposed by many to have been the origin of those terrible animals that, under the name of bloodhounds, were employed by Columbus in his American expedition, and that have, even within our own times, been employed in the pursuit of runaway slaves in the Spanish colonies. [A/N: the Cuban Bloodhounds?]


Boar hunt from Roman villa in Carranque, Spain

The average height of this dog does not exceed twenty-six inches. I have seen some specimens that reached twenty-eight inches, and one that stood twenty-nine at the shoulder; but I strongly suspect that this unwonted stature was obtained by a dash of the St. Bernard. A Mr. Aylmer, a wine-merchant in Dublin, had lately the finest of this breed one ever beheld. They were very fierce, and were an overmatch for any dog they ever encountered : such encounters, however, I must state, in justice to Mr. Aylmer’s character, were purely accidental. So determined was one of these dogs, that it was impossible to induce him to desist when he had once engaged in combat, until he had consummated his victory with the death of his opponent. I should think that a cross with these animals might be very judiciously resorted to for the revival of that now nearly extinct breed—our own British mastiff. Both in point of size and in general aspect, the Spanish dog is to that of St. Bernard what the English bull-dog is to the English mastiff. These animals fetch nearly as high prices as the St. Bernard, and are not unfrequently sold under the latter name.

The English Mastiff.


Alexander the Great Watching a Fight between an Elephant, a Lion and a Dog

1596 engraving, British Museum

This once highly-prized dog is now rapidly falling into disrepute, and is very rarely to be met with thorough-bred. His muzzle is longer, and his form less powerful, than that of the two preceding  varieties; but as we can only judge in these respects from such specimens as we can at present procure, we may do the animal injustice. In my opinion, this is the original stock whence sprung the dog of St. Bernard ; and that he is of much more ancient origin than that dog, is evident from the circumstance that, so early as the time of the Roman emperors and the subjugation of Britain by them, an officer was appointed to reside in this country for the purpose of breeding mastiffs to be sent to Rome for the combats of the circus [the myth of the procurator cynogii that we discussed previously]. Dr. Caius, who wrote in Queen Elizabeth’s reign, tells us that three were reckoned a mastiff for a bear, and four for a lion. The height of such specimens as one nave met with varies from twenty-six to twenty-nine inches. The true old English mastiff is decidedly the most trustworthy watch-dog in existence.

The Bull-dog.

Plate 20 the Bull dog

Bull Dog from the Naturalist’s Library (1840).

The bull-dog is an animal so well known as to render description of him almost superfluous. He is low in stature, large-headed ; short-nosed; and his under-jaw projects beyond the upper, so as to display his incisor teeth. He is the most courageous animal in existence, and will not only attack any animal, whatever be its magnitude, but will suffer the most agonizing torture and meet the most horrible death without even a groan. Once he has fastened on his antagonist, no force can induce him to quit his hold. The distinguishing characteristics of the bull-dog are his small ear and whiptail.

A cross with the terrier has been resorted to, which produces, if possible, a still mote determined animal, and one that, from his greater liveliness and agility, is certainly better adapted for combat. It was with bull-terriers that the lions Nero and Wallace were baited, and not with thorough-bred bull-dogs, as has been erroneously supposed.

The Pug-dog.

The pug is a diminutive bull-dog, having his tail curled short over his back ; and in every other respect is a perfect miniature of the latter—courage excepted, for he possesses none.

The Great Dane, or Saxon Boar-dog.

The Great Dane Richardson

This is, I think, the largest dog in existence, and it is likewise decidedly the most serviceable as a destroyer of the wolf and boar. In this country he is but seldom seen in a state of purity, and is, in any case, seldom recognized as what he really is. The Dane rarely stands less than thirty inches in height at the shoulder, and usually more. His head is broad at the temples, and the parietal bones diverge much, thus marking him to be a true mastiff; but, by a singular discrepancy, his muzzle is lengthened more than even that of an ordinary hound, and the lips are not pendulous, or, at least, very slightly so. His coat, when thorough-bred, is rather short and fine; but yet not, by fifty degrees, so close as that of the St. Bernard. The tail is fine and tapering ; the neck long ; the ears small, and carried back, but these are invariably taken off when the dog is a whelp.

The finest dog of this breed I ever saw was the celebrated “Hector” the property of his Grace the Duke of Buccleuch. Hector stood thirty-two inches at the shoulder, and, when I saw him, was about eighteen years old ; and his legs had begun to give way, and his back to fall in, so that, I should say, when a young dog, he stood at least an inch and a half higher, or thirty-three inches and a half—a height equal to that of many Shetland ponies. As many persons contradicted my assertion as to Hector’s being the true Saxon boar- dog, the same that used to be kept in the royal establishments of that country, I took the liberty of writing to his grace on the subject, and was kindly favoured with the following reply :—

“Sir,—I received your letter of the 31st yesterday. The dog ‘Hector’ mentioned by you was bought by my brother from a student at Dresden. Of his pedigree I know nothing, but understand that the breed is used to hunt the wild boar. His height I do not recollect, but he was the tallest dog I ever saw. He must have been upwards of twenty years of age when he died, as he was supposed to be eight years old when my brother bought him. “Your obedient servant, “Buccleuch, & c.”

I had likewise the honour of a letter from his grace’s secretary, who very kindly took the pains to have the stuffed remains of poor Hector measured for me. In that state ho measured but twenty-nine inches to the shoulder : this is, however, by no means much for a dog to shrink, especially when death takes place at so advanced an age. His Royal Highness Prince Albert has a very fine dog of this description, named ” Vulcan ” and Mr. Maynard kindly furnished me with a description of him, from which I should be disposed to regard him as being of a mixed race, between the great rough boardog mentioned in last chapter [the Souliot] and the dog at present under consideration. His height is thirty inches. The colour of the Duke of Buccleuch’s dog was a light slate ground, with large brown blotches distributed here and there: that of his Royal Highness’s dog is a mixture of smoky grey and black, pretty equally distributed. The hair is close, and inclined to be wiry, judging from a specimen sent me by Mr. Maynard. Mr. Hague, distiller, of Bonnington, near Edinburgh, had a very beautiful dog of this description: colour, a bright fawn, with markings of a deeper tint. The muzzle of these dogs presents a remarkable peculiarity, appearing as if suddenly brought to a termination by a chop of a hatchet, so abruptly does it become blunt. There are few dogs possessed of such determination as this. Shortly after Hector was brought to Scotland, he selected and pursued a stag, singled him from the herd, and ran him through the domains until he overtook him in the middle of the river Esk, where he killed him. This was kept secret from his grace, and was lately communicated to me by Mr. Carfrae, taxydermist, of Edinburgh, who stuffed Hector. As a proof of the life-like fidelity with which Mr. Carfrae executed his task, I may mention that a Newfoundland dog, seeing the stuffed boar-hound in the window of the establishment, stood and looked attentively at it for a few minutes, and then bounded upon it through the glass, smashing all before him, when, terrified at the crash, he ran away. Mr. Carfrae informs me that a German gentleman, on seeing Hector, exclaimed, ” Ah dat is my country dog !” and told Mr. C. he was the true Hungarian boar-dog, and that there were plenty in Germany and Hungary ; and on learning how highly they were esteemed in Scotland, promised to import a few on his next visit to that country. A German sausagemaker in Edinburgh imported a dog and bitch ; but I do not learn that they were very good specimens as to size, yet the pups fetched high prices. In further proof of the gigantic size of this dog, a writer in a sporting magazine—Captain Medwin—says, speaking of a tremendous wolf which fell before his rifle, ” Monster as he was, there are dogs in the town of Heidelberg, who would have proved more than a match singly for him or any wolf. This part of Germany possesses a breed much in esteem among the students of the university, larger, more muscular, and fiercer than any with which I am acquainted ; and in saying this I do not forget the dogs of the Pyrenees, St. Bernard, Greece, or Lapland. Our mastiffs, now becoming rarer every day, are to them what a cat is to a tiger.”


Balia, a Suliot type Molossian female. Her name in the Greco-Vlach tradition signifies a grey-bluish color with white markings.

A Journey through Albania and other provinces of Turkey in Europe and Asia, to Constantinople during the years 1809 and 1810

by J.C. Hobhouse




the fortress at Kiafa, Souli (source)

In the Naturalist’s Library (1840) there is an illustration of the boarhound of Germany:

Plate 7 the boarhound of Germany

nothing like our Great Dane or approaching even a proto-Dane type, I’m sure you agree; it’s in fact a sauruden or proto-German wirehaired pointer. This plate was published in 1840, so we must assume it was representative of the type called “boar hound” at the time. (See also previous post). 

Yet in Brehm’s Life of Animals, published in Chicago, 1896, we find this dog: Canis familiaris molossus danicus (Danish dog). It is a harlequin, and it is rough – haired.

canis familiaris molossus danicus 1860s

And Hancock tells us that the small boarhounds of Germany increased in size with the help of the Molossian Hound descendants, the Suliot dogs. Which were not smooth-coated. 


this is a contemporary Souliot – type dog in Greece. Compare with the dog in the painting below:


Enoch Seeman, circa 1735: Portrait of John Campbell Lord Glenorchy, Scotland (note that it is not a portrait of ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ as erroneously mentioned here and has no known connections with the Lyme Hall mastiffs)



Suliot type LDG, Greece

What is a Souliot type dog doing in Scotland in 1735 ? I have no idea but John Campbell was ambassador to the Russian Empire from 1731, four years before the portrait was painted. Was the dog a present he received in St. Petersburg (after the acquisition of Souliot dogs from the Ottomans?) or a native of Scotland ? Was it even acquired from Denmark (where he had been envoy since 1718) ? I wish I had an account of his travels because the Austro-Russian-Turkish war during which many Suliot dogs were captured broke out in 1735. Too many coincidences…

So, the readers can make their own minds up, do their own research and form an educated opinion. I presented as much as I have managed to find, about links between the Great Dane, the Souliot Dog & the Molossus of Epirus, in tangent with other evidence stemming from the main story – such as the possible participation of the Souliot dog in the Irish Wolfhound revival. I have mainly set out to discover if the reports about these dogs finding their way into the Great Dane’s DNA could have been true, if there was any historical evidence to support this suggestion, and what I found reads very probable and credible to me, unless I’m missing something.

As to contemporary dogs of this type in Greece today, they definitely exist, as its obvious from the photographs. A DNA analysis would reveal a lot more. Interestingly, there was an initiative from Spain to do a comparative genetic study of Spanish Mastiffs and Molossus of Epirus dogs, a couple of years back. Unfortunately it was shot down – in Spain – I suppose there, too, the usual narrow-minded & short-sighted ‘patriotic’ types who feel threatened by scientific research have clambered onto positions of influence that allow them to throw a seemingly endless supply of spanners in the works; what were they worried about? that the study might reveal what phenotype suggests – that the Iberian strains are relatives or even descendants of the Hellenic ones? It didn’t happen yesterday but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen tomorrow, amigos…


To the question : where did the Great Dane’s (and subsequently the Irish Wofhound’s) gigantic size and height come from? there are several possibilities; we know what some prominent British researchers believe about the Souliot hypothesis – but does this ‘theory’ and evidence hold up under serious scrutiny ? What are other possible answers ?

  1. from the English Mastiff and by gradual increase. The original British animal though, that was used to create the Danish “blending” was not that tall and not a giant breed (according to M.B. Wynn and others).
  2. from Alpine mastiffs (see below) – or a combination of 1 & 2
  3. from Suliot Dogs ( 90 cm plus reported) by crossings during the 19th century.

As to who really were the Alpine mastiffs that apparently helped increase the size of the English mastiff (see M.B. Wynn’s “The History of the Mastiff”), it’s not entirely another subject altogether – because they look like fawn-coloured Molossus of Epirus or Spanish Mastiffs. And how the Epirotic dogs got to the Alps we know already – them Romans. So that’s another way the Epirotic Molossian could have influenced the Great Dane – through the English Mastiff.

As to who were the Souliot dogs there can also be a couple of hypotheses (just to entertain the skeptics) :

A. a native strain of Epirus, indigenous to Molossia & Illyria, descendants of the ancient Greek Molossian, possibly/probably with additional influences later from other landraces / varieties of the Balkans & Eurasia.

B. an Anatolian / Central Asian landrace variant of large LGD dogs (like the Kangal for example) introduced to Greece by the Ottomans and from there to other European regions. This hypothesis however ignores the the prior existence of these dogs in Greece since antiquity, which is well documented. Even if they did mix with Anatolian LGDs, those had emerged in the region millennia before the advance of the Ottoman Empire towards Byzantium. 

Historical continuity shaped Hellenic landraces since ancient & Byzantine times. It would be interesting to discover how genetically diverge are the Epirotic dogs from the original ancestral ancient dogs from China, which will give us some idea about their antiquity. What’s impressive and significant are the numerous accounts of gigantic dogs in the Epirotic region throughout history, which supports the case they were autochthonous or developed there from the ancestral species – perhaps a particularly large  one.

Some necessary footnotes here:

a) the Celtic tribes (Belgae Gauls) invaded Greece in 279 bC; this is one of the events that spread ancient Greek landraces to the West, into Gallic areas [Britannia, Gaul (France), Hispania (Spain) et al] but also, with the settlement of retreating Gauls to Thrace and Anatolia, introduced or re-introduced the Epirotic Molossian stock into these areas; the Roman and Byzantine Empires later unified and enlarged these territories again, facilitating more expansion and exchange of stock. (Interesting photo of old time Spanish Mastiff, with obvious elements of Molossian Hound type. Some Spanish Mastiffs reportedly reach heights of 38 inches, or 96.52 cm; if not a result of modern crosses with giant breeds, this size is also indicative of  Molossian ancestry).  

b) Albanian Wolfdogs, was a name given to dogs that resulted from crosses between Molossian boarhound types with other flock guardians in the area, such as the ancestors of the ‘Illyrian’ Sharplaninac (which were very much like the Molossus of Epirus, but of a wolfish color and more lupoid features, like the ancient Molossian, thanks to wolf back-crossings, no doubt). The Wolf-dog designation in the case of the Albanian dogs is not a reference to the Irish Hound type, but to crosses with wolves that occur in sheepdog populations in the region, as well as identifying these dogs as flock guardians against wolf packs. ‘Albanian Wolfhound’ was also, somewhat confusingly, one of the names erroneously given by westerners (who didn’t know what the Russians called their wolf-hunting sighthound) to the Russian wolfhound, a landrace which became the Borzoi breed, and which was widespread also in other areas outside Russia, as far as Poland, Hungary and the Northern Balkans. 

In An Encyclopedia of Rural Sports, by Delabere P. Blaine (London, 1840) we find some interesting references to the ‘Albanian’ and the Molossian: apparently there was a Molossian dog in the Zoological Gardens which the author describes as “more nearly allied to the British mastiff than any other of the dogs” and, again, tellingly, with the Alpine ‘spaniel’ or Alpine mastiff (the ‘Alpine spaniel’ engraving in the book is after Landseer’s 1825 engraving). Was that “Molossian” simply an Alpine mastiff? It doesn’t really matter as we’ve seen above the most probable origin of those and in fact the phenotype of the dog in the engraving is identical to the black & brindle or the black & tan colored Molossus of Epirus dogs of today (see plate 208 from the book below). And yes, Molossus of Epirus do also (not surprisingly as they are still very much a landrace and not completely standardized and devoid of variety) sometimes look like aboriginal Tibetan / Himalayan livestock guardian dogs… 

In the same book is also included an engraving of an Albanian dog (see plate 207 above), a very different phenotype, a large hound in fact and very much like a proto-Dane (see Tiryns boarhunt here); which begs the question: were these large hounds remnants of the ancient Greek hounds that, mated with the livestock guardians in the region produced the Souliot? It is very probable and credible, as Aristotle records it was done in his time; maybe the Molossian big game hunter variant was produced from matings between the swift smooth or rough-coated hounds, like the Cretan and the Laconian or ‘Grecian Greyhound‘ variant, and large flock guarding Molossians, to give the progeny the size and power necessary for hunting big game; much as it happens to this day among hunters and as it happened countless times ever since distinct dog landraces/phenotypes shaped by function emerged and were combined and recombined to give rise to other specialized working dogs. And what predictably results from such combinations, is a large powerful boarhound type, much like the Souliot or like our Dane, short or rough-coated. To get an idea about some ancient Greek sighthounds, we can look at the Levriero Meridionale, a strain that survived in Italy. The males can reach 72 cm to the withers. Some dogs though were significantly taller in antiquity, as indicated by this Mycenean fresco from Thera island, dated to the 14th-13th century BC, which shows a very large primitive (Cretan Hound?) type of dog. 

In any case, a unified history version could read like this: English Mastiffs, together with dogs taken from the Ottomans (which may have included dogs from several territories then under Ottoman rule – Albanian, Anatolian, Caucasian, Central Asian, Epirotic, Souliot etc), as well as old Irish Greyhounds, bred to particularly tall Baerhunde (bear dogs), Alpine dogs (St. Bernard ancestors and other mountain types of the Alpine range, such as the old ‘Alpine mastiff‘), and with boarhounds and bullenbeissers, butcher dogs, cart-pulling farm dogs and other continental tall doggen from France, Belgium (like the extinct Belgian mastiff)*, Holland and elsewhere, could have gradually increased the size of the Grosse Doggen boarhounds that eventually became the Deutsche Doggen breed in Germany; while in Denmark a tall Danish sighthound was crossed with English mastiffs (probably descendants, partly, of Alpine Molossians) – and that blending flowed back into Germany and also returned to England via another route, until the modern Great Dane first became an established landrace type, in Denmark and Britain and then a ‘German’ breed, in the 1880s, eventually combining all or most these strains from various regions.

*(as to what really were the types of dogs collectively known as Chien de trait Belge and what was their ancestry, very little is known; some look like a Swiss mountain dog or early Rottweiler type, others like a refined Broholmer, and others like Great Danes. They were obviously not a type, but a variety of large, powerful draft dogs of various phenotypes. They were on their way to become a landrace and then a breed, until the war decimated them. And there’s since again renewed interest and a revival effort).

There are a couple of problems with this sweeping ‘gradual size increase’ hypothesis that can’t be overlooked (and that other authors have astutely noted):

  • the emergence of the Great Dane type goes back a long time before they appear in Germany (and we know from the Danish version of the story that the blending occurred there in the late 16th century – which was the time we begin to see the Great Dane type emerging in Europe; that is definitely not a coincidence).
  • the only really large dog in Germany until the late 18th century was the English Mastiff, not yet truly giant (until the importation of American dogs a century later, to revive the breed – and those earned their size from crosses to Great Danes and St. Bernards), while we observe truly gigantic dogs in other countries two to three centuries before that time. Most of these gigantic dogs tend to be either of Souliot or Danish (large boarhound) type and not of mastiff proper type. [The Lyme Hall mastiffs were reportedly different in type and Wynn suggested the strain originated from the crossing of a mastiff and a Great Dane-type boarhound, although that assertion is hotly contested (and the Lyme Hall portraits don’t really show a Great Dane type dog)].

some early pictorial evidence:

  1. Gentile da Fabriano’s Adoration of the Magi (1423–5) [note dogs in the upper part under the central arch as well as bottom right-hand corner in the close-ups]
  2. Charles V by Titian (1533)
  3. Portrait of Guidobaldo della Rivere by Angolo di Cosimo (Bronzino) 1545
  4. Boar-hunting by Antonio Tempesta, 1609
  5. Van Dyck, Duke Wolfgang v. Neuburg, 1629
  6. Van Dyck, Children of Charles I, 1637
  7. Jan Fyt (Joannes Fijt), Big Dog, dwarf and boy, 1652
  8. Karel van Mander III, The Elector of Saxony’s Italian Dwarf, Giachomo Favorchi with Princess Magdalene Sibylle of Denmark’s Dog, Raro, 1665

The phylogenetic analysis that puts the Great Dane between the St. Bernard and the Rottweiler, supports the Souliot case, linking our breed with Molossians that were taken from Greece by the Romans and deposited over the Alps; and then, if Hancock et al are correct, the Dane ancestors were crossed again with very tall boarhound-type dogs from Epirus, carrying some of the same ancestral traits, in the 19th century. This would go a long way to explain why this LGD blood is the prevailing factor in the breed’s genomic profile. It remains to be tested with samples from contemporary Souliot dogs.


As far as the Great Dane is concerned, the landrace / large boarhound type we observe since antiquity across Europe, from Greece and Epirus to the continental mainland, the British isles and the Nordic / Scandinavian countries, has been further developed mainly in three regions: Britain, Denmark and Germany. Stages of development seem to have included the large thick/double-coated Molossian mountain livestock & hunting strains that evolve into big game hunters, the smooth-coated mastiffs, used in the par force hunt and also for guarding, control of cattle and bull-baiting, as well as the butcher dogs and bandogs of Alano (alaunt) type from around the Mediterranean. In Britain the Irish hounds and the English mastiffs seem to have been the obvious ingredients, in Denmark it’s the old Danish sighthound and the imported English mastiff, in Germany it’s the local beissers, farm & stock dogs and Alpine / Molossian types, with  the addition of imported mastiffs, Danish and British doggen, which eventually become the Deutsche Doggen mix and together with the British and Danish populations form the modern Great Dane breed.

As far as the Molossian dog is concerned, it survived in its homeland in the guise of several local landraces and varieties of livestock dogs, with the Souliot in cryptic form. The Molossians may have given rise to the Great Dane twice – originally, in antiquity, as well as much more recently, in the 18th-19th century, via importations of Souliot dogs to the west – Austria, Germany and Ireland. There is no other way of confirming this than a comparative DNA analysis. It is most interesting from a historical point of view and as a diversity study but if we leave it for much longer it might not be possible at all, as the Souliot type is in a precarious state in its homeland.

The Souliot phenotype today 

Irrespective of its relationship – or not – with the Great Dane and the Irish Wolfhound, the Souliot strain presents an interesting phenotype among aboriginal landraces and varieties of dogs.

Like everyone else, I thought that the famed Suliot (or Souliot) phenotype was extinct, assimilated with the heavier Epirotic populations of Hellenic molossian livestock guardians. The Molossus of Epirus had just been recognised by the Kennel Club of Greece and a flurry of excitement and activity sent volunteers from the Hellenic Association for the Protection and Rescue of Native Farm and Domestic Animals Breeds “Amaltheia” on the lookout for rare and elusive specimens all over the country. Vassilis Lekkas, a prominent officer of Amaltheia in charge of research and records of dog strains, keeps me up to date with developments and regularly sends important photographic material and reports that require cross-reference, comment and opinion. About four years ago I happened upon the photographs of a phenotype, a family strain originating from the Molossian stronghold in Northern Greece, which caused me to lose sleep. I was astounded. Somehow, in spite of all accounts to the contrary, the Souliot strain wasn’t extinct. I wouldn’t have been more shell-shocked had I seen the Loch Ness monster posing for selfies, signing autographs and downing pints of stout in the company of monster hunters at a highland pub. 

The original photographs that had gone astray, show the Souliot type in all its distinct magnificence, quite unique among livestock & big game hunting landraces:

Vassilis confirmed he had taken the photographs and that they had been mislaid – his own copies had somehow disappeared from his computer. It was those particular pictures, as Murphy’s law would have it, that had been lost – the most spectacular evidence ever to emerge in the contemporary history of Greek dogs! I couldn’t believe this turn of events that had prevented me from meeting these dogs in person back then – in 2004. One particular dog, especially, named after an infamous bandit and brigant chief, who was a bit of a anti-establishment hero in the 1920s. Because that dog – called “Yagoulas” – pictured above, was the finest specimen I’ve ever seen of a Molossian Hound and the equivalent in merit to the finest Molossian LGD, that I saw and photographed some years earlier.


By the time I came across the photos, the dog was dead. But his relatives and descendants are still around. After some very tentative probing (as farmers everywhere are notoriously suspicious and reluctant to disclose information to ‘outsiders’), while trying to collect information to make sure this wasn’t a fluke, I eventually managed to follow Ariadne’s thread through the Labyrinth and to this marvelous strain. The Souliot type occurs in litters of LGD families stemming from two main areas – two pristine mountain ranges of traditional sheep-raising in a two-to-three hour radius as the crow flies from the Souliot Mountains. After Souli was finally sacked in 1803, its inhabitants left never to return; they scattered in the surrounding regions and elsewhere in Greece or abroad; but some of their dogs that they left behind, given to friends and other locals who offered the persecuted Souliotes shelter in their arduous journey of forced migration and relocation, continued to protect livestock flocks grazing the Epirotic plateaus and pastures against predators and thieves, as they’ve done since time immemorial in the region – their legacy persisting to this day. But for how long ? We are maybe ten years too late and this landrace may have reached the point of no return…

They are the original article, a gigantic (certainly by landrace standards) rustic type of Molossian hound; and because they look different from the other Epirotic Molossus dogs, unlike the type that is recognised by the Kennel Club of Greece and has a ‘pure breed’ allure and status, they, the odd ones out, very rarely survive. The Molossus fans prefer a shorter, heavier, stockier dog. This preference makes sense, of course, because the sheep herders need dogs with predominant LGD traits, staying with the flock.  


Molossian LGD guarding horses at the Thessaly plain

Traditional livestock keeping in some regions of Greece has for centuries differentiated between the dogs that escorted the flocks to the pastures for grazing and those that were kept at home, guarding the property and the animals when they were penned at the farm or the corral. In the case of cattle those dogs were also required to control the animals; so they were selected among the largest, bred for size, were better kept, trained and also used for hunting large game. The dual-purpose Souliot dogs best suited this purpose; they are fearless and ferocious guardians of people, property & stock and have the great courage and wits required against the very large wild boars of the the region. The size of the flocks fluctuated following the turbulent history of the country; smallholders with only a few sheep in lowland plains where natural predators are scarce prefer smaller dogs so they developed strains of reduced size; many farmers and hunters have largely replaced the native dogs with imported breeds, because these command better prices as pedigree dogs. And in some cases there is indiscriminate crossing between all these. So the Souliot dogs and the rough-coated ‘pig dogs‘ of Greece are in rapid decline. And this post, instead of joyful revelation, may actually turn out to be read as an epitaph. “What a pity, as they are / were great dogs. At least we have some photos to remember them by”…


Τhe other factor that’s threatening these dogs, is, of course, ignorance. Hellenic cynology is still in its infancy. So some of the newbies have no time for tall houndy Molossians and no interest in their history. Sounds familiar? Most of the Molossian fan base is male and as bone-headed as they come: they groan and sigh with orgasmic shudders of ecstasy at the mere mention of excessive mass, bulk, wrinkle and double dewlap dripping to the ground. Spain, Italy, Greece – not much different in that respect. ‘Machismo’ and bragging of “proud Molossians” and the “only dogs that fight with bears”, projecting their own ego onto their dogs and how they would like to be seen as ‘top dog’ themselves. So a percentage of the people likely to be interested in these dogs are bad news. And predictably they’d be interested in adopting them mainly as pets, training them for protection sports, or worse, dog fighting; when aboriginal landraces and LGDs in particular are taken out of context and reshaped by fancy, rather than the function that originally developed their form and their character traits, maintaining equilibrium and working temperament naturally, there’s bound to be problems. These dogs are not pet material…


look at the size of them paws !

The fact that lean, moderate, athletic dogs are actually stronger, faster, fitter and more capable than the heavy, overdone blobs this type of men prefer is of course vehemently rejected and ignored, as the only work their ‘badass’ dogs are expected to do is look massive, scary and menacing, making the deepest baritone barking sounds possible while they ponderously  flop about, their flabby flesh rolling. The plight of the ‘molossers’ anytime, anywhere, everywhere is that, sadly, they attract morons, greeders, knuckleheads and fraudsters in their droves.  


a very tall  elegant female of Souliot type

To make matters worse, working dog management in rural Mediterranean & Balkan regions (and not exclusively there), is still rudimentary, to put it mildly. One or two pups from every litter born are kept by the herder – in a pot luck process of elimination – and the others go into the bucket. The ones allowed to live have to make do with an extremely meagre existence, surviving encounters with wolf packs and bears – not to mention the systematic extermination by bait, pesticides and rat poison that any sadistic asshole can get hold of. The traditional subsistence of these dogs comprised of rations of home made bread (oat, rye or corn) with some milk from the ewes and the occasional scraps, now replaced by the cheapest garbage dog food available. Any nutritionist who maintains that dogs can’t possibly survive on such diet (and still do a full day’s work every day and live to a ripe old age) is most welcome to solve the riddle, as these dogs did – and many still do. 

Nowadays this very basic traditional rearing regime has been replaced and highjacked to a degree by the ever-present bybs and puppy-farming greeders: they keep whatever specimens they’ve managed to secure from herders in makeshift kennels, flogging substandard Molossian ‘stock’ – often from sires & dams that have never been near flocks or otherwise tested – to crankpots and bigoted nationalists – there is always such a market; some train them to schutzhund-style sleeve-attacking disciplines – quite alien and catastrophic for this category of dogs; frankly, dogs are so badly kept by many of these users and abusers that they cost them next to nothing. They are treated as cheap burglar alarms, tied to a tree to protect property, goats and chickens in backyards and farm plots. Killed, poisoned, replaced, repeat. Subsidized NGOs are also mass-producing livestock guardians of questionable suitability for farmers & sheep herders who get them for free, so why should they really value them? They’re plentiful and expendable. It’s a dog recycling business. We unrealistically think of natural selection and survival of the fittest quite differently. If a free – roaming semi-feral existence and pedigree dog breeding represent the two opposing ends of our interaction with dogs, this abusive mismanagement is a combination of the worst in both worlds.

d kande

Nobody is interested in engaging in a serious breeding program of Souliot-type dogs as they are not valuable, they don’t command high prices and they can’t be shown: they are a landrace – not a ‘pure’ breed; they don’t have official pedigrees or a breed standard and they can’t win trinkets at exhibitions. They don’t therefore qualify as boast-worthy status symbols among the enthusiasts of native breeds. The same unfortunately applies in the case of the Alopekis, the oldest landrace in Europe, which is close to extinction, completely abandoned, neglected and treated with indifference by both Kennel Club and individual dog lovers. Because people prefer pedigree dogs – even if that means buying the false-papered genetic garbage from puppy factory hellholes pitilessly displayed at pet shop windows.


Molossus of Epirus. Breeder-owner G. Panagiotou

So, official recognition of one landrace or a single phenotype from a landrace while excluding the others is not actually helping aboriginal dogs: it’s a veritable recipe for disaster, as it brings about or speeds up the demise of the remaining population, throwing away big chunks of genetic diversity every time a new ‘breed’ is born. If they are to have a present and a future, these dogs need to be managed very differently; the FCI has the right idea, at least in theory, preferring to recognise varieties that can be interbred and mutually replenish their gene pools rather than isolated breeds; but I’ve yet to see this put into good practice to help numerous landraces that are languishing on the brink; because, naturally, National Kennel Clubs are making their own independent decisions about dogs in their jurisdictions; and mostly these decisions follow the established ‘pure breed’ model, as it satisfies national pride and serves the ambitions of breeders. The FCI provision exists, but it’s very rarely used, especially in the case of similar breeds divided by national borders. Again, to put it very mildly, some neighboring countries in the Balkans are not the best of friends…

The Souliot dogs are ferocious, predatory and mistrustful, with a dominant nature and a strong temperament that makes them difficult to manage for inexperienced owners. They aren’t cut out for urban living. They tend to be one – person dogs. They have high prey and fight drives. They are headstrong and don’t tolerate intruders – two legged or four – legged. They will attack anything that comes near their flock. They are serious dogs, tough dogs, to some extent still primitive dogs, not for entry-level accessory exhibitionists. They are working dogs – not pets. Great dogs for the right people – but they don’t have the pedigree to attract pedigree dog folk and they are unknown beyond Greece so their chances of survival are minuscule. 


I did think originally, when I was feeling enthused by the discovery, to write tout suite to Col. Hancock with the astonishing news that ‘his’ Souliot Dogs have survived; my grandmother’s family were refugees from Asia Minor who found shelter and made their home in the Epirotic village of Zitsa, near the ancient capital of the Molossian kingdom, Passaron; so I know the area; and although to say that I’m definitely not a nationalist of any kind, shape or form would be quite an understatement, I do care about dogs and I am fascinated about their history; so naturally the survival of the Souliot landrace struck a chord. And then… I thought some more. I came back down to Earth and sank into reality. I recalled how dogs are treated there, the hundreds of thousands of strays. So, big deal; they survived – for how long? And how important is that, amidst the carnage ?


Kazakh shepherd with steppe LGD, smaller in size yet similar to the Souliot type.

Source & story.

By the time Hancock would be reading my letter these relics might be well and truly lost. No one really gives a rat’s ass about them. They only survived thus far by chance and by stealth, undetected among working stock, because not many knew what they were and because they are tough as nails, admirable in size and strength, reliable guardians, nothing gets past them – plus they can fill the family pot with a boar or two or other game whenever it’s required. Still they are very little known in their own land – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, all things considered, but it limits their chances too. They survived in cryptic manner because all these working dogs were on a par. Now that the Molossus has become a pure breed, the Souliots are the unwanted pariahs. The ‘mongrels’ without papers, without titles. Even more so now than before, no ‘pure’ Molossian breeder (or greeder) would want these ‘untypical Hounds’ born out of his stock to become public knowledge. More of them to the bucket…

Most likely the Souliot Molossian type will be wiped out without a trace before we know it, just like some new species discovered a heartbeat before they become extinct. A few will continue to be born and perish in obscurity, until they are no more. They will be bred out. They will be mindlessly culled. They will disappear in the mountain mist of their homeland and be gone, back to the realm of myths and fairy tales.

It’s ironic but not at all surprising or unpredictable that the establishment of official cynology in the region has done more damage than good to the rural working strains and has thoroughly messed them up, in several ways: by adopting one type & one standard and rejecting all other phenotypes; and by applying selection pressure for conformity and homogenization; the result is catastrophic genetic depletion in populations that are small to begin with; plus, the transformation of some of these dogs from organic part of rural living to a marketable product overnight, makes them targets of commercial exploitation instantly and further upsets and corrupts how they are perceived by the community: the way these dogs changed hands before was determined by the local bartering ethos and honor code – now they have become commodities. And what is worse, some of them became more profitable than the next, not on the basis of their ability to do their job, but on the basis of showability and breed status. There is no working test required – so it’s become possible for the individuals that are the most unsuitable for their original purpose to be admired in the show ring and command the best prices in the market. Sounds like a textbook lesson of how to destroy a population of working animals in the least amount of time, doesn’t it? welcome to pedigree dog capitalism…

The only hope for them is with people who can appreciate them, people who need exactly this type of dogs for a job of work. Any takers? Genetic diversity, handsomeness, size, brains, skill, strength, courage, good honest working dogs, anyone? anywhere? 

150734_859403610777855_3015820106085706896_n - Copy

“we tell the lion by its claw”

So this is a bittersweet story, a Pyrrhic victory, perhaps a fitting finale for this diamond in the rough of a dog. A quiet, dignified exit, as unceremonious as their tough existence has been. No matter what happens, at least their story is told. I hope the post will be saved somewhere by some, and this testimony added to those of distinguished authors who recorded these obscure chapters of dog history for posterity, even if only for the sake of future researchers of the varied origins of the Great Dane. (Vassili, I hope you are reading and saving these pages…)

At least, don’t let them be entirely forgotten. They deserve a footnote somewhere for their service. They were – are – good dogs, you know. Rugged survivors, spirited, indomitable, brave, efficient, hard-working and not at all bad looking. No, truly, they’re beautiful, quite uncommon, even magnificent, methinks. They command respect. 

In a paper titled Using Livestock Guardian Dogs in Balkans (which left out quite a few interesting landraces, as it only listed recognised breeds) is included a photograph of a “Karaman Shepherd dog”. I believe this listing to be incorrect. The specimen is quite an untypical Karaman; it is quite different (compare with these dogs for example); the dog pictured below is in fact a very typical Souliot Molossian Hound phenotype; quite the type that one can imagine, after a good brushing, to be seen marching in front of a regiment in Brussels in 1790, and fit for a royal gift to a King and a Countess, don’t you think? 

Karaman shepherd

As new states have emerged in the Balkans, since the break up of Yugoslavia, it’s only natural that they will seek to establish their national identities – and their own ‘national’ breeds, even if that means being economical with historical facts or reinventing and rewriting entire chapters (nothing new). There’s plenty of livestock guardian landraces in the region, outside organised dogdom; often as a result of arbitrary exclusion of different color varieties from existing breeds- as is the case of the Sharplaninac standard, which discriminated against black specimens (go figure). So these new National Kennel Clubs can take their pick, mix and match, invent or preserve and adopt new breed standards to suit them as they like. One would hope that they would care enough to genuinely research and respect the history of these dogs, their true heritage and the original functions that shaped them – but that’s not always the way things happen, when they are informed by political goals and nationalism. So, more ‘pure breeds’ emerging in the vicinity and novel ones created – what does that mean for the Souliot? More assimilation into new types and varieties? More cryptic survival or an accelerated end? Will one of these countries decide to adopt them instead of the indifferent Greeks? Time will tell – and time is primarily what these dogs don’t have to spare…

Ilissos 18th century

Athens (Ilissos), 18th century engraving. A hound and several LGDs pictured. 

I’m certain that the FCI is aware of these anomalies that accompany breed recognition and actually threaten the genetic integrity and richness of aboriginal phenotypes in its vast area of influence – but the FCI consists of Kennel Clubs and they make the executive decisions in the first critical stages of breed establishment themselves. Kennel Clubs – like breed clubs – are as good as the people that run them at any given time; and many of those are self-serving ‘politicians’, prone to conventional thinking themselves or bound by the interests of their voters; in conventional cynology so-called ‘outcrossing’ is reserved as a very last desperate measure, only after the situation of a breed has been allowed to become unattainable; individual breeds are perceived as disparate entities, as if dogs did not all belong to the same species; matings between different breeds are classed as hybridisation, which of course is absurd. Breeders who dare think outside the box and apply solid science to save their dogs from debilitating fatal conditions are attacked and accused of mongrelisation – while it’s plain to see, if we pick up any breed or genetics book and actually read it, that all dogs are ‘mongrels’ and all breeds are the result of ‘outcrossings’ or crossbreeding between different types. This fact, intelligently used in sound preservation programs, could guarantee the survival of many ancient strains. But we don’t have the infrastructure in place, as most Kennel Clubs operate as mere registering bodies and can’t -or won’t- offer meaningful support to people who would be interested in conservation breeding of aboriginal landraces. That task requires scientific overseeing, co-operation and funding. 


detail from the engraving above

Once a phenotype becomes a recognised breed, after the initial period to reach full pedigree status, adding aboriginal stock to the registry becomes increasingly difficult and bogged down by prohibitive red tape and prejudice. So, for precious aboriginal populations, official recognition should be the very last step to be sought, if ever; and to be considered only after a long careful process of preservation / restoration, ensuring that the population is sufficiently viable and that the registry will stay open to accepting additional specimens or litters born between related variants. What’s needed is a new thinking and a new practice, allowing registration, protection and development without the asphyxiating repercussions of pigeonholing, which divides diverse populations of healthy dogs into increasingly smaller non-viable islands. As we’ve seen from numerous examples it’s quite feasible to maintain type while allowing for genetic diversity and it’s quite easy to return to type after a cross.

So dog lovers need to abandon prejudice and accept scientific facts. It’s the only way to truly save many wonderful strains of dogs, especially those with smallish populations, without condemning them to a slow death.  If organised dogdom doesn’t evolve, alternative institutions will fill the gaps, saturating the market via commercial enterprises issuing papers and status to any willy-nilly crossbred / designer dog created purely for exploitation, like the grossly exaggerated and painfully distorted ‘extreme bully pitbulls‘. It’s not the anti-dog lobby doing this to dog breeding – it’s some dog folk who live in pre-Mendelian caves, refusing to be educated and to keep up with the advances of scientific research, ossifying in establishment positions, facilitating excess that hurts dogs & dogdom and thus condemning our hobby to the fate of the dinosaurs. We need to adapt to prevent chaos – and make sure that dog breeds have a future. And not just any future, but a healthy, secure, efficiently and rationally managed one.

There are many mastiffs and big game hunters. The Souliot dog, like Souli itself, was – is – ancient and unique. Yes, these words are mundane, overused and impossible to convey how special they were – and are. Still. I hope. Their story is not unique though, unfortunately. Many critically endangered aboriginal landarces all over the world are on the same sinking boat, squeezed out of existence by imported or locally ‘invented’ / designed pedigree dog breeds, inflexible institutions, indifferent locals, lack of education, modernization of agricultural methods and various other factors that apply in each individual case, social problems caused by geopolitics and the economy. Pedigree breeds are joining them at an increasing rate – we simply can’t manage populations (or anything else) efficiently – wild, domestic or ours. 


Words cannot save them. Eulogies can’t stop them from disappearing. Blogs cannot pull them back from the brink of extinction. That is the fate of the unloved and the marginalised. There is no interest in their survival, no monetary profit to be made. So should we just accept this reality without a single thought of regret ? Is there a way out of this predicament? 

Like the eerie and haunted landscape, the stoic dark-shaded fortresses of their homeland that sunlight never truly kisses; like its wild people that stood defiant of rule and reason for longer that it was ever possible, only to eventually succumb to their inescapable destiny: to vanish from these abandoned granite skyscrapers, these deep gorges and these valleys of wailing winds and craggy stone; as nature wipes every trace of the free Souliot community’s existence off the face of the Earth, what remains of their dogs is similarly expunged: neglected and cast aside by individuals and institutions alike; snubbed by vainglorious dog show trinket-hunters, BYBs and puppy farmers, those who are busy exploiting the glorious name and history of the Molossian, with their ignorant Ephialtic backsides firmly turned to the one and true Molossian Hound, the only Souliotes left. 

Γκραβούρα του J. P. Mahatty

engraving by J.P. Mahaffy (c. 1889)

I can just hear their resonant barking echoing, carried over the moutaintops more and more distant, vanishing in the mist, the snowstorm and the thunder, like a primordial memory of a dream, a split second before awakening, impossible to grasp and hold on to; they are being left to die, like so many life forms humanity is destroying, to its own peril. Is it so important that they’re rescued, in the greatest scheme of things? I guess not. There’s plenty of dogs in the world. Still, don’t all dogs, all animals, deserve a chance? If these dogs were appreciated, needed, even valued, it would be a different story. If we could get it together to manage precious life’s diversity properly, we would invest more in it, as it’s the key to our own survival. It’s obvious that we’re not very good at it, as species are disappearing at an alarming pace. And that’s what’s absurd. The Souliot dogs are not a breed on a life support system, like many of the pedigree breeds today. They are capable, useful, good dogs worthy of preservation, but they are victims of circumstance.

However, and most importantly, the potential of such aboriginal dogs as donors for saving pedigree breeds from population bottlenecks can’t be underestimated. So it’s not only themselves that would be lost forever, if we allow that to happen, but also something even more valuable: the means and the genetic materials to revive many other ailing populations from disease and extinction would be lost too.  And we simply can’t afford to let this happen without at least an effort to salvage what we can. In the case of the Great Dane, in particular, even the Irish Wolfhound too, suffering from major hereditary health concerns today and in some regions already experiencing the lethal symptoms of genetic depression, the preservation of the ancient Molossian Hound could prove to be significant. So maybe, just maybe, members of the Great Dane & IW communities should take especial interest and get involved to ensure the survival of the Souliot. These dogs could be a much needed way of getting back to the roots to replenish the genetic tank, like a dip in the legendary ‘Fountain of Youth’ of Herodotus


Balia: gone but not forgotten

Just as I was writing the closing lines on this lengthy post that kept me busy for weeks, and as I was getting increasingly pessimistic by the recent sad news of Balia’s passing, on the other side of the Atlantic Carol Beuchat of the Institute of Canine Biology was busy for the cause of preservation; so fortunately I can include her brilliant post here as a more fitting and optimistic epilogue, a visionary path offering maybe a glimmer of hope for these dogs and others, if we indeed take notice and act on time: a call for preservation breeding. Not over yet? 



the post is dedicated to all the unsung working dogs who live and die without recognition or acknowledgement of their invaluable devotion and service. 


Γιά τους ελληνόφωνους αναγνώστες, το τελευταίο τμήμα της δημοσίευσης, αναθεωρημένο στην ελληνική γλώσσα, βρίσκεται εδώ, με τίτλο

Μερικές σκέψεις για το Σουλιώτικο τύπο σκύλου στα 2016“.