Pugnaces Britanniae (Latin) or War Dog of Britannia is an extinct breed of dog and progenitor to the English Mastiff.
The references by Roman writers to the canes pugnaces of Roman Britain suggest a dog of a large and heavy type. Oppian says the fighting dog had light brown eyes, truncated muzzle, loose skin above the brows, a broad back, great stature, and muscular legs.
Gratius Falsius an ancient Roman author and historian wrote in the year 8 AD of a large exhibition of dog fights in the ancient Roman amphitheatres between the Pugnaces Britanniae from Britannia and the Molossus from Epirus. The exhibition reflected the wide-mouthed dogs from Britain were far superior to the ancient Greek Molossus.
“ Although the British dogs are distinguished neither by colour nor good anatomy, I could not find any particular faults with them. When grim work must be done, when special pluck is needed when Mars summons us to battle most extreme, then the powerful Molossus will please you less and the Athamanen dog cannot measure up to the skill of the British dog either. ”
Gratius Falsius, 8 AD
The ancient Roman historian Strabo reported in 38 AD of large British dogs, which were bred in their homeland of Britannia to hunt dangerous game and as war dogs.
In 43 AD, the Roman conquest of Britain made Britannia a Roman province. At that time, in Britain there were giant, wide-mouthed dogs, which the Romans called Pugnaces Britanniae, that surpassed their Molossus dogs. A Procurator Cynegii, was stationed in Venta Belgarum and responsible for selecting these dogs, which were exported to Rome for contests in the amphitheatre and for integration into the military of ancient Rome as war dogs.
The 'Pugnaces' dogs of Roman Britain were specifically referred to by the Greek historian Arrian in 130 AD.
From Before Biblical Times To The Present
When we go to war, they go to war.
Throughout the histories of warfare, from the days of the Egyptians, the Greeks and the Persians and the conquests of the Roman Empire.
To the United Nation's Police Action in Korea, the war in Vietnam, the Gulf War, and more recently during the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.
Dogs have undergone active service at the sides of their masters, they have played the role of hero, by showing bravery under fire, saving lives (often by sacrificing their own), and bringing comfort to the injured and infirm.
Atilla the Hun, used giant Molossian dogs, precursors of the mastiff, and Talbots, ancestors of the bloodhound, in his campaigns.
During the Middle Ages, war dogs were outfited with armor and frequently were used to defend caravans.
And in the Seven Years War, Russian dogs were used as messengers by the army of Frederick the Great.
Napoleon had dogs posted as sentries at the gates of Alexandria, in Egypt, to warn his troops of any attacks.
Two centuries earlier, on this side of the Atlantic, they helped the Spaniards conquer the indians of Mexico and Peru.
Then later on, it was the native North American Indians who were to develop the use of dogs for pack and draft work, as well as for sentry duty.
In the early part of the 14th Century, the French Navy started to use attack dogs in St. Malo, France, to guard naval dock installations. These were used up to 1770, when they were abolished after a young naval officer was unfortunately killed by one of the dogs.
The first recorded American Canine Corp was during the Seminole War of 1835, and again in 1842, in Florida and Louisana, where Cuban-bred bloodhounds were used by the army to track the indians and runaway slaves in the swamps!
And during the bleakest time in the history of the United States, the Civil War, dogs were used as messengers, guards and as mascots.
In 1884, the German Army established the first organize Military School for training war dogs at Lechernich, near Berlin; and in 1885 wrote the very first training manual for MWD.
In 1898, during the Spanish-American War, dogs were used by Teddy's Roughriders, as scouts in the jungles of Cuba.
By the early part of the twentieth century most European countries were utilizing dogs in their armies and for police work.
In 1904, Imperial Russia used ambulance dogs during the Russo-Japanese War; trained by a British dog fancier, who later went on to establish the first Army Dog School in England, at the start of The Great War.
The Bulgarians and Italians employed dogs as sentries during the war in the Balkans and in Tripoli, as did the British on the Abor Expedition in the Himalayas.
Dogs were used in sizable numbers in both World War I and II, particularly by the Germans, French, Belgians; and proved to be of considerable value!
In 1988, the Israeli Special Forces sent bomb carrying Rottweilers on a suicide mission, code named "Blue and Brown," against enemy bunkers in Lebanon. But more about that later!
And when the Berlin Wall came down, Nov. 9, 1989, the East German communist government was using 5,000 dogs just to patrol the wall and another 2,500 watch dogs plus 2,700 so called horse dogs to patrol their borders.
During the Gulf War, at least 1,177 highly trained German Shepherds were use by the French forces to guard and protect their troops, supplies and aircraft. The USA used 88 teams.
But it was initially during the days of the Roman Empire, that entire formations of attack dogs, frequently equipped with armour or spiked collars were sent into battle against the enemy as a recognized and effective instruments of offensive warfare.
However, recently with the development of modern long range warfare and the consequential change in military tactics, the value of dogs as combat soldiers has steadily diminished.
But at the same time their usefulness in other military activities has increased.
This is their story and in some ways, mans as well!
War dogs were used by the Egyptians, Greeks, Britons and the Romans. The Molossian 'Canis Molossus' dog of Epirus was the strongest known to the Romans, and was specifically trained for battle. However, when fought against the broad-mouthed, powerful mastiff of Britannia, they were outmatched. The Romans exported many of this breed of mastiff to Rome and then disseminated them over the known world. Often war dogs would be sent into battle with large protective spiked metal collars and coats of chain mail. The Romans had attack formations made entirely of dogs. Native Americans also used dogs, though not on this scale.
During the Middle Ages Atilla the Hun used giant Molosser dogs in his campaigns. Gifts of war dog breeding stock between European royalty were seen as suitable tokens for exchange throughout the Middle Ages. Other civilizations used armored dogs to defend caravans or attack enemies. The Spanish conquistadors used dogs when they invaded the land controlled by South American natives. The British used dogs when they attacked the Irish and the Irish in turn used Irish Wolfhounds to attack invading Norman knights on horseback. Two wolfhounds, or even a single one were perfectly capable of taking a mounted man in armour off his horse, where the lightly armed Irish dog handler would render the coup de grâce to the Norman, if that was still necessary.
Later on, Frederick the Great used dogs as messengers during the Seven Years' War in Russia. Napoleon would also use dogs during his campaigns. Dogs were used up until 1770 to guard naval installations in France.
The first official use of dogs for military purposes in the United States was during the Seminole Wars. Dogs were used in the American Civil War to protect, send messages, and as mascots.
There are two War Dog Memorials; one at March Field Air Museum, and the other at The Infantry School, Ft. Benning.
Early History Of The Neapolitan Mastiff
In the Assyrian section of the British Museum is the Nineveh bas-relief, sculpted about 850 BC. Those familiar with the Neapolitan Mastiff today will recognise the long stride of the foreleg. This is typical and can be seen in the best contemporary specimens. Did such a dog exist over two thousand years ago?
We can prove very little. However there is such realism in the piece and such presence and power that it seams more likely to be from life. It is known that the Greeks and later the Romans, admired the ferocious Mastiff-type dogs which were not uncommon in the Middle East. It seems that the word ‘Molossus’ was used in Roman times to describe any large formidable guard dog.
In the fourth century BC, there was a Greek state called Epirus, where the rulers called themselves ‘Molossians’. History suggests that when Roman forces over-ran Epirus, dogs whose great size and power were sought after were plundered to use in the fighting arena, although there is no real proof of this.
What we can safely assume is that before the Second World War a large heavy guard dog existed in Italy, in the Naples region. It was used as a guardian of the estate and it is said that the Mastini instinctively knew not to cross their boundaries. They were not leashed or checked by a human in any way, there was no need!
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