The "Jennings Dog", a Roman copy of a lost Greek bronze statue, on display in the British Museum.
Other names
  • Μολοσσός
  • Molossian hound
OriginEpirus, ancient Greece
Breed statusExtinct
Dog (domestic dog)

The Molossus (Greek: Μολοσσός, romanizedMolossós; also known as the Molossian hound, Epirus mastiff) was a breed of dog from Ancient Greece.


The Molossus were dogs that were kept by the ancient Greek tribe and kingdom of the Molossians, who inhabited the region of Epirus.[1][2]

The Molossus were famous throughout the ancient world for their size and ferocity and were frequently mentioned in ancient literature, including the writings of Aristophanes,[3] Aristotle,[4] Grattius,[5] Horace,[6][7] Lucan,[8] Lucretius,[9] Martial,[10] Nemesianus,[11] Oppian of Apamea,[12] Plautus,[13] Seneca,[14] Statius,[15][16][17] Ovid,[18] and Virgil.[19] The Molossians issued silver coinage with an image of a Molossus as their emblem.[1]

It is sometimes stated in books and magazines, particularly in Continental Europe and North America, that all mastiff-type dogs are descended from the Molossus.[1][2] This theory states that the breed's progenitors arrived in Molossia from Asia and were eventually discovered by the Romans who employed large numbers as guards for the Roman Army; this theory speculates that the various mastiff breeds found throughout Europe descend from dogs left behind by the Romans.[2] This theory has been questioned by many experts who state it relies on guesswork and lacks historical evidence, and that mastiffs likely developed elsewhere.[1][2]

Another story is that in the course of his military conquests Alexander the Great discovered some giant dogs in Asia that impressed him so much that he sent some home; as the son of a Molossi princess these dogs became associated with his mother's people and that it was from these dogs that all mastiffs descend.[2]

It seems most likely that Molossi kept two distinct types of dogs, one a hunting dog with a broad muzzle which resembled something in between a Great Dane and a heavily built Saluki, the other a large livestock guardian dog.[1][2] Aristotle in his History of Animals wrote "In the Molossian race of dogs, those employed in hunting differ in no respect from other dogs; while those employed in following sheep are larger and more fierce in their attack on wild beasts."[1][4] He also added that dogs that are born of a mixed breed between the Molossian and the Laconian dogs are remarkable for courage and endurance of hard labour.[4]

Polycrates of Samos imported Molossian and Laconian dogs to the island.[20]

According to Greek mythology the goddess Artemis gave to Procris a dog, Laelaps, that never failed to catch its prey and from this dog derived the Molossian and Laconian hounds.[21]

Modern kennel club classification

A number of modern kennel clubs, including the Fédération Cynologique Internationale, group the distinct mastiffs with livestock guardian dogs as a single type they call "molossoid".[1][22][23] It has been theorised that this confusion is due to mistranslations of ancient texts and assumptions based solely on size.[1][22]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Hancock, David (2001). The mastiffs: the big game hunters, their history, development & future. Ducklington, Oxon: Charwynne Dog Features. ISBN 9780951780114.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Morris, Desmond (2001). Dogs: the ultimate dictionary of over 1,000 dog breeds. North Pomfret, VT: Trafalgar Square Publishing. pp. 616–617 & 703. ISBN 1-57076-219-8.
  3. ^ Aristophanes, Thesmophoriazusae, 416.
  4. ^ a b c Aristotle, History of Animals, IX. I. 2. Translated by Richard Cresswell, London: George Bell & Sons, 1887.
  5. ^ Grattius, Cynegeticon, 169.
  6. ^ Horace, Epodes,VI.
  7. ^ Horace, Satires 2, VI. 114.
  8. ^ Lucan, Pharsalia, IV. 440.
  9. ^ Lucretius, De rerum natura, V. 1063.
  10. ^ Martial, Epigram, XII. I. 1.
  11. ^ Nemesianus, Cynegetica, 107.
  12. ^ Oppian, Cynegetica, I. 375.
  13. ^ Plautus, Captivi, 86.
  14. ^ Seneca, Phaedra, 33.
  15. ^ Statius, Achilleid, I. 747.
  16. ^ Statius, Silvae, II. VI. 19.
  17. ^ Statius, Thebaid, III. 203.
  18. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses, I. 226.
  19. ^ Virgil, Georgics, III. 405.
  20. ^ Athenaeus, Deipnosophists, 12.57
  21. ^ Peck, Harry Thurston (1898). Harpers dictionary of classical antiquities. New York: Harper and Brothers. Retrieved 23 July 2021.
  22. ^ a b Ash, Edward Cecil (1927). Dogs: their history and development. London: Ernest Benn. p. 499.
  23. ^ "Group 2: Pinscher and Schnauzer - Molossoid and Swiss Mountain and Cattledogs". Fédération Cynologique Internationale. Retrieved 27 January 2021.