The Magnificent Dogs and Exquisite Collars of Ancient Greece

The Magnificent Dogs and Exquisite Collars of Ancient Greece

Dogs in ancient Greece were more than just loyal companions; they were celebrated as guardians, hunters, and even intuitive thinkers. The deep admiration the Greeks had for their furry friends is evident in their art, literature, and cultural values. Dogs were initially domesticated in Greece out of a necessity for protection from wolves, but their relationship with humans evolved into one of mutual respect and love.

The Greeks’ appreciation for dogs may have been influenced by their trade with Egypt, a civilization renowned for its love of animals. The Egyptians likely introduced the concept of dog collars, which went beyond simple leather or rope bands. Trade between Greece and Egypt grew through the city of Naucratis, founded by Pharaoh Amasis II. Along with goods, ideas and technologies diffused between the two cultures, including the concept of elaborate dog collars.

While the exact origins of the Greek dog collar remain uncertain, there is no doubt that dogs became an integral part of ancient Greek life. Greek art, poetry, and tombs were adorned with images of dogs, showcasing their intelligence, resourcefulness, and loyalty. The significance of dogs in Greek culture is further highlighted by the mentions of famous dogs in ancient Greek literature.

In Homer’s works, dogs are mentioned as loyal companions and are even sacrificed following the death of a beloved character. Argos, the famous dog in Greek literature, patiently waits for his master’s return in Homer’s Odyssey. When Odysseus finally returns, disguised, Argos recognizes him and rises to greet him before passing away. These anecdotes serve as powerful demonstrations of the loyalty and love between dogs and their owners.

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Another notable dog in Greek-Macedonian history is Peritas, who belonged to Alexander the Great. While legends attribute heroic deeds to Peritas, ancient sources present a different narrative. According to Pliny the Elder, Alexander sought a dog for hunting purposes but was disappointed when the dog refused to engage in combat with wild boars. It was only when the dog faced lions and elephants that it displayed its prowess. The story of Peritas saving Alexander’s life in battle seems to be a later embellishment.

Dogs hold a significant place in Greek mythology as well. Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guards the gates of Hades, is prominently featured in various tales. Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, is associated with seven hunting dogs, and dogs were often sacrificed to her. Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft, magic, and darkness, was closely linked to dogs, who could sense her presence when no one else could.

In addition to their roles as hunters and companions, dogs were considered philosophers by the ancient Greeks. Plato, the renowned philosopher, argued that dogs possess natural wisdom. He believed that dogs could distinguish friend from foe based on a “criterion of knowing and not knowing,” making them lovers of truth with knowledge superior to that of humans. This philosophical view influenced the naming of the Cynic School of philosophy, founded by Antisthenes, one of Socrates’ students.

Various dog breeds existed in ancient Greece, each serving different purposes. The Alopekis, known as the “small fox,” was a popular breed used for vermin control and as companions. The Laconian hounds, bred in Sparta, were favored for their hunting abilities. Dogs on farms played a vital role in protecting flocks and homes from wolves. Farm dogs, such as the Molossian from Epirus, required a unique Greek invention: the spiked dog collar. These collars were designed to protect dogs’ throats from wolf attacks.

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The Greek dog collars were crafted from metal or leather, with metal collars featuring spikes attached in a chain-link pattern. Leather collars had spikes driven through the band and secured with rivets. Artistic depictions of collars on ceremonial drinking vessels, known as rhytons, suggest that they were intricate works of art.

While the practices of Greek dog owners may seem harsh by modern standards, the Greeks deeply cared for their dogs. Veterinary medicine was well-established, and there are records of people playing and enjoying the company of their furry companions. The Greeks offered praise, kisses, and affectionate names to their dogs, much like modern dog owners.

In conclusion, dogs and their collars had a significant presence in ancient Greece. Dogs were honored, loved, and celebrated in art, literature, and everyday life. They served as loyal companions, hunters, and even philosophers. The exquisite collars they wore showcased the Greeks’ appreciation for their canine friends. The legacy of dogs in ancient Greece serves as a testament to the enduring bond between humans and their four-legged companions.

Hercules Captures Cerberus

Grave Stele of a Young Girl, Melisto

Red-figured Jug - Girl Playing with Tortoise

To learn more about the incredible world of dogs, visit Karen’s Kollars.