International Dog Day: Looking at Historical Canines

Wednesday, August 26, is International Dog Day! Our four-legged friends have done a lot for us, especially during these high-stress times, so it’s a perfect time to recognize them for everything that they do. If you have a dog of your own, give them an extra treat or two today! You probably know a lot about your own dogs, but do you know how long dogs have been a part of our history?

As it turns out, dogs have been our best friends since before we developed written language. An ancient in Turkey shows evidence of domesticated dogs dating all the way back to 12,000 years BCE. Around the same time, a grave in Israel called the Natufian Grave held an old man and a puppy. Dogs were featured in the famous Epic of Gilgamesh as the companions of the popular goddess Ishtar. Dog collars were likely invented in Sumer as well. A golden pendant of a dog was found in the Sumerian city of Uruk that dates around 3300 BCE. The dog resembles a Saluki and is shown wearing a wide collar, proving that dog collars were invented sometime prior.

Saluki dogs. The dogs in Ancient Egypt/Sumer closely resembled this breed.

We even know many ancient Egyptian dog’s names from leather collars as well as stelae and reliefs.  They included names such as Brave One, Reliable, Good Herdsman, North-Wind, Antelope and even “Useless”.  Other names come from the dog’s color, such as Blacky, while still other dogs were given numbers for names, such as “the Fifth”. Many of the names seem to represent endearment, while others convey merely the dog’s abilities or capabilities.

The Grecian, three-headed dog named Cerberus shows us the Greeks considered dogs guardians and useful servants. In fact, the Greeks invented the spiked collar that we still see today! Socrates also spoke about the wisdom of dogs, saying that they “distinguish the face of a friend and of an enemy only by the criterion of knowing and not knowing,” and that there’s a sort of insight to be found in the concept of learning in order to sort things into the categories of “like” and “dislike.” Socrates has also said that dogs are never deceived by who is or isn’t their friends; they always know who’s on their side.

According to Xenophon, the dog names preferred by the ancient Greeks were short, consisting of one, or at most two, syllables. They also paid special attention to the meaning of the name of the dog and no name was ever bestowed at random or on a whim.  …Notable dog names of antiquity that we know of are Impetuous  (Ορμητικός), Follower (Μεθέπων), The One Who Awakens You (Εγέρτης), Crow (Κόραξ), The Shining One (Λάμπρος), Good Shooter (Εύβολος), and, of course, Odysseus’ faithful dog Argos.

If you’re in the mood for a good cry, read some of these grave inscriptions from the graves of dogs in Ancient Greece:

  • “This is the tomb of the dog, Stephanos, who perished, Whom Rhodope shed tears for and buried like a human. I am the dog Stephanos, and Rhodope set up a tomb for me”
  • “Helena, foster child, soul without comparison and deserving of praise.”
  • “You who pass on this path, if you happen to see this monument, laugh not, I pray, though it is a dog’s grave. Tears fell for me, and the dust was heaped above me by a master’s hand.”

Grecian art of a man and his dog

As humanity traveled to Europe, they took their dogs with them. The Chauvet Cave in Southern France preserved 26,000 year old footprints of a young child walking beside a dog. There have also been dog remains found around Europe that were even older, clocking in around 31,700 years old! These dogs resembled Siberian Huskies in appearance. Norse faith included a Ceberus-like figure named Garm who kept watch over the afterlife to ensure that dead souls stayed in and living souls stayed out. More dogs have been excavated from Norse graves than any other culture!

We shared much of our history with dogs, and today is the day to celebrate. Happy International Dog Day, everyone!

TREMG news

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