Description & History

The Maltese, once known as the lion dog is considered to be the oldest European toy breed.

The exact origin of this pure-bred dog is not known, although there is evidence of its existence in the Mediterranean area in the first century AD.

How the Maltese acquired its name is hard to establish, as the breed appears to have had no connection with the island since early in the sixteenth century. It may have course come from the island of Malta but some maintain that it originated in the Sicilian town of Melita.

As far back as the Renaissance (fourteenth to sixteenth centuries) these small dogs were favourites and were sought after by kings, queens and nobility.

It was Dr Johannes Caius, physician to Queen Elizabeth I, who said of the Maltese and other toy breeds, that they were "chiefly sought after for pleasure and amusement of women, who carried them in their arms, their bosoms, and their beds".

The popularity of the Maltese down the centuries can probably be gauged by the fact that, like the Papillon - another favourite toy breed, they were included in the paintings of a number of famous artists. From the fifteenth century when Titian painted these small dogs to the nineteenth century, when Sir Edward Landseer painted them, the Maltese has been seen to have maintained its beauty.

The breed was first shown in England at the Birmingham Dog Show in 1864.

Rosamund Walters.

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