Description & History

The history of the Mastiff is interesting in that it is one of the few breeds - including probably the Greyhound - that can be traced to a time when nations from the East dominated the world: carvings, bas-reliefs, models and literature record how active, massive dogs lived centuries before the Christian era.

Many nations from the Middle East and the Orient: Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Tibet and China employed Mastiff type dogs in significant numbers for their fighting and hunting qualities and for guarding. These attributes were used by a number of armies, especially the Greeks and Romans, who trained the dogs for battle and for defence purposes. They were also used for fighting in the Roman arenas against gladiators and defenceless prisoners.

Large numbers of these dogs were kept for hunting various types of big game, mainly wild boar and lions.

Guarding comes naturally to the Mastiff. This was one characteristic which was highly respected by all people. Besides being used by armies to protect their encampments and their livestock against predators, it was also used, especially in the Orient, to guard palaces, monasteries, temples and any property of value.

Records indicate that Mastiffs, or dogs closely resembling the breed, were already established in Britain when the Roman Legions invaded in 43 AD. They may have been indigenous but it seems more likely they were brought to British shores either by the Phoenicians - who were known to trade in livestock - or by the Celts.

Owing to their size and strength, their activities in the British Isles were the same as they had been for centuries. The Forest Laws of 1016, introduced to preserve the monarch's deer, were not entirely successful. Hunting still continued and in the reign of King John all Mastiffs found poaching in the Crown Forests were ordered to be destroyed.

Another sporting activity in which Mastiffs participated was bear- and bull-baiting. Although popular in the Roman arenas, it does not appear to have taken place in Britain until after the arrival of the Legions. This pursuit was very popular in the Tudor dynasty and continued in one form or another until finally banned in 1835.

Mastiffs were employed by English armies up to and during the reign of Henry VIII. The breed remained popular until the seventeenth century after which there was a gradual decline. Due to social changes and improved weapons, the fine qualities of these dogs were no longer required.

Two World Wars still further decreased their numbers. In order to safeguard the breed, some dogs were sent to the United States at the outbreak of World War Two, with the result that by 1946 the breed was reduced to single figures. Later importations from the United States and Canada have enabled the breed to be re-established.

Mastiffs require exercise and space in order to keep them physically and mentally happy.

Rosamund Walters.



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