Lady Wentworth (Judith Lytton) presented a strong case in her 1911 book ‘Toy Dogs and Their Ancestors’ for the development of smaller (European) Spitz dogs - Pomeranians – in Greece and Italy. Her case, substantiated by references to the Classics and Antiquities, is in my view further strengthened by evaluating archaeological finds and in recent times by the results of various genetic studies on the origin, early domestication and inter-relationship of dogs.

The European Spitz is believed to have descended from the Turbary dog of central Europe. Ludwig Rütimeyer used the term Canis familiaris palustris (Torfspitz) to classify dog remains found while excavating various sites of early Swiss Lake Dwellings (Pfahlbau). By careful examination of the remains it was decided some were comparable in size to the fox or jackal. Although there is no evidence of coat or colour it is thought they may have been similar to known examples of semi-feral dogs. However, skeletal remains comparable to the Torfspitz have been recovered from archaeological sites covering an extensive geographical area, for example, Württemberg and other areas of S. Germany, Slovenia, Sitagroi & Slesko in S.E. Greece and various locations throughout the Balkans. 

Recoveries from marl deposits in the central area of the river Po valley in Italy are of interest. Strobel named dog remains he found there as Canis familiaris Spalletti - they dated from the Terramare era (c1700-1150BC) and in 1886 Isadore Rosenthal noted C. Spalletti was nearest to the ‘italienischen Fuchs- hundes (cane Volpino)’ – the Italian Fox-Dog or Volpino Dog.

AN EVALUATION OF EARLY SPITZ /POMERANIAN DOG IMAGES IN GREEK, ETRUSCAN AND ROMAN ART

Article by Vivienne Peterson B.A. Copyright March 2011 

As many of you will know Victorian/ Edwardian era breeders in Britain and North America considered all the breeds now classified by the FCI as European Spitz as Pomeranians - viz. all 5 sizes of German Spitz (including the Pomeranian) and the Italian Volpino. The modern Pomeranian was developed by inter-breeding the smaller types with a little infusion in some lines of pre-existing dogs previously imported at an earlier time. Additionally as the Seidenspitz is known to have been sometimes shown as a Pomeranian in Britain it may have been incorporated in some lines.

There are many examples of small Spitz dogs in existence, depicted on vases, funerary steles, frescoes and small statuettes dating back to the ancient Greek, Etruscan and Roman civilizations. Most examples date from after 500BC but there is one little figurine, (left) identified by Lady Wentworth and displayed in the British Museum, that apparently dates from about 800BC or earlier.

The photograph, at the top of this page, is of a terracotta statuette of a small Spitz Dog and the original can be found in the Louvre Museum in Paris. It was found in the ruins of Citium in Cyprus (modern day Larnaca) and was attributed in Wilckens’ book (late 1890s) as dating from Mycenaean Greek (Mykenischer) occupation in Citium between 1300BC to 1100BC.

 

Unfortunately, stylistically the little model appears to be about 600 years younger - and this is probably apparent by comparing it to the dog figure above from 800BC.

The 'Scion of Melita' did not originate in Malta

The Greeks would have classified Rosenthal’s Volpino dog as a “Melitean” or to quote Theophrastus (c371-287BC) a “Scion of Melita”. The Melita referred to here is NOT Malta, as some say, but the Illyrian island of Melita located in the Adriatic and it is now the lovely Croatian island of Mljet (pronounced Mleet). Another old name for the island was Meleda. Interestingly a small village on Mljet is called Pomena. Pliny, citing Callimachus (c310-240BC), said Melitean lap-dogs originated from Illyrian Melita. [1] This information suggests over 2200 years ago some tribes of Illyrians were consciously selecting and breeding for a small, refined dog of a relatively consistent type - perhaps to meet the demands of an increasingly affluent economy in Greece and its colonies. The remains of small pet dogs or lap-dogs are only found in archaeological excavations near higher status dwellings.

 

By examining artefacts dating between 600 - 300BC it becomes evident there were a couple of types of Melitean dogs, this fact was also noted noted by Lady Wentworth. The earliest and by far the most common type was a typical Spitz and strongly resembled today’s Italian Volpino. The other one, less often depicted, appeared in later artefacts and is similar to the modern Maltese Dog apart from the fact that it had pricked ears as found in the Seidenspitz – suggesting it was developed from the earlier type. The second type was smaller and more heavily coated. Apparently some were further reduced in size, perhaps by ‘in and in’ breeding, and it was reported by Aristotle (384-322BC) that some were the size of ferrets or martens. Both types were usually white in colour although one small figurine from Egypt depicts a parti-coloured dog. Could this indicate yet another breed was incorporated in the process of developing the longer, thicker coat which included long hair on the head and muzzle.

Right: Comparison of a Volpino with the Terracotta Spitz statuette

Left: This little statuette is similar to the modern Maltese Dog in type but clearly has small pricked ears and is in this way similar to the prick eared Seidenspitz dog. Estimated to date from between 300 to 600 BC

Areas influenced by Greek and Roman civilization

Greek civilization had expanded rapidly in pursuit of strategic areas for the purpose of trading and power. By 275BC territory included Cyrene (in Benghazi area, Libya), Alexandria in Egypt, locations on the east coast of Spain and S France, areas of Turkey and the Levant, the Aegean Islands, Cyprus, Sicily, Southern Italy and Alexander the Great of Macedon (356-323BC) had advanced all the way to N India and the Himalayan region.

The affluent Greek town of Sybaris in S E Italy was so associated with Melitean dogs that in Tudor England a shaggy haired, bantamised variation – the Shock Dog - was referred to as a Sybaritical dog. [2] The Icelanders detecting a ‘niche’ market also exported a prick- eared variety to England, referred to by William Shakespeare.

An established overland trading route of ‘luxury’ goods from the northern Adriatic (Aquileia) to Truso (now Elbing near Gdansk) on the S.E. Baltic coast was of more interest to the Greeks after the opening up of the salt mines in Halstatt in Austria (by 500BC) – it is felt this 1200 mile route via Halstatt may still have existed in Mediaeval times.  The Greek love of amber dated from the Mycenaean era - later they traded bronze items, ivory (maybe wine) for amber, furs and salt from the north. [3]Pliny noted a small amber figurine cost more than a living man (days of slavery). It is tempting to wonder if ‘luxury’ dogs went back and forth at this time as they apparently did later on.

John Murray’s travel guide of 1884 includes his visit to a museum in Athens, ‘in recent times a variety of small Spitz dog was exported to S Germany from the E coast of the Adriatic, but has now become scarce’. He then compared this type of dog to the one on the Stele of Polyeuctus (circa 250BC) – and noted, ‘this little dog, as well as two others in this hall, seems to belong to the breed now known as the Pomeranian, or Spitz’. So it would seem over 2000 years later people from the same area in the Adriatic still bred Pomeranians/Spitz for export to other markets.

There was also a larger Spitz, evidence of this can be seen as of 2200 years ago – one is depicted on an Etruscan coin (Ref. Cato – Roman Farm Management) and another on an Italian plate - both dating from about 200BC. At the same time, in Wallertheim in the Württemberg region of Germany, a small glass model of a Spitz dog was buried in the tomb of a warrior so it is likely this represented a larger dog, perhaps a favourite dog of the deceased. The Württemberg area had a long association with Spitz dogs and both large and small specimens were eagerly acquired by international breed fanciers up until the early 1900s.

It should be stressed here that it is evident European Spitz dogs could be found throughout central Europe within the time frame covered in this article but we lack, with a few exceptions, ancient images of them conveniently provided by the early civilizations of Greece and Italy.

Archaeologists have found the skeletal remains of two or three types of Roman dogs, near the sites of Roman villas (circa 43-410AD) , including small dogs - R. A. Harcourt’s ‘The Dog in Prehistoric and Early Britain.’ Carson Ritchie compared some remains to the modern Pomeranian.

 

Once settlements had been established the families of the higher status soldiers, administrators and so forth arrived, and with them came their family’s pet dogs. This suggests the possibility that throughout the vast Roman Empire a part of Roman domestic life would include dogs originating from their homeland.

Cane Volpino and ‘fox-dogs’

By 1554 the Melitean Spitz type of the Greeks was called ‘Can Volpini’ in Italy. Tito Giovanni Scandianese theorised they could be descended from wolves - perhaps having a link with the wolf dogs referred to by Xenophon. [4] (Volpino means little fox from the Latin word for fox – Vulpes.) 


The Germans also had a ‘fox-dog’ called the ‘Fuchs-spitz’ or ‘Wißbader Spitz’ in Bechstein’s book of 1789, he noted that – it is said this type of dog originated from breeding the Pommer (Pomeranian) with the fox.  [5] It was usually fox- red in colour. Red-coloured small Spitz dogs were also known in Italy until the late 1800s – of which more will be said later. In light of recent DNA studies it can be said that Scandianese was a few hundred years ahead of his time with his theory!

The ‘Vocabolario Milanese – Italiano’ a dictionary of 1856 cross-referenced ‘Can Pomer’ to ‘Cane Volpino’. The Vocabolario Domestico by G Carena, 1859 described ‘Cane Volpino’ as ‘detto in alcuni luoghi Cane Pomperano’. The British more often than not simply called all the varieties from Italy, France, Holland and Germany (regardless of size) -Pomeranians - although most were aware of the numerous regional European names and sometimes referred to them. [6] It is evident that many now believed Italy, rather than Greece, was where the Volpino originated. This is apparent in the writings of several writers in the C19th and here is Ouida’s point of view.

Ouida (1839-1908) was the pen name of Maria Ramé of Bury St Edmunds. She spent most her adult life living in Italy and was a famous lover of dogs, an early and outspoken advocate of animal rights and she also kept several Pomeranians over the years. Her novel ‘Ruffino’ is about a little white Pomeranian Dog (Volpino) with a small black nose, and large black eyes, and a ruff as wide and imposing as Queen Elizabeth’s. On page 86 of ‘Ruffino’ she also calls him a ‘fox-dog’ another early name used in Britain for a Pomeranian. Of him she said :-  

‘Rome was his birthplace, but he had never been able to comprehend how his race, with their double coat of long hair, and short hair underneath, ever became natives of a hot country like Italy. Yet it was quite certain that natives they had been for a vast number of centuries, and had been even cruelly honoured by being sacrificed to Flora in the remote days of the old Latin gods’.

 

Right: Lead figurine 200BC

The photograph of the so-called “Mycenaean” statuette was selected by German author Martin Wilckens to illustrate the ‘Pommer or Spitz Dog’ in his book on domestic pets. Here is what he had to say – below which is a synopsis of his views in English.

 

 

Der Spitz oder Pommer – from ‘Grundzüge der Naturgeschichte der Haustiere’ by Martin Wilckens. Published in the late 1890s.

Schon aus den Zeiten Griechenlands und aus altrömischer Zeit sind uns vielfache bildiche Darstellungen dieser Hunderasse erhalten, die auch heutzutage noch ziemlich häufig als Wachthund gehalten wird.


Der Spitz ist ein meist kleiner Hund, mit kurzen Läufen und aufrecht getragenem, spiralig gewundenem  Schwanz. Die spitze Schnauze ist verhältnismäßig kurz, die kurzen Ohren stehen ganz aufrecht. Das Haar ist glatt an Kopf und Läufen, am übrigen Körper sehr lang, mähnenartig am Halse und von rein weißer, seltener gelber, grauer und schwarzer Farbe;  die weißen Spitze haben eine schwarze Nase. Durch Kreuzung des Spitzes mit dem Malteser ist der Seidenspitz entstanden, dessen langes, weißes Haar von seidenartiger Weichheit ist.

There are to be found many representations of this breed in images from the times of ancient Greece and the Romans and nowadays they are still frequently kept and valued as watchdogs

The Spitz is mostly a smaller dog, with short legs and a spiral wound tail carried upright. The pointed muzzle is relatively short, the small ears stay upright. The hair is smooth on the head and legs, and very long on the rest of the body, mane-like on the neck and is pure-white, sometimes tan, grey and black coloured – the white Spitzes have a black nose. Through crossing the Spitz and the Maltese the Seidenspitz originated, their long, white hair is of the silky type and soft.  [7]

NOTES :


1 - Pliny the Elder wrote ‘Next to these Corcyra, surnamed Melaena; with the town of Guidii, distant 22 miles: between which and Illyricum is Melita, from whence (as Callimachus testifieth) the little dogs Melitaeni took their name ….’ - Note Corcyra is modern day Corfu.

 

Further evidence of Illyrian origin is provided by Lucius Paulus (229-160BC) a Roman general. He was worried upon hearing some Illyrian tribes were to join the Macedonians in war against Rome. Upon returning to his house he found his young daughter in tears as her beloved, little dog Perseus had died. But he considered this a good omen! – being, like most Romans, very superstitious. Clearly the death of a dog associated with Illyrians portended its people may be equally doomed.

2 - Bryant writing in the mid- 1700s wrote ‘The Catuli Melitensis of Callimachus is an Illyrian breed … very common in Magna Graecia and those places that had any correspondence with Greek colonies in the Adriatic, but, of all others, they were in greatest esteem among the Sybarites, the most languid and indolent people upon earth, who made these animals attend them to the baths, carrying in their mouths the little implements for bathing.’ 


3. – From – ‘Conquest by Man’ by Paul Herrmann, published in 1954 

4 – I Quattro Libri Della Caccia by Tito Giovanni Scandianese published in Italy, 1554.  

5 –Charles Darwin sourced Bechstein in ‘The Origin of the Species’ in Ch VII on Hybridism he noted, ‘For when it is stated, for instance, that the German Spitz Dog unites more easily than other dogs with foxes ….’ Aristotle was probably the first person to theorise about Fox/ Dog crossbreeds.

6 -  Other names include the Italian Pomeranian, the Italian Spitz dog, the Florentine Spitz (cane de Firenze), the Volpino or Vulpino Romano & the cane del Quirinale. Romano & Quirinale refer to the ancient Roman roots. Victorian authors have also also used the term ‘ lupette’ or ‘lupetties’- meaning small wolf – the Italians called the Keeshond/Wolfspitz the Lupino. From this name it is possible the French name for a small Spitz ‘Loulou’ developed. In a 1921 edition of the American magazine Dogdom there is an article about the Florentine Spitz or Pomeranian. For regional names of non-Italian ‘Poms’ please see FAQ page.


7. It is puzzling why Johann Haller in 1757 considered the Maltese to be the Bolognese dog and usually coloured white or red. Bechstein (1799) also considered the ‘dog of Malta’ to be the Bolognese, Bichon or Shock dog. He added all types of small Schooshündchen were developed by interbreeding small Spitzes, Pugs and Poodles!                          
Here is a selection of early images – some are featured in Toy Dogs and Their Ancestors by the Hon. Mrs J Lytton (Lady Wentworth) 1911 – others can be found in C19th Dog or History books. Most breed books as of the 1950s usually feature at least one of these well-known images. 

 

 

Below: Interesting image dating from the Etruscan era - recovered from a site in Italy's Maremma Tuscany area (west coast) - about 2400 years old. Full of symbolism - note the drawing on the amphora of the same type of dog listening intently to the wise words of an older man. Most likely indicating respect for traditional values of those who have gone before. Image from M Denlinger's book ' The Complete Pomeranian' published 1950. Originally illustrated in the Annali dell Instituto di Correspondenza Archaecolgica.

Below : Greek scene (400 BC) - typical  'movement' illustrated

Below : Greek scene (400 BC) - typical  'movement' illustrated

Below : Greek Vase 400BC

Below : Greek Vase 400BC

The Hegeso, Dexileos and Ilissos and other Stelai

Very interesting website with many examples of Greek artworks.

The Stele of Polyeuctus - referred to by John Murray in 1884 is on this page - scroll almost to the end of page to see it.

The Hegeso, Dexileos and Ilissos and other Stelai

Very interesting website with many examples of Greek artworks.

The Stele of Polyeuctus - referred to by John Murray in 1884 is on this page - scroll almost to the end of page to see it.

The Hegeso, Dexileos and Ilissos and other Stelai

Very interesting website with many examples of Greek artworks.

The Stele of Polyeuctus - referred to by John Murray in 1884 is on this page - scroll almost to the end of page to see it.

The Hegeso, Dexileos and Ilissos and other Stelai

Very interesting website with many examples of Greek artworks.

The Stele of Polyeuctus - referred to by John Murray in 1884 is on this page - scroll almost to the end of page to see it.

The Hegeso, Dexileos and Ilissos and other Stelai

Very interesting website with many examples of Greek artworks.

The Stele of Polyeuctus - referred to by John Murray in 1884 is on this page - scroll almost to the end of page to see it.

Right : Lot 330 is a truly fantastic Greek figurine of a Pomeranian dating from 350-300BC. It was sold by Christie's in October 2004 and was part of the 'A Peaceable Kingdom' collection of animals in art collected by Leo Mildenberg. Behind the figurine is a small Xenon ware vase dating from C4th southern Italy. Please go to link below to see other examples from this wonderful collection.

A GREEK TERRACOTTA MODEL OF A DOG | CIRCA 350-300 B.C. | Christie's