History of the Neopolitan Mastiff

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History of the Neopolitan Mastiff

Neopolitan Mastiff Biografy

 


"...a young slave was worth 200 dracme [...] a well trained molossian dog was worth 500"

"...with a single bite they could brake off a man wristle"

"...They were bigger and much more massive than wolves [...] wolves, living in the same land in pack, would always avoid the lonely molossian"

[Daniel Chavarria]


Synonym of Italian mastiff, this large breed is the result of at least three thousands years of both natural and human selection based on the various descriptions obtained as a gift from the past.
According to different sources, the progenitor of this mastiff is a "tibetan" dog which directly affected the phenotype of the persian mastiff used in battle against Alexander "the great" by king Porus.
It was just Alexander "the great" who admired the strength of these dogs and brought them in Greece, where they were bred even after his kingdom in a region of Epirus called "Molossia" (from which comes the term molossus used by the romans to describe this dog, freely translated in english as molossian).
The Roman emperor Paolo Emilio at his triumphal return at Rome after a military campaign in Greece brought a hundred of these dogs as war booty.
Based on reports of Quinto Aurelio Simmaco, the Romans widely employed these dogs for their fighting games at the Colosseum ("giochi circensis").


At the time of Julio Caesar, the original Greek strain was supposedly bred with the mastiff's encountered during the military campaign in "britannia" (the actual Great Britain) most likely brought there by the Phoenicians.
The status of this breed following the decline of the roman empire is less clear but the dog fortunately survived the medieval age as witnessed by several authors who cite this dog in their works (see the molossian in the literature).
During this age molossian dogs were used for guard at castles and for wild boer hunting.

 

 


A crucial step for the selection of the present phenotype of the neapolitan mastiff was the contribute of the spanish "perro de presa" that was breed with the ancient Italian mastiff at the time of the Spanish domination in southern Italy (the so called "kingdom of the two sicilies") around the middle of the XV century (1450 after Christ).
This dog then became "trendy" for kings as well as for their servants in the region ruled by the royal families of Aragona and later of the Borboni.
This was so evident that the mastiff became a common theme in both sculptures and paintings present througout the southern Italian peninsula (*).


 

 



In the centuries that followed the end of the Spanish kingdom in italy the breed survived in the countryside around Naples thanks to the devotion of individuals who loved the strength, the character and the loyalty of this dog.
The italian nickname used to describe these neapolitan mastiff owners ("Mastinari") is still used by the italian breeders in southern Italy.



 

 

 

 

(*) A comprehensive and detailed description of the pieces of art representing the molossian dog both in Italian peninsula and in the pre-Roman age is provided by Felice Cesarino in his book: "Il molosso: viaggio attorno al mastino napoletano".
However, the contribute of these people would have been misknowledged without the work of another passionate person in the name of the writer Piero Scanziani whom, following the 2nd world war collected some subjects from the neapolitan country side and breed them at the Rome zoo.
This led to the official recognition of this ancient dog in Italy in 1949 by the italian kennel club (ENCI).
Whatever happened after that date I will consider "contemporary history" of the breed and it will deserve further attention in a separate contest.

 


The molossian in the literature.

The impressive appearance of this dog along with his natural guardian instinct have always attracted the interest of artists of any kind since it first appeared almost 4,000 years ago (when the first icons faithfully representing this dog were produced).
His presence in the literature, besides the reports of Pliny "the old", is found in the work of Aristotele, Lucrezio, Orazio, Ovidio, Virgilio and Columella.
Also Boccaccio quotes the "mastini" in his masterpiece Decameron.
Almost half century ago, D'annunzio and Pirandello included this dog in their works.

 

 

 

The most recent mention of this dog in the literature is due to the latin-american writer Daniel Chavarria whom, in his novel "el ojo Dindimenio" (translated in Italian as "l'occhio di Cibele") placed in the magnificent Athene of Pericle gives a splendid description of the ancient molossian.
In his first chapter (just entitled: "the molossians") Chavarria quotes:

"a young slave was worth 200 dracme" while "a well trained molossian dog was worth 500".

"Well trained was a molossian who would bite at the buttocks and would conceive the slave fugitive alive and without bone fractures".

"With a single bite they could brake off a man wristle".

"They were bigger and much more massive than wolves" and "wolves, living in the same land in pack, would always avoid the lonely molossian".

 

 

 

 

Do you have old pictures, items, statuets or articles about the Neopolitan Mastiff breed you want to share.

Please contact owner of this site or email to martin@securit4u.dk with agreement for me to use on this site.