There is evidence of Mastiff-like giant dogs dating back as far as 2500 BC in the mountains of Asia. Bas-reliefs from the Babylonian palace of Ashurbanipal (now on display in the British Museum) depict Mastiff-type dogs hunting lions in the desert near the Tigris River.
Their coloration, of course, cannot be told, but other than being taller and leaner than current-day Mastiffs (as ours would be if raised in a desert and fed lightly), they are remarkably like our modern Mastiffs, despite the passing of nearly 4500 years.
After this clear visual evidence, we must rely on folklore and oral history. Phoenician traders are believed to have introduced the Mastiff to ancient Britain, where the Romans found them and brought them back to fight in the arena.
Marco Polo wrote of Kubla Khan, who kept a kennel of 5,000 Mastiffs used for hunting and war.
When Hannibal, ‘a great Carthaginian leader’, crossed the Alps, he took with him several battalions of trained war mastiffs, who, during their long travels, “fraternized” with local breeds to produce what became the St. Bernard, once called the Alpine Mastiff, as well as other giant breeds.
All of the massive mountain dogs of Spain, France, Turkey, and the Balkans can trace their size back to Mastiff blood in their ancestry.
Even the Chow Chow carries Mastiff blood, as does the Pug, which was originally a form of dwarf Mastiff.
Theories advanced by various authors have focused on one or more of the above to try to identify the *origin* of the breed. What should matter the most to us is what the breed is like now, and how it came to be that way.
Despite the differences of opinion on where the Mastiff originated, most agree that the British are the creators of the breed as we know it today.
Of all the countries who used the Mastiff, it was the British who kept him in his purest form, and it is to them that we owe the Mastiff of today.
They kept Mastiffs to guard their castles and estates, releasing them at night to ward off intruders. Henry VIII is said to have presented Charles V of Spain a gift of 400 Mastiffs to be used in battle.
The History of the Mastiff. Retrieved from http://mastiff.org/MASTIFFHISTORY.htm
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