The ancient Roman city of Pompeii, which was buried under layers of volcanic ash during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius nearly two thousand years ago, yielded a number of interesting archaeological discoveries that offer insights into the lives and customs of citizens of that long-gone empire.
According to the Daily Express, Bethany Hughes, archaeologist and presenter of the Channel 5 series "Secrets of Pompeii's Greatest Treasures", highlighted one particular find – a floor mosaic depicting a dog and bearing a warning that says "Cave Canem" which means "beware of the dog" in Latin.
Describing the mosaic as "one of the most celebrated, imitated, replicated artworks in the whole world", and noting how it inspired "millions of modern doormats", she confessed that she likes it for a number of reasons, "partly because of the story it tells and partly because of the skill of its making".
Beware of the Dog! @bettanyhughes reveals the #Roman roots of guard #dogs in Secrets of Pompeii's Greatest Treasures. This Thursday at 9pm on @channel5_tv! #mansbestfriend #Pompeii #mosaic pic.twitter.com/KaDtoBhbgn— SandStone Global Productions (@SandstoneGlobal) June 2, 2020
"Just looking at this mosaic, it’s made up of hundreds and hundreds of tiny cubes of stone and it could take a team of highly-skilled craftsmen a whole week to create.Every single piece hand-cut and laid in situ as the owners watched them work magic in front of their eyes", Hughes said. "Just look at how the artist has conjured up this ferocious animal, using little red chips of stone for the mouth, this is absolutely not a lapdog. This is a working dog with its eyes focused and its teeth bared, it’s really intimidating, a warning to anyone brave, or foolish enough to try and come into the house uninvited".
She added that Pompeii was "a place where there were many crimes and often people didn’t go out at night".
"So this isn’t just a fantasy, this was a society where there could be trouble around any corner", the archaeologist noted. "I think we always imagine the Roman Empire to be advanced and hyper civilised, but actually there was a real issue of street crime and there was hardly any police force, we know crimes were pretty frequent."
And as it turns out, the analysis of the remains of the dogs that got trapped in the city during the eruption allowed researchers to deduce the “identity of the canine guards” by comparing their results to the mosaics, Hughes remarked.
"The results of those tests tell us that the direct descendants of the ancient guard dogs are still with us – the Neapolitan Mastiff", she said. "These extraordinary dogs descended from an extinct dog, called the Molossus and they were used by the Romans as hunting dogs, guard dogs, and dogs of war – they strapped armour onto them and sent them out to fight."