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Ancient Dog Tombs: Greek/Roman Epitaphs, Funerals, & Quotes About Dead Pets

Ancient History | September 19, 2020

Dogs have played an important role in human history. (Fine Art Photographic Library/CORBIS via Getty Images)

Dogs are man's best friend, but that isn't just a modern sentiment. The bond between humans and dogs goes back thousands of years. Archaeologists have unearthed numerous ancient dog tombs bearing grief-stricken epitaphs for the beloved dogs who crossed that rainbow bridge into the happy hunting grounds. Get the tissues ready!

Hellenistic tomb paintings at Sidonian Burial Caves. (Ian Scott/Wikimedia Commons)

For The Love Of A Good Dog

The Ancient Greeks and Romans believed that it was essential to have a good dog. They pop up everywhere in Ancient Roman and Greek literature, art, and mythology. The gates to the underworld were guarded by a three-headed dog, Zeus himself was guarded as an infant by a faithful golden dog named Laelaps, and Homer's hero, Odysseus, wept tears of joy when his old dog, Argus, recognized him after many years away. Dogs were used as guards, hunting companions, and even in battle, but they were also part of the family. The epitaph on one dog grave that was discovered reads, "To Helena, foster child, soul without comparison and deserving of praise."

It may be hard to imagine a beefy gladiator with a prissy little purse dog, and for good reason. The people of ancient Greece and Rome preferred big dogs, specifically the Molossus, a large, muscular dog native to Greece that was similar to today's mastiffs, and the Laconian, a faster and slimmer hunting hound. That doesn't mean nobody had cute li'l lap dogs, though. The tomb of one Roman dog named Patricus read, "My eyes were wet with tears, our little dog, when I bore thee to the grave ... So, Patricus, never again shall thou give me a thousand kisses, Never canst thou be contentedly in my lap. In sadness have I buried thee, and thou deservist. In a resting place of marble, I have put thee for all time by the side of my shade. In thy qualities, sagacious thou wert like a human being. Ah, me! What a loved companion have we lost!"

Greek funerary statue of a dog. (George E. Koronaios/Wikimedia Commons)

Ancient Dog Tombs

One of the most heartbreaking parts of owning a dog is knowing with a fair degree of certainty that you'll outlive them, and the inscription on one ancient dog tomb in Greece reflects this tragedy: "I am in tears, while carrying you to your last resting place as much as I rejoiced when bringing you home in my own hands fifteen years ago."

It's human nature to imagine our dogs have a voice, and the owner of one Ancient Roman dog took this tendency literally to the grave. "Thou who passest on this path, If haply thou dost mark this monument, Laugh not, I pray thee, though it is a dog's grave. Tears fell for me, and the dust was heaped above me By a master's hand," their dog's grave reads. Another's tells the visitor how much his owner loved him in his "own" words: "This is the tomb of the dog, Stephanos, who perished, Whom Rhodope shed tears for and buried like a human. I am the dog Stephanos, and Rhodope set up a tomb for me."

Not every ancient dog tomb is so fanciful. A simple yet heartfelt epitaph reads, "Myia never barked without reason, but now he is silent."

Italian dog statue. (PxHere)

Universal Pain

The abundance of dog tombs found in Ancient Greece and Rome proves that the pain of losing a beloved pet knows no chronological or cultural bounds. In fact, dog graves of varying age have been unearthed in Siberia, China, Mesoamerica, and Africa as well. 

Tags: Ancient Greece | ancient rome | dogs

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.