Greyhounds have a fascinating history! Check out this breed from ancient times…
Recent investigations have revealed that the modern Greyhound breed probably is not of north African/Saharan origin as had long been romanticized. They are more likely to have developed on the plains in Eurasia. They were probably first brought to Western Europe by the Celts. Two recent genetic studies clearly show Salukis and Afghan Hounds to be part of an “Asian” group of sighthounds.
Predictably, the Greyhound appeared in what’s called the “Celtic” group along with the Irish Wolfhound but also as an ancestor for more recent breeds including the Belgian Sheep-dog, Collie, Shetland Sheepdog, and the St. Bernard. A glance at a map clearly shows that all those breeds originate within the influence of Celtic culture in Europe.
Much of what we know of southeastern Mediterranean, Egypt, and the Middle East area around the first millennium BCE was recorded by Greek historians, and there is no mention of Greyhounds.
Around 100 BCE, the poet Grattius wrote of the Celts’ dogs as “…swifter than thought or a winged bird it runs, pressing hard on beasts it has found.” Arrian, another Greek, but who wrote in Latin, clearly identified the Vertragus, the predecessor of the modern Greyhound.
The Celtic culture flourished from what is now Austria, west to Spain, and north throughout the British Isles and Ireland. Everywhere they went, they took their dogs with them and left offshoots of the Vertragus (Greyhound, Galgo, Wolfhound, Deerhound, Whippet).
The origin of the word Greyhound is unknown but has nothing to do with color. One possibility is that it is from old English grehundr, meaning dog hunter or high order of rank. In the Middle Ages, Greyhounds were saved from near extinction by monks who bred them for the European nobility. During this period, ownership of a greyhound became the exclusive right of the nobility. Greyhounds were so highly prized that traveling noblemen would often present one as a gift to their host.
Throughout the Renaissance, Greyhounds continued to be a favorite of royalty. They were the most common dog used for heraldry and can be seen on several coats of arms. The present Greyhound is the result of the rejection of the Forest Laws in the 17th century which prevented commoners from owning Greyhounds.
It’s time the Celts got their due as the caretakers of the breed!
Now, learn what greyhound owners have known for centuries: adopt a gentle greyhound and make a lifelong friend.