I was surprised a few days ago to find myself in an argument with a reputable historian about the Romans' use of dogs in war, which I dismissed as a fantasy — or possibly a mere misunderstanding of Antony's soliloquy in (Shakespeare's) 'Julius Caesar', where he says Cry Havoc! and let slip the dogs of war.

The only genuine/original reference that I can find is in Vegetius IV.27, where he describes the use of guard dogs, trained to bark at the surreptitious approach of an enemy. Other internet searches have turned up nothing but simple assertions that dogs were trained for, and used, in war, and there are even illustrations — but no actual evidence. I already knew about the canis molossus, a kind of mastiff which is surely historical, but no reference that I can trace suggests its use in warfare.

The whole thing seems unlikely, but perhaps I am wrong to reject it. Is there anywhere a source in support of the Romans' use of dogs in war?

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    Great question: you're right that there are a whole ton of sources that seem to think that they can declare that "Caesar/Marcus Aurelius/etc. used war dogs in X war" without citation and that we should just "take their word for it." – brianpck Feb 20 '17 at 15:47
  • @brianpck Thank you! It's a relief to find I'm not going deolali. – Tom Cotton Feb 20 '17 at 15:49
  • The OCD3 doesn't mention war at all in its articles on dogs. – cmw Feb 24 '17 at 19:45

The question asks about Romans using dogs, and therefore I'm going to say no.

From Pliny the Elder (8.61):

A king of the Garamantes also was brought back from exile by two hundred dogs, which maintained the combat against all his opponents. The people of Colophon and Castabala kept troops of dogs, for the purposes of war; and these used to fight in the front rank, and never retreat; they were the most faithful of auxiliaries, and yet required no pay. After the defeat of the Cimbri, their dogs defended their moveable houses, which were carried upon waggons. Jason, the Lycian, having been slain, his dog refused to take food, and died of famine. A dog, to which Darius gives the name of Hyrcanus, upon the funeral pile of King Lysimachus being lighted, threw itself into the flames, and the dog of King Hiero did the same.

Polyaenus mentions it as something Alyattes (a Lydian king) did against the Cimmerians in the eighth century BCE:

Others are gathered together in Forster's article "Dogs in Ancient Warfare" (Greece & Rome 10, 1941: 114—117), but for Romans they seem to only be guard dogs. It's possible that they may have been used at times during war, but they certainly weren't a regular feature of it.

I'm not sure where the idea originated, but The Zoologist, written in 1884, only mentions that dogs were used in war by the Persians and Assyrians, though he does mention the Pliny reference. And I as I mentioned in a comment to the question, the OCD3 does not mention dogs used in war, which I also would have expected it to were there good evidence for it.

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    I'm accepting your answer of NO. Surely Livy, Caesar, Sallust and the rest would have mentioned them somewhere? Personally, I agree with my English teacher of years ago, that Shakespeare's dogs of war is just a convenient metaphor. – Tom Cotton Jul 29 '17 at 15:31

Indeed, dogs have been commonly used in warfare.

Dogs were commonly used for the care of the house and in the army to accompany the guards.

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The dogs of war were called Canes pugnaces / canis pugnacis / Canes Bellicosi / Canis Pugnax (sometimes in an ambiguous way since they were also used in war shows)

Many documents treat it today: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9D00E2DE123FE233A25752C2A9649C946496D6CF&legacy=true

This is one of the first important references for start to work: Arrian on coursing: the Cynegeticus of the younger Xenophon https://books.google.es/books?id=-15dAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA219&lpg=PA219&dq=Canes+Bellicosi&source=bl&ots=j8uFVwS9M7&sig=fpWD8NLM8-h99mRpoZ2yuhnaJSM&hl=es&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi02PD-8anVAhUDK1AKHWy-B34Q6AEINTAB#v=snippet&q=canes%20bellicosi&f=false

Gaius Plinius Secundus, naturalist and Roman writer also describes the characteristics of these dogs. Lemish, Michael G. (1999). War Dogs: A History of Loyalty and Heroism. Brassey's Inc.

An even more complicated issue is whether in the Ancient egyptian were already using dogs in warfare: Engraved in furniture found in relation to Neb-jeperu-Ra Tut-anj-Amón (Tutankamon):

enter image description here

enter image description here

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    The Egyptians and a plate bearing 'Cave Canem' have nothing to do with the question. Can you provide the reference from Pliny the Younger? – Tom Cotton Jul 27 '17 at 18:25
  • Are two jokes??? – hexadecimal Jul 27 '17 at 18:43
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    Although Egyptian usage and the presence of guard dogs is somewhat related to the question ("Did Romans use dogs in war?"), I think @TomCotton is looking for an explicit testimony of their presence. Could you add the quotes from the sources you've indicated (especially Pliny!) that answer this question? – brianpck Jul 27 '17 at 19:03

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