Bronze Dog Figurine

Object: 286
JIAAW, Wagner Collection

Happy National Dog Day! In celebration, let’s take a look at object 286 – a solid bronze figurine of a dog begging (sitting up on hind legs with paws drawn to the chest). It’s possible this figurine depicts one of the most popular dogs in antiquity – the Melitan, also known as the Melitaean, Melitean, Melitaian, or Maltese (though it doesn’t closely resemble what we know today as the Maltese Terrier). Representations of this lap dog can be found on vases, gravestones, statues, gems, and coins and show the Melitan to be a small, fluffy, spitz-type dog with a pointed muzzle and a curled trail, often white in color. There are many indications that these dogs were treated as family members – vases show Melitans playing with children, texts tell of Melitans being taken as companions on voyages, and gravestones were erected in their honor.

One Roman gravestone was found with a carved figure of a dog and the inscription:
Which can be translated as “Helena, foster-daughter, a soul incomparable and well-deserving,” suggesting that the ancient Romans loved their fur babies just as much as we do!

-Jess Porter, JIAAW Operations and Events Coordinator

Learn more about Melitans and see other depictions of these ancient lap dogs:

Philadelphia 75-10-1 (Vase)

Condition: The surface of the vase is chipped and worn, especially on the handle and lip. Decoration Description: Maltese dog and grapes. A Maltese dog stands to the right, his right forepaw off the ground. A bunch of grapes hangs above him. Shape Description: The vessel has a trefoil lip.

chous | British Museum

Pottery: red-figured chous. A boy, with a mantle rolled around his left shoulder, walking with short steps and bent head to the right, playing on a chelys. In front of him a Spitz dog bounds forward, with an oinochoe wreathed with ivy lying on its back (?).

Terracotta rhyton (vase for libations or drinking) | Greek, South Italian, Apulian, Tarentine | Hellenistic | The Met

Hôtel Drouot. May 11-14, 1903. Collection d’Antiquités Grecques & Romaines: vases peints et moulés, terres cuites, verrerie, sculptures, bronzes, bijoux. no. 14, lot 165, pl. VIII. Canessa, Ercole and Arthur Sambon. 1904. Vases Antiques de Terre Cuite: Collection Canessa, Bibliothèque du Musée. no. 159, p. 46, pl. XII, Paris. Hoffmann, Herbert.

The Maltese Dog

J. Busuttil, The Maltese Dog, Greece & Rome, Vol. 16, No. 2 (Oct., 1969), pp. 205-208

The Melitan Miniature Dog: The most popular lapdog in antiquity

There is something so disarming, so human, about reading that the ancient Greeks and Romans kept dogs as pets – not just as hunting hounds, but also as tiny companions. The Melitan, while it is not the only kind of miniature dog mentioned in surviving texts (a “Gallic miniature dog” was named once in Martial’s…