The History Of The CANE CORSO
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Ancient Greece – the Cradle of Cane Corso History
According to Greek mythology, the history of the Cane Corso began with no other than the great Greek warrior Achilles, hero of the Trojan War. It is said that Achilles’ son Neoptolemus and his armies settled in the region of Epirus after the fall of Troy. Eventually, Molossus, Achilles’ grandson, inherited the kingdom – which was then named Molossis after him.
The tribe of the Molossians were predominantly farmers. To protect their flocks of sheep and goats, these farmers used large livestock guardian dogs - famous for their violent attacks on wolves and other predators. But the resourceful Molossians also had a second kind of large, powerful dog - whom they used predominantly as hunting companion and guardian for their farms and families.
This hunting dog was built much stockier than the livestock guardian dog – and is said to be the ancestor of all the Mastiff-type breeds that we know today – including the Cane Corso.
Records of this Mastiff-like Molossus Dog reach back to 1137 A.D. The people of Molossis were so proud of this breed that they issued silver coins with a picture of the Molosser Hound on each coin as an emblem.
The size, prowess, and ferocity of this canine was so remarkable that the Molosser Hound found mention in the works of Aristotle, Virgil, Horace and other Poets and Philosophers of the time. Ancient paintings, sketches and statues depict those ancestors of our modern Mastiffs: Large, muscle-packed dogs with wide chests and big, blocky heads. The dogs depicted in the artworks of those times had cropped ears and docked tails as well as lose skin around their necks – features that served to protect them from bite wounds and other injuries in battle.
The Cane Corso as Special Ops Soldier of the Roman Army
Following the Macedonian Wars, the Early Roman Empire conquered Greece in 146 BC. Obviously intrigued by the Mastiff-like Molossus Hounds, Roman soldiers took some of them back to Italy. By crossing the Greek Molossus with native Italian dog breeds, the Roman legions developed their own brand of war dogs. These fearless canine warriors were the direct ancestors of two distinct breeds that we know today: the athletic, agile Cane Corso and the larger, heavier Neapolitan Mastiff, who was developed later than the Cane Corso.
According to the Greek historian Polybius, these war dogs of the Mastiff-type – called “Canis Molossus” by the Romans - were first used by the Roman army to push back enemy front lines. For that purpose, they were sent running towards the enemy cavalry - with flaming buckets of oil tied to their backs. The dogs would run under the horses, causing them to throw off their riders.
The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius supposedly was the first to formally employ the Canis Molossus in legionary warfare. In this role, the dogs would wear protective collars with metal spikes as well as mail armour and chest plates. As well, they were trained to run in attack formations.
Built larger and heavier than the modern-day Cane Corso, these Roman dogs of war were extremely protective – and are credited for their important role in securing many a Roman victory in battle. Indeed, the instinct to protect their owners with their lives is still present in the genetic make-up of today’s Cane Corso.
The Cane Corso – a War Dog in Times of Peace
The name “Cane Corso” roughly translates into “dog guarding enclosed estates”, which refers to the Italian Mastiff’s role as guardian – not only for the Roman army, but also, after the end of the Roman wars, for their civilian owners.
After the fall of the Roman Empire in 111 AD, the ancient war dogs had to adjust to civilian life. They were mostly used as guard dogs on the farms and pastures of Italy – where they would protect livestock from wild predators and keep strangers off the land. Interestingly enough, the Cane Corso’s role as personal protection dog was established back in those times following the fall of the Roman Empire: Their fierce loyalty made them perfect guardians for the farmers and their families. They would not only protect their owners from humans, but also from aggressive half-wild hogs.
Due to their extraordinary strength and versatility, the Cane Corso also excelled in driving cattle. Aside of these roles as guardian and cattle herding dog, the Corso was used for
hunting large game, such as wild boar, deer and even bears. Its enormous strength, coupled with agility, speed and high trainability, is what made this breed perfect for the job. Its role as hunting companion was what gave the Corso the designation “coursing Mastiff” – with “coursing” being another word for having dogs pursue game.
It was during these times that the breed’s popularity expanded - and Corsos were a common sight on the farms and pastures of rural Italy during the centuries to come.
The Cane Corso – an Ancient Roman conquers the world
Whilst the Cane Corso had thrived in its native Italy ever since the fall of the Roman Empire, the impact of the first and second World War almost annihilated the breed. After World War II, life in Italy changed drastically: The number of farms decreased and, with firearms becoming more common, less and less people felt the need for large guard dogs to protect themselves and their property.
We have to thank the dedicated enthusiasts and breeders of the mid-1970s for saving these marvellous dogs – the pride of Italy for so many centuries - from becoming extinct. These Cane Corso enthusiasts put enormous effort in locating dogs suitable as breeding stock on farms in the Italian backcountry.
By means of selective breeding, they successfully revived the Cane Corso. A few decades later - in the early 1980s -, they introduced these unique Italian Mastiffs to the United States as well as to the rest of Europe. In 1997, the World Canine Organisation FCI formally accepted the breed. And in 2010, the Cane Corso was recognized by the American Kennel Club - and listed as number 40 in their list of the most popular dog breeds in the US in 2019.
Today, the Cane Corso has gained worldwide recognition and fame. And whilst these majestic Mastiffs from Italy still predominantly serve as guard dogs, they have embraced many other roles: Today, Corsos are used as family companions, Service and Therapy Dogs, Emotional Support Dogs, Search & Rescue Dogs, and Personal Protection Dogs. In fact, because they are so good with children of all ages, companies training Personal Protection Dogs quite often give Corsos to families with children – rather than Rottweilers, Dobermans or German Shepherds.
In many ways, the Cane Corso has succeeded where the Roman Empire has failed: Not only have these dogs quickly spread out from their native Italy and conquered the world – but, they did not have to use violence to get there.
Instead, the versatile Mastiff has won respect and recognition by its outstanding performance as a working dog and guardian. And it has won the hearts of dog-enthusiasts world-wide by its outstanding loyalty, devotion, and affection. There is nothing like the love of a Corso for its owners. In this way, the Cane Corso is steadily expanding in popularity and numbers – and, no doubt, will continue to do so in the future!