The Maltese History

as written in the Complete Dog Book 18th ed. 1992 by AKC

The Maltese is known as "ye ancient dogge of Malta," which for more than 28 centuries has been an aristocrat of the canine world. Malta has been prominent in history from earliest times. Though settled by the Phoenicians about 1500 B.C., we know that other Mediterranean races lived there as far back as 3500 B.C. Many writers of old have spoken in glowing terms of the fame and opulence of Malta, justly celebrated for proficiency in the arts and crafts of peace and war as well as for the high state of civilization of its people. Amid these surroundings, among these people, the tiny Maltese lived.

At this time of the Apostle Paul, Publius, the Roman governor of Malta, had a Maltese named Issa of which he was very fond. In this connection the poet Marcus Valerius Martialis (martial), born in A.D. 38 at Bilbilis in Spain, made this attachment famous in one of his celebrated epigrams: Issa is more frolicsome than Catulla's sparrow. Issa is purer than a dove's kiss. Issa is gentler than a maiden. Issa is more precious than Indian gems....Lest the last days that she sees light should snatch her from him forever, Publius has had her picture painted. This last referred to a painting of Issa said to have been so lifelike that it was difficult to tell the picture from the living dog.

Besides Martial, other ancient authors discoursed on the beauty, intelligence and lovable qualities of Maltese dogs, among them Callimachus the Elder (384-322 B.C.); Strabo (c. B.C.-A.D. 24); Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23-79); Saint Clement of Alexandria in the 2nd Century ; and others equally celebrated. The Greeks erected tombs to their Maltese, and from the 5th century on, Greek ceramic art shows innumerable paintings of these dogs. A fine model of one was dug up in the Fayum in Egypt-it is not unlikely that this was the kind of dog worshipped by the Egyptians. And it is said that queens of old served the choicest foods out of golden vases to their Maltese.

Dr. Caius (1570), physician to Queen Elizabeth, wrote in Latin: There is among us another kind of highbred dogs, but outside the common run those which Callimachus called Melitei from the Island of Melita..... That kind is very small indeed and chiefly sought after for the pleasure and amusement of women. The smaller the kind, the more pleasing it is, so that they may carry them in their bosoms, in their beds and in their arms while in their carriages.

Aldrovanus, who died in 1607 and who also wrote in Latin, says he saw one of these dogs sold for the equivalent of $2000. Considering the value of the dollar in the time of Queen Elizabeth, the price paid would be equal to a five-figure sum in this day. Since the time of Good Queen Bess the Maltese has often been mentioned, writers invariably drawing attention to its small size. In 1607 E. Topsell said they were "not bigger than common ferrets." Almost 200 years later in 1792, Linnaeus referred to them as being "about the size of squirrels," while Danberton in his History Naturelle writes that "ladies carried them in their sleeves." The first Maltese exhibited in the United States was white and listed as a Maltese Lion Dog at Westminster's first show in 1877. At the 1879 Westminster a colored Maltese was exhibited as a Maltese Skye Terrier. The American Kennel Club accepted the Maltese for registration in 1888.

The fact that for so many centuries Maltese have been the household pets of people of culture, wealth, and fastidious taste may account for their refinement, fidelity, and cleanliness. It sould be remembered that they are spaniels, not terriers, and that, as history has long recorded them, they are healthy and spirited even though tiny.