The Dogs of War: Molossus

“Never, with them on guard need you fear for your stalls a midnight thief, or onslaught of wolves, or Iberian brigands at your back.”  Virgil

“The Molossus dog of the Molossia region of Epirus was the strongest known to the Romans, and was specifically trained for battle.”


I have been asked several times about the Molossus dog featured in my Scipio Africanus novels. People have wanted to know if such a breed existed, because they couldn’t find any record of it today. Rest assured, dear readers, the Molossus dog was real. Though the breed is extinct today, and it has a lot of contemporary grandchildren breeds in the large working dog category!

Molossian Hound. The version is sometimes known as “Jennings Dog”. On display in the British Museum. Photo from WikiMedia Commons, courtesy of Mike Peel.

The Molossus was used by the Romans as early as 300 BC, following the war dog traditions of the Egyptians, Greeks, and Persians. The Romans used the molossus as one of their primary military breeds, possibly equipping them with a spike-studded leather collar similar to those still in vogue today.

How were the dogs used? One tactic was to send the dogs charging into the infantry ranks to break their formations, allowing the Roman legions to penetrate them more easily. Another was to hunt out enemies who were hiding in caves or forests. A third was for the dog to follow its master into battle, attacking any who dare threaten its master. You might recall an opening scene from the movie Gladiator in which the Roman dogs of war run at the enemy after Russell Crowe looks at one of his war dogs and declares “At my signal, unleash hell!”

A number of large breed working dogs are descended from this 200+ pound giant: the Mastiff, Aryan Molossus, Rottweiler, St. Bernard, and the loyal and protective Cane Corso, pictured below. As one of my favorite breeds, I had to include him in my Scipio novels!


Along with the ubiquitous greyhound, Romans valued the molossus as a loyal family companion and protector, hence its role as a family dog in the Scipio series of books. Ursus (Bear) becomes the protector of Scipio’s fiancee, Amelia Paullus, although it does have a tendency to bark loudly at the most awkward (romantic) times!

Martin Tessmer is a retired university professor and military training consultant. He is the author of the best selling Scipio Africanus Saga series, which includes Scipio Rising, The Three Generals, Scipio's Dream, Scipio Risen, Scipio Rules, and Scipio's End. The Noble Brute is the first book in his new series about Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus.

7 thoughts on “The Dogs of War: Molossus

    • Dear William: Thanks much for the positive feedback. I’m glad that you enjoyed the series. FYI, I’m currently finishing the second book in my Noble Brute trilogy. I hope to have that out soon.

      If you have the time, I’d appreciate a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Your opinion helps others judge what they will read.


  1. Thank you for letting us know about these amazing dogs, although I’m sure no-one would have wanted to be on the receiving end!


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