There is much speculation about the origin of the Old English Mastiff, also called English Mastiff, or just simply Mastiff. The ancestors of the modern-day Mastiffs were found in what is now present-day Britain by Roman soldiers during the expansion of the Roman Empire. The Romans called these dogs Canes Pugnaces Britanniae, which roughly translated to “British Fighting Dogs.” These dogs were imported from Britain to Rome to fight in the amphitheaters and coliseums for entertainment. They were also employed as dogs of war in combat during the expansion of the Roman Empire.
Where these ancestral dogs came from remains unclear. Some scholars believe that they were most likely brought to England by ancient Asian traders, and were descendants of the even more ancient Tibetan Mastiffs found in the mountains of Asia. Others believe that the dogs are descendants of the ancient and now extinct Alaunt Mastiff introduced by the Normans, who may have obtained the Alaunt’s ancestors from ancient Assyrians. Dogs bearing Mastiff-like similarities have been found on Assyrian and Babylonian bas-reliefs. However, lacking DNA studies, the exact origin of the Mastiff remains shrouded in conjecture.
There are also a number of theories concerning the development of the name “Mastiff.” Some believe the name was derived from the Anglo Saxon masty, which translates to “powerful.” While others claim it was from the French mastin, meaning “tame.” What is known is that these old English breeds have been called Mastiffs as far back as the 1400s.
The Old English Mastiff is truly a gentle giant. Although he is impressive in size and strength, the Old English Mastiff is surprisingly gentle in nature and makes for a wonderful family pet. They are intelligent, loyal, and calm toward their families and people— especially children; however, they can be watchful and indifferent toward strangers. They are intelligent and enjoy learning. Because of their large size, obedience and socialization classes are needed to teach Old English Mastiffs to be mindful of others and prevent them from causing accidental injuries. These dogs naturally exude quiet confidence. They should never appear timid, shy, or fearful. Any unprovoked aggressive or fearful behavior toward people is incorrect for this breed.