The Dogue De Bordeaux, or French Mastiff, is a well-established breed in France, and is now becoming popular throughout the world. The earliest Dogue de Bordeaux was a fierce descendant of the formidable Tibetan Mastiff. The American Kennel Club states: "Every partisan would like to claim the greatest antiquity for his particular sort of mastiff as well as to say the other sorts sprang from it." Cuneiform inscriptions, however, enable us to trace mastiffs back to 2000 or 3000 B.C. The Sumerian ideogram for dog is the same for servant, valet and slave.

In addition, the British Museum has a Sumerian bowl, dating 3000 B.C., which shows a dog hunt in the marshes of Babylon. Bas-reliefs and Persian bronzes, from China to Great Britain, show great-shouldered, square-headed dogs of mastiff blood, chasing and cornering the wild ass and, armored and spike-collared, fighting alongside the legions of men. Obviously, the mastiff has his place in history, and, alongside the greyhound, possesses a bloodline of hunting and war going back to the earliest Metal Ages of man.

In Egypt, the influence of the Hyksos people during the Middle Empire introduced both the greyhound and, it is thought, the mastiff. The Egyptians freed themselves of the Hyksos, but they kept the mastiff. The Eighteenth Dynasty pharaoh, Tutankhamen, is depicted on a wooden casket standing upright in his chariot. He shoots arrows at Nubian soldiers, who are being harried by his Assyrian dogs. So the mastiff, who was not so good at hunting water fowl or antelope, had a more specific assignment: to hunt men. This he did well, not by tracking them, but by fighting them in soldierly style. Here, then, was the ultimate soldier's dog, the devouring dog of myth, the magnificent, cream-coated canine, whose wrought-iron spiked collar was fearful to the fleeing enemy.

History varies on how and where the Dogue de Bordeaux came to Europe, but the current theory is that Alexander the Great brought the dog from India to Greece about 300 B.C. The Greeks, it is said, introduced the mastiff to the Romans. However, Caesar, who wrote of the invasion of Britain in 55 B.C., describes the great dogs fighting next to their British masters. In any case, the dogs were definitely employed to fight in the Roman Circus. Their combatants included, of course, men, but also bears, bulls, lions, and tigers. Mush later, in the nineteenth century, the English themselves adopted a similar program. Their version of the Roman Circus was Westminster Pit, which contained some three hundred seats. The word "fancier," as in dog, is synonymous with the word bettor: once again, as in dog. Thus, even after such brutal events were outlawed in England (around 1835), the sport lived on. The word Westminster was the equivalent of dog, while fighting dog was equal to mastiff. Although he was usaully noted as a fighting dog, the mastiff enjoyed a two thousand-yaer popularity in England as, ironically, perhaps, a family dog. However, it was his fighting prowess, his legendary ferocity, that achieved this for him. People felt safe in this dog's company and accordingly treated him very well. Keeping mastiff was compulsory for peasants, in order to keep down the "savage beast" population. The Mythology of mastiffs is equally blurred by the hazy line of history. Herodotus tells of the founder of the Persian Empire, Cyrus the Great, who recieved a gift of a mastiff from the King of Albania. Pitting the mastiff against a bull, Cyrus found that the mastiff was disinclined to fight, so he had the dog killed. This enraged the king, who, in giving Cyrus another mastiff, warned him that the dog ought to fight worthy opponents. These, he said, were lions and elephants. Eventually, the second mastiff did fight an elephant. The big-headed dog brought the elephant to the ground and would've killed the animal had it not been stopped. History or myth?

All we know is that Cyrus raised mastiffs, and he gave four towns in Babylon the responsibility of breeding and training them for battle. But whether or not a mastiff ever met an elephant in the ring is a hyperbolic sort of question. The Greek myth of Cerberus tells of a mastiff-like dog who is posted at the gate of Hades. A monstrous watchdog, he carries, depending on the teller of the tale, anywhere between three and fifty heads, and he has " a voice of bronze."

Robert Graves in his mythological masterpiece The White Goddess describes him as a "cognate beast. with the usual triad of heads--lioness, lynx and sow." Usually Cerberus, a creature of the night, possess a mouth dripping with serpents and black venom. Hercules fought with Cerberus, defeating him in a mighty stranglehold: but his great feat in subduing the dog was obtained by offering him a sweet honey cake, obviously fermented, because it had the effect of narcosis on the brute. Another Greek mastiff myth tells of Hephaestus, whose golden creation was great, man-high dog. Given to Rhea, the earth goddess, the golden dog was supposedĀ  to guard the infant Zeus. Later on, he (the dog) was stolen by Tantalus. The animal's theft caused the thief to recieve a "tantalizing" eternal punishment: to be buried alive. The word "tantalize" actually stems from this ancient myth.

In the comic action film Turner and Hooch, the main character, played by Tom Hanks, is the inheritor odf a murdered man's Dogue de Bordeaux. Even though the great dog dies at the end of the film, the viewer senses that such a dog would rather die in battle, defending what is right, than to waste away with the indignity of old age.

The massive Dogue has the face only a mother could love. The haed is huge, and though square, it still seems like a wreckers ball. Some descriptions render the head as if it were the only visible part of the body. The jowls hang down and are usually silvery with saliva. The Dogue stands on short, muscular legs and has a lion's physique, complete with sparred ribs and catlike hindquarters. The ears are relatively small and drop down. The tails is tapered and doesn't reach past the hock. The paws are leonine with strong toes and nails. Colored fawn or in the tawny range, the coat is short, thick and even, with white marks sometimes on the chest and feet and occasionally a black or red mask. Height ranges from 23 to 26 inches with a weight up to 210 pounds.

The Dogue is a superior guardian with a formidable appearance. However, his true nature is one of steady and peaceful equanimity.

After Sir Gardner Wilkinson.
Dog F is an Assyrian of Mastiff type.
Note that some dogs are pacing.

Hunting wild asses in Assyria.
Note the look of terror and agony shown by
the ass with the spear driven through it's
body and with two dogs attacking.
Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum
of Art.

Above and below: Bas-relief of hunters and
Mastiffs. From the walls of Assurbanipal's
palace at Nineveh 668-626 B.C. British
Museum. These sculptures illustrate the raw
power so typical of the rulers of the period.

War dog, possibly Hecate's, attacks a giant in
frieze around ruined Alter of Zeus at Pergamon,
near Smyrna, in Asia Minor.
Constructed about 160 B.C., the alter and its
frieze are considered the finest monument to
Hellenistic Art. Courtesy State Museum of Berlin.