||All Greeks, not just those inhabiting the Balkan Peninsula, but also those living in Asia Minor, Sicily, Marseilles and in the cities of Pont Euxein (the Black Sea) considered themselves akin. As regards the language, religion and morals, the members of the three major tribes - Dorians, Ionians and Acheans - felt deeply kindred with each other and in opposition to the world they called "Barbarian". Perhaps it is a good idea to explain who was regarded as a Barbarian in Antiquity.
The word Barbarian emerged before several thousand years and it became an international expression just like the most beautiful of words - mama. The word Barbarian features certain onomatopoeic quality (say "bar bar" aloud) indicating that the person thus designated does not speak but mumbles, and he is a person you cannot communicate with on equal terms, either because he speaks a foreign language, or because his mental level is rather low. The Czech language offers two words derived from the expression
"Barbarian", namely "blb" (a stupid person) and "blábolit" (to speak nonsense), which retained the onomatopoeic features of their source.
The Greeks used the word Barbarian for a prattler, a chatterer, for a foreigner producing unintelligible babble, and particularly for Persians or people from countries under Persian rule; later on they started to apply the word to any alien, uneducated or brutal person. The use of this expression is a testimony to the obvious disdain and arrogance with which the Greeks looked down upon their neighbors.
Nevertheless the Persian culture was not second to the Greek culture, and the personal qualities of Persians could be favorably compared to those of Greeks. The Persians valued courage and with unwavering resolve they maintained that a contract once concluded must be honored irrespective of the fact that the other party is foreign. They accepted emissaries of other nations with kindness and treated them with grace, they declared a ban on urinating and spitting with other people present, they believed it impolite to laugh in the presence of the King and dignitaries. The Persians were hygiene-minded, accentuated truthfulness and honesty, they shunned making debts, they revered natural elements and did not complain about them.
The Greeks themselves were not completely rid of evil inclinations as evidenced by their own records. Herodotus depicts a sort of "training" delivered by the sly King Croesus to the great developer of the Persian Empire Cyrus the Second: the celebrated hero listens to the advice of the seasoned politician and artful, calculating person. The honest and naive Persian nobleman is being introduced to the tricks and pranks useful when the grassroots, the whole nations and virtually anybody is to be deceived. The bias against Persians was actually induced by Cyrus´s and Dareus´s intervention in the areas and spheres of influence hitherto occupied by the Greeks, and further enhanced when the wayward Persian King Xerxes failed to subdue the chief venues of Greek resistance.
Persian youth used hunting to build their sporting spirit and to practice the envisaged battlefield activities. A little difference between the Greeks and the Barbarians rested in the fact that the Persians used dogs to hunt game and birds, while the Greeks, without any assistance from dogs, organized hunts for slaves, also known as heilots. Young Spartans were gathered into special troops of ancient Scouts and employed to continuously monitor situation in the country. Killing a restive slave, or a slave instigating resurrection, was no offense against good manners. At the age of sixteen the Spartans were tested for toughness and had to go through many initiation rituals, whose character would rank them as "combat games" today. One of the games was called krypteia (hiding). The young man participating in the game lived for some time secluded in the country as a man-wolf, who set out on night expeditions pursuing the heilots (slaves) and was supposed to kill at least one.
Both the Persians and the Greeks treated their dogs differently according to the nature of the individual people. One man was reluctant to part with his dog for any span of time, while another treated his dog as just any other animal. Xenophanes says that Cyrus "established a specialized supervisor for each activity: he had tax collectors, treasurers, superintendents of public construction projects, estate custodians and supply managers. The supervision of dogs was entrusted to those, whom he considered best qualified to properly train them. The task of training the guardians of his happiness was consigned only to the best; in this he was quite unyielding".
His uncle Kyaxarés asks him on an occasion: "Would it make you happy if someone treated the dogs you keep to protect you and your family so nice that they would show more affection toward him than toward you?". As follows, Cyrus kept not just the hunting dogs lacking any defensive instinct, but also mighty guardian dogs.
Even at that time dogs were trained to assist blind people. A dog was a faithful companion of Homer, a Greek poet and author of the heroic epics Iliad and Odyssey, whom some believe to be blind, but others maintain that he only delivered his poems "by heart".
Apart from the breeds of hunting, shepherding and guardian dogs the Greeks also distinguished "social breeds". Rich ladies whiled away their time with tiny pet dogs. Interesting kinds of little dogs were brought home by merchants returning from their long trips. The cute little animals, whose prices were in reverse proportion to their sizes, became much pampered members of Greek families. Skeletons of dogs have been found in tombs of rich people. If the master wished so, his beloved dog, when the time came, was buried in a tomb beside him. Some well-to-do Greeks built special tombs just for their dogs. Not every Greek dog perished on a mound of manure!
A dog also figured as a hero in many fables. The first narrator of fables named Aisópos lived in the 6th century B.C., and Herodotus maintains he was a slave coming from the island of Samos. Czechs know this historical figure under the name of Ezop. Let us join the old slave, a man of allegedly very ungainly appearance, but with the beautiful soul of a large, wise child, and laugh with him listening to one of his fables.
Do you know the one about a philanderer? No?
A man used to pay clandestine night visits to a lady, and they engaged in all sorts of activities save worshipping the Greek gods. The lady always opened the door when she heard their secret signal - the barking of a little dog. Another man saw the first one on his nocturnal expedition, heard him barking and then watched him disappear behind the door of the affirmative woman. On the next night he hurried to be the first one at the door, he barked and was allowed in. After a little while, the first lover came and produced the same bark as usual. The one inside did not feel inclined to leave his cozy "doghouse" and therefore barked back in a deep and mighty voice. The man in front of the door judged the dog inside larger than himself and left.
What is the moral of this fable? A wise man knows what kind of a bark suits an occasion.
Did the Greeks keep combat dogs? The ancient historians concede that dogs participated in the Battle of Marathon, where the Athenians (the Spartans came late) fought the Persians and due to coincidence of favorable conditions managed to win against double numbers of the enemy. One dog fought so bravely in the battle that Panaisos, a painter, depicted the dog in a large painting of the battle, placed to adorn an Athenian colonnade, just beside the Greek commanders Miltiades, Kallymachos and Kynegeira. The painting has not been preserved, so there is no knowing about the dog´s looks.
"In their battles the inhabitants of Kolofón and Kastabal employed units of dogs, which fought in the front line, never refused to obey a command, always stayed faithful and asked for no remuneration." says Plinius. The latter quality would certainly be appreciated by any military, the Czech not excluded.
When Alexander the Great incorporated Greece into his vast empire, the Greeks met in Macedonian camps not only all sorts of "Barbarians", but also their giant dogs - Epirean, Hyrcanian and Indian. The Greeks believed in prophecies delivered through "reading" a dog´s insides. The dogs they encountered in the camps certainly convinced the Greeks that any attempt at fighting the dogs would prophesy nothing good for the challenger!
I believe the Greeks used dogs on the battlefields very rarely, only when they felt desperate in the face of the prevailing enemy, as was the case in the Battle of Marathon. At the very last moment, Miltiades, who was in command, upgraded several hundreds of Athenian slaves into the position of citizens so that they could fight in the battle. And to induce them to fight for Athens at all! The Greek army was allowed to recruit only free citizens, not any mercenaries hired from various tribes and nations. Each citizen of Greece had to undergo military training and he remained subject to compulsory conscription until relatively old age. That is why a Greek fighter, in fact a free citizen defending his city with a weapon, was allowed to take his dog along to a battle. Such a privilege could not be granted to a mercenary. Therefore I have a good reason to believe that the dogs fighting in the Battle of Marathon were partly hunting dogs employed to disturb the Persian horses, partly guardian dogs deployed to wreak havoc. The Greeks were not especially fond of giant violent dogs like their neighbors the Epierans, shepherds and semi-wild warriors. The Greeks needed the Moloss dogs to guard their herds. Just between you and me, they identified the sharp fangs of their dogs with the sharp tongues of Greek philosophers, whom they dubbed "kyón" (dogs) for their self-imposed poverty and ascetic way of life.
The Greek towns and settlements were not home to so many watch dogs and guardian dogs as could be at that time, and still can be today, encountered in our towns and villages. Just imagine - the only pack of dogs kept in the town of Sicyon belonged to a local - gardener! Perhaps he used the dogs to protect his produce against wild rabbits, dainty goats, impudent blackbirds and the homeless of Antiquity. Once the gardener and his dogs baffled a group of invaders trying to penetrate into Sicyon. For properly trained men to surmount a town wall at night, when the town dwellers are fast asleep, should be a piece of cake. But how could they prevent the gardener´s dogs from barking and thus alerting the sentries?
"In fact, the only danger came from the dogs. The dogs were neither very large, nor especially scary, but they were furious and simply loved to bark. Therefore the task of pacifying the gardener and his dogs was paramount. The mission was entrusted to Kafiasis and his four companions. They were to call on the gardener at dusk and ask to be put up for the night. Then, at an opportune moment, they were supposed to lock him and his dogs in." What follows from the words of the historian?
Every Barbarian would have slaughtered both the gardener and his troublemaking dogs without any remorse. The Greeks decided just to confine the Greek gardener and his Greek dogs. Obviously, they did not kill the "civilians" when they could avoid it, and they were rather ignorant about the nature of dogs. How could they believe it possible to catch and silence a pack of dogs suspicious of any stranger? They managed to lock in the gardener, but his dogs fled. Still the invaders resolved to mount the operation. They succeeded in erecting their ladders at a vantage point so that when the dogs came and began their wild barking and howling the sentries were misled to believe that the dogs were disturbed by the noise of sentries changing. The attackers, until then crouching at the foot of the ladders, took off their shoes and climbed barefoot up the walls, got into the city, and stormed the house of the Sicyon tyrant. They captured him and his confused mercenaries, who failed to offer any resistance. The invaders were led by Aratos, a twenty year old son of the murdered Sicyon king, who later on became an important strategist of the Achean alliance. After many years spent in exile he returned to liberate his hometown.
"I have read somewhere that to please gods a dog spoke in human voice!", wrote Plinius.
To please the dignitaries of today some people are willing to bark like dutiful dogs!