A Concise History of The Greyhound

 

The connection between mankind and his closest animal friend, the dog, goes far back beyond the mists of time. Bone fragments found in archaeological digs of Cro-Magnon sites show even primitive man shared his home with dogs.

Around 2500 BC, on the fertile banks of the river Indus - which is now Pakistan, a civilisation arose and there a great city was built. Archaeologists digging on the site of the city found a plate of sun dried clay which bears the prints of a cat, and slightly overlapping these are the prints of a dog. These prints were made over 4000 years ago, possibly left in a chase through the dusty streets of the long lost city.

Some of the earliest recorded cases of man's affection to his loyal animal friend are found in the tombs of Egyptian Pharaohs. Paintings which adorn the walls of the tombs show every day life in Egypt over 3000 years ago. Among the images of the Gods and farmers and fishermen can be seen representations of the Pharaohs themselves, hunting by chariots which are closely followed by dogs identical to today's Greyhounds and Salukis.

The Egyptian influence can be seen in these mosaics, which adorn the House of Dionysis in Paphos, Crete. They were created over two thousand years ago, and show how the lithe form of the greyhound was appreciated all around the ancient world
Incidentally, other mosaics from this same site are the earliest known to show drunken revellers!
The greyhound's link with the Royalty of Ancient Egypt is as impressive for it's time as any name-dropper could quote today. Tutankhamen, Amenhotep II, Thutmose III, Queen Hatshepsut, and Cleopatra VII are all known to have had Greyhounds of their own.

History is littered with snippets of Greyhound lore. For instance, the Greyhound is the only breed of dog to be mentioned by name in the Bible (Proverbs 30:29-31)

There be three things which go well, yea,
Which are comely in going;
A lion, which is strongest among beasts and
Turneth not away from any;
A greyhound;
A he-goat also.

In ancient Arabian culture, the birth of a litter of greyhounds, (or more probably their eastern cousin, the Saluki) was considered only slightly less important than the birth of the owner's own son. Also, the greyhound was the only dog allowed into the tents and was even allowed to ride atop their camels!

Other famous names from history known to have had a liking for the Greyhound include Odysseus, who after being away from home for twenty years was recognised only by his faithful hound, Argus. (Not bad for a dog over twenty years old, but then the story goes on to say that poor Argus dropped dead shortly after)

Diana, the huntress of Roman lore was also believed to be appreciative of the greyhound, or sighthound as they were known then. One story tells of her gift of a greyhound named Lelaps to her friend Procris. Lelaps chased a hare, which for some reason was favoured by the Gods. They promptly turned Lelaps and the hare into stone, evidence of which can be found in the abundance of such statues that remain in celebration of the event even to this day.

It was probably the Romans who introduced the sport of coursing to Britain, though the sport was already popular among the Celts living in Europe at the time of the Roman invasion.

The Greyhound's royal connections continued through the middle ages, when they were popular with such historical figures as King Canute of England and King Howel of Wales.

At the time of the Norman invasion the Greyhound was a favourite among the aristocracy, who even went so far as to ban commoners from owning such dogs. Of course the ordinary folk of the day stuck up two fingers to the new nobility and bred dogs with much greater colour variation in their coats, brindle being a favourite as it made the dogs more difficult to spot as they hunted on the lands from which they had been banned.

Still, the greyhound's reputation was untarnished among the ruling classes. Lords and gentlemen had their tombs designed with the effigy of a faithful greyhound, waiting forever at the feet of it's beloved master.

The true origin of how we come to know this lithesome animal as the "Greyhound" is lost in antiquity. The breed's modern English name has been traced back to the middle English "Greihound" which it is believed originated in the Icelandic "Greyhundr" by way of the old English name "Grighund". Since the people of Iceland are descended from the Norse people, it is a fair assumption that the Vikings, who occupied the north of England at the time of the Norman Conquest, were aware of the greyhound's hunting prowess and took the breed to their own hearts.

For hundreds of years after the Norman invasion, the Greyhound's popularity among the nobility never waned. Mentioned in the works of Chaucer and Shakespeare, the Greyhound continued to figure as an essential part of the lives of the well-to-do.

It was in the nineteenth century when the sport of coursing became one of the most popular of the field sports. The Industrial Revolution made many folk of previous working class background as wealthy as their royal counterparts, which in turn allowed them to indulge in the sport once considered the pastime of the rich and ruling classes.

Coursing events became popular all over the country, some of which, such as The Waterloo Cup, first held in 1837, are still held to this day.

It was at this time that the Greyhound was exported to America in large numbers. They were seen as an ideal solution to the problems created by jackrabbits, which were destroying the crops of the "sod buster" Midwest farmers. They soon became a popular sight in the American countryside, where their speed and agility was very much appreciated.

It was toward the end of the nineteenth century that the first clubs and bodies were setup, including the creation of The Greyhound Stud Book in Britain and, later, similar publications in the US, Ireland and Australia.

Stainforth Meadow Court Stadium - A Concise History of Greyhound Racing

 

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