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Group: Toys
Breed Family: Maltese

This is one of the oldest toy breeds and its likeness has appeared on art objects dating back some 3,000 years. Before the birth of Christ, ancestors of the breed were described under the name Canis Melitaeus, from which, obviously, its modern name derived. Where it originated is a mystery, because in the ancient world there were at least three locations to which the name Melita was given: the Island of Malta (then called Melita), the Adriatic Island of Melita, and the town of Melita in Sicily.

However, from the earliest times, and certainly by the thirteenth century, the Maltese appears to have been known throughout the Europe, where it was enjoyed for its beauty and companionship. George Jennison, in Animals for Show and Pleasure in Ancient Rome describes small pet dogs (catelli and catellae) which were common in Imperial Italy. They were probably of the Maltese kind, which had been popular in Egypt and Greece for centuries, for they had a long-haired silky coat and a curly feathered tail, both features of the Maltese.

It is thought one reason this charming little dog became so popular was because it was used by the Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish traders as an object of barter, and was introduced to the many cities along their trade routes.

Exactly when and how the Maltese was first introduced into England is a mystery. One theory is that it was brought by Roman soldiers during their occupation of England. Another is that the returning Crusaders carried them home as gifts for their ladies. What is known, is that the breed was well established by the time of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603). Dr. Caius described them as being distinct from the "spaniel gentle or comforter." In his book Of Englishe Dogges, first published in English in 1576, he wrote: "There is, besides those which we have already delivered," he wrote, "another sort of gentle dogges in this our English style, but exempted from the order of ther residue. The dogges of this kinde doth Callimachus call Melitaers, of the Iseland Melita, in the sea of Sicily (which at this day is named Malta, and iseland indeede famous and renouned)."

Queen Victoria owned a Maltese dog, and a watercolor by Alfred Edward Chalon depicts her holding the dog in her arms. It has also been speculated that the Maltese portrayed in Sir Edwin Landseer's The Lion Dog from Malta - The Last of his Tribe was the Queen's dog. The Maltese first appeared at dog shows in England in 1862 when twenty dogs were entered in the Holborn show in London.


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