What Were Maltese Bred for? History of the Maltese


The Maltese is a very popular toy breed that has won the affection of many. These small, silky white fellows have wonderful personalities and are a great choice for allergy sufferers as they are one of the few dog breeds that are considered to be low shedding and prone to allergies.

Dogs have a long history with humans, and each breed has its own history. The Maltese were bred for exactly what they are used for today: companionship. No wonder they do their job so well! Here we will take a closer look at this affectionate little breed and its beginnings.

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Earliest history of the Maltese

One thing is for sure, the Maltese is an ancient breed that has been around the Mediterranean for thousands of years. Their origin is a mystery based on the educated guess of historians.

The breed most likely originated somewhere in Asia, but some even suggest it may have been somewhere in the Swiss Alps. The breed was eventually transported to Malta, hence the name. It is believed that they were brought to the island, which lies off the coast of Italy, by the Phoenicians who came and colonized the area.

Before the rise of Greece, the Phoenicians ruled the Mediterranean and sailed far and wide for trade. Some say they may have traveled on the ships with the rodent control breed, but on the island of Malta these dogs were bred specifically to be companions. They came in a variety of colors before finally being an all-white breed.

maltese dog on the meadow
Photo credits: TaniaVdB, Pixabay

Ancient Greece

The Maltese were recorded in ancient Greece after the rise of the Greek Empire. The breed was revered for beauty and companionship. The famous Greek philosopher Aristotle documented around 370 BC. the praise of a small lap dog. It is believed that he was referring to the Maltese dog. The breed has been mentioned by many ancient poets and historians and is even featured on Greek vases dating back to 500 BC. and many other works of art.

Ancient Egypt

Depictions of the Maltese race were discovered in Fayum, Egypt, in the form of hieroglyphs written between 600 and 300 BC.

Ancient Rome

In ancient Rome, the Maltese was a fashion statement and status symbol among Roman aristocrats. The breed has been dubbed the “Roman Lady Dog” and is considered by some to be the first “fashion dog” in history. One of the most famous Roman legends involving the Maltese was the story of Saint Paul, the apostle of early Christianity. It is said that Paul was shipwrecked in Malta, where he eventually healed the governor Pulibus, who then presented Paul with a Maltese.

Young maltese dog on a meadow
Credit: Dora Zett, Shutterstock

Maltese in the 1500s

It is speculated that the Maltese got around the world through trade. The breed made its way to Europe in the 1500s, where its popularity continued to rise.

Maltese were referred to as kings in England and treated as such. They came to England during the reign of King Henry VIII. Only the wealthiest of people could afford to own a Maltese, and they retained their reputation as a status symbol well beyond ancient Rome.

In the centuries that followed, it was believed that the Maltese were selectively bred and slightly varied in size. They transitioned from a variety of colors to solid white dogs.

Maltese in the 19thth and 20th century

19th century

The Maltese have managed to maintain their dominion as status symbols for centuries. The popular breed was still considered a symbol of wealth and success in the 19th century. Referred to back then as the Maltese Terrier, they became one of the first breeds to be presented at dog shows.

The breed made its way to America in the late 19th century as the Maltese lion dog. The Maltese lion dog was even featured at the Westminster Kennel Club’s first dog show in New York City in 1877. The breed was recognized as a Maltese by the American Kennel Club in 1888.

20th century

Although the Maltese is an officially recognized breed by the American Kennel Club and has its place in competitive dog shows, it was still a rare breed that did not gain popularity as a pet in America until their numbers began to rise around the 1950s.

In the 1990s, Maltese popularity began to take hold in the United States. Over the decades, up until the 1990s, breeders focused on the breed and the number of Maltese increased. With their gorgeous, silky white coat, affectionate disposition, and ability to entertain with their lively antics, the Maltese became one of the top 15 dog breeds in the United States in the 1990s.

maltese dog walking with owner in the park
Photo credit: artellii72, Pixabay

Contemporary Maltese

The good-natured but lively little Maltese has maintained its popularity to this day. The breed is low-shedding and generally does not aggravate allergies, making them an ideal dog breed for those who suffer from canine allergies.

The breed exhibits small dog syndrome and has a keen sense of not just being the center of attention but of being the boss of everyone around them. They don’t take on strangers too well and need early training so they can understand the household pecking order and discourage unwanted behavior.

Maltese have some higher grooming requirements, which is common with long coats. As with any breed, it is highly recommended that you buy from a reputable breeder who does the proper health testing as the breed has a predisposition to some genetic health conditions.

This affectionate and playful little breed has made its mark on history and shows no signs of slowing down. To top it off, they still look and act like the little status symbols they were once known as.

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The Maltese is a popular pet dog in homes around the world. They were bred for companionship and they certainly excel at it. Their history may be up for debate among historians, but they are nonetheless an ancient breed with a rich history. From hundreds of years B.C. To this day, these lovable little dogs have been able to win the hearts of human companions from the very beginning.

Selected image source: monster_code, Shutterstock

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