A Dog’s Life: An Interdisciplinary Study of Human-Animal Relationships in Roman Britain
thesisposted on 23.07.2020, 11:35 by Lauren Bellis
Dogs were a key animal in the Roman Empire, appearing in numerous texts, art and artefacts. Newly conquered provinces were affected by this enthusiasm, showing abrupt change in the types of dogs kept, with 'dwarf' dogs appearing for the first time (Bartosiewicz 2010; Colominas 2016). How underlying attitudes changed is a question that has been asked of other aspects of provincial Roman life. This includes new rituals, buildings and diets (King 1999b; 2001; Mattingly 2011: 223-228), but rarely interactions with live animals, despite their capacity to influence human society.
Previous study examined single burials, selected only one attribute for study (Baxter 2006; Clark 1995; Harcourt 1974; MacKinnon and Belanger 2006), or were limited by poor recording in published reports (MacKinnon 2010a). To avoid this problem, I chose 85 skeletons from Iron Age and Roman Britain to analyse directly. A purpose-built ‘biography’ system brought several types of analysis, including pathology, together to track the lives and deaths of each dog. I also collected a background dataset from published reports and databases.
Universally found across Britain, only a slight preference for canines was found on Southern, urban and military sites. The skeletal evidence indicated that traumatic and age-related lesions were equally common before and after the Conquest of AD43, suggesting continuity in how dogs were treated day-to-day. Yet congenital conditions, such as dwarfism and dental crowding, rose dramatically during the Roman occupation. New genetic stock was likely imported into Britain.
Exploring these skeletons as individual biographies revealed the stories of dogs that were abused, cared for, and changed the lives of the humans around them. Ultimately, dogs have been an excellent ‘case animal’ to map cultural transformation in Roman Britain, and an indicator of where old ideas prevailed despite new dogs. Or perhaps the conquerors and conquered were not so different in this regard.