Alexander the Great's Dog, Peritas, Changed History By Biting an Elephant
4 min read
Dogs Have Changed the History of Mankind
Your dog has changed YOUR personal history, hasn’t he or she? I know my life is totally different due to my involvement in the world of dogs. Many of my dearest friends I met through showing dogs, working on the various dog magazines I was involved with and now through The Blissful Dog. Oh, yeah, and I would not have met my husband if I had not moved to Minnesota to take a job for a dog magazine.
Let’s look at some dogs who literally DID change the history of the world. Some were brave, some were brats and some were in the right (or wrong) place at the right (or wrong) time.
Alexander the Great's Dog, Peritas, Changed the Course of History by Fighting Elephants and Lions (or so the story goes)
YES! ELEPHANTS AND LIONS! Hmmm, my dogs may have changed my personal history by putting me in situations that allowed me to make decisions that altered the course of my life. But not one of my dogs has ever attacked a lion or elephant, saving me and allowing me to become ruler of a big chunk of the world. That is exactly what Alexander the Great’s dog Peritas did (as the story goes). Of course, he was known as basic Alexander back then, the GREAT came after Peritas saved his life on multiple occasions.
Alexander of Macedon is said to have chosen Peritas as a puppy and raised him from a very young age. Other accounts say he was given the puppy when he was a child of eleven. There were many myths and tales from this time frame, so it is impossible to tease out what is fact or fiction about Alexander and Peritas. It seems as if every act of bravery performed by a dog for centuries was turned into a tale about Peritas and Alexander. At this point, who cares, let’s just enjoy the stories.
PERITAS THE GREAT
Though not a specific breed as we know them, Peritas probably resembled a Dogue de Bordeaux, Mastiff or Neapolitan Mastiff on steroids. Enormous, powerful dogs were bred specifically to go to battle beside men and to fight as hard as those with swords and axes did. The war dogs of this era were expected to show no fear and fight any opponent – including elephants, lions and armed warriors.
Virgil wrote, “Never, with [Molossians] on guard, need you fear for your stalls a midnight thief, or onslaught of wolves, or Iberian brigands at your back.”
There has been some controversy that Peritas was actually more of an Afghan Hound or Saluki, rather than an early Mastiff type. Some of the images shared here show both types of dogs. We’ll leave that for the scholars to determine.
PERITAS CANINE GLADIATOR
In one accounting, Peritas supposedly protected Alexander from a war elephant during the Persian Battle of Gaugamela by tearing at its lip until the elephant dropped to its knees, weakened by blood loss. Now that is one heckuva bloody lip!
War elephants were not gentle pets who gently lifted their riders onto their backs and sprayed water from their trunks. They were used to instill terror in the opposing forces and hold ranks.
From India, military thinking on the use of war elephants spread westwards to the Persian Empire, where they were used in several campaigns and in turn came to influence the campaigns of Alexander the Great. The first confrontation between Europeans and the Persian war elephants occurred at the Alexander’s Battle of Gaugamela (331 BC), where the Persians deployed fifteen elephants. These elephants were placed at the centre of the Persian line and made such an impression on the Macedonian troops that Alexander felt the need to sacrifice to the God of Fear the night before the battle – but according to some sources the elephants ultimately failed to deploy in the final battle owing to their long march the day before. Alexander won resoundingly at Gaugamela, but was deeply impressed by the enemy elephants and took these first fifteen into his own army, adding to their number during his capture of the rest of Persia.-Wikipedia
Another tale has Malians attacking Alexander in India and Petris held them off until Alexander’s backup troops arrived. Supposedly Peritas was mortally wounded and crawled to Alexander, laid his head in his lap and died.
In a different version of this story Alexander was trapped by the Malian troops, with his warriors on the other side of the battle. Leonnnatus’ sent Peritas to go to Alexander, which he did. The valiant dog fought and tore his way through the troops until he got to a gravely wounded Alexander’s side. Peritas held the troops off until Alexander’s troops were able to fight their way to him. Peritas was mortally wounded with a javelin and once again, is said to have crawled to Alexander and died after placing his head in his lap.
Alexander then named the city of Peritas, India, in his beloved dog’s honor. Peritas’ tomb with a statue in his honor still stands at the entrance to the city that bears his name.
In “The Life of Alexander,” Plutarch writes: “It is said, too, that when he lost a dog also, named Peritas, which had been reared by him and was loved by him, he founded a city and gave it the dog’s name.”
Of course, little of this historical tail (hehehe) was written as actual historical fact. These stories were told to inspire the troops to acts of bravery to allow those in power to STAY in power. After all, no one sings the praises of the thousands (or tens of thousands) who perished as they fought beside Alexander the Great.
Of course they were embellished to stoke the fires of bravery amongst the farm boys who were drafted into war with promises of wealth, glory and adventure.
One thing I do know is true, there must have been a dog, probably named Peritas who touched Alexander the Great’s heart and inspired HIM to achieve the heights of fame and glory that he did. In that spirit we honor Peritas.