Image source: Le Livre de chasse de Gaston Phébus.
Hey everyone! Since we can have a dog companion in KCD, I just wanted to share some information I dug up on dogs from roughly the time period the game will be set in. The first source is a period hunting manual, and the second an archaeological report. I’ve listed the different types of dogs mentioned in the sources as well, with some of my own interpretation.
Some caveats! These sources are from England/France and Scotland respectively, so of course the information from them might not apply 100% to the setting of the game.
- The Master of Game, by Edward of Norwich, 2nd Duke of York. Published originally in 1413. Modern translation accessed at the Internet Archive
This is a medieval english translation of a French book written in 1387-1389, the Livre de Chasse by Gaston Phébus. It is a treatise on hunting and is one of the primary historical sources of information on dogs in the Medieval period. It is important to remember that the dogs written about here were used by noblemen, and so would not necessarily have been representative of the ‘common’ dog. It covers a broad range of hunting related topics. It also covers how to care for dogs, and the main types of dogs used in hunting. It’s very much worth a read! There is also a great anecdote in it about a loyal greyhound that defeated its master’s murderer in a trial by combat.
- Smith, Catherine 1998. Dogs, cats and horses in the Scottish medieval town. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. Accessed at the Archaeology Data Service.
This is a summary of the archaeological evidence for domestic animals in Scottish towns in the Middle ages. The remains analyzed date from the 12th-16th centuries, so they include the time period the game is set in. Again, it’s very geographically specific, but it is interesting nonetheless. It goes in to detail about the sizes of the animals found, and tries to relate them to dogs mentioned in historical sources, including the Livre de Chasse/The Master of Game.
Medieval Dog Types
Image from Livre de Chasse. Top left and Center: Greyhounds. Top Right: Running Hounds. Center right: Mastiff. Bottom Left: Alaunts. Bottom Center and Right: Spaniels
Before I start it is important to note that the modern notion of a dog ‘breed’, where dogs are classified as being of a certain breed only if they possess certain physical and temperamental traits, did not exist in the past. We therefore shouldn’t try to identify animals found on archaeological sites or mentioned in literary sources with specific modern breeds (Smith 1998, pg. 862). In fact, while the Livre de Chasse/Master of Game does mention what physical traits Gaston believes a good dog of each type should have, this is only because he believes those traits would make them better at executing their function. To me it also seems that he even believed a dog’s color influenced its temperament. Outside of France then, it is possible that hunting dogs that fulfilled the same functions ascribed to each of Gaston’s types might have looked and behaved differently. Gaston hints at this as well throughout the Livre de Chasse/Master of Game. I’ll talk a bit about local varieties to cover this and will also talk a bit about other dogs that, because they were not useful for hunting, were not mentioned by Gaston – ‘common dogs’ such as lap dogs, stray dogs, and pet dogs. Just to make this post more interesting to look at, I’ll include photos of modern dogs which I feel Gaston would believe to be an ideal dog of each type in terms of appearance. Let’s start!
- Running Hounds
The Master of Game discusses these in Chapter XIV of the version linked. It says these hounds were used for tracking by scent and running down and harrying pray. They were Gaston’s favorite type of hound. Like the above modern Coonhound, Gaston believes a good hound should have a long snout, droopy ears, droopy lips, droopy ears and a straight tail that cromps at the end. He says he’s seen good hounds with shaggy tails as well though. He also says the color “most common for to be good, is called brown tan”. They should have great necks, breasts, shoulders, legs and feet, small flanks and long sides and…“small hanging ballocks and well trussed together” . They came in all sizes, large and small. The small hounds were known as either kenets or harriers, apparently depending on how good they were. Hounds trained to track by scent were known as lymers. Supposedly the hounds from the Basque countries and Spain were good for hunting down boars, but not harts, since they tired of the chase too easily. The larger dogs found in Scotland had skulls very similar to modern Fox-hounds, a breed which were likely bred from running hounds (Smith 1998, pg. 868) .
Greyhounds are interesting because the name also denotes a modern breed, so they are a good example of the difference between modern breeds and older dog types. The breed standard for the modern Greyhound is available here (Group 10, section 3 under Great Britain). They are described in Chapter XV of the Master of Game. According to the book their best coloration is “red fallow with a black muzzle”, and they come in all sizes - but the medium size is the best, if one cannot afford to keep both a small and a large one. In terms of body appearance, they were generally similar to the modern Greyhound, but they should have a long large head like a pike (the fish), and a large mouth. The archaeological evidence from Scotland turned up leg bones which could have been from greyhounds, but none of the skulls were slim like those of modern Greyhounds - it’s possible the slim modern heads are a recent trait (Smith 1998, pg. 866-867). Illustrations in the Livre de Chasse show greyhounds with both long and short hair. They were supposed to be able to run faster than any prey, so they could overtake them and seize them. A medieval greyhound then could be anything in size and coat from an Italian Greyhound up to an Irish Wolfhound. The size of Gaston’s ideal greyhound (“medium”) sounds like that of a modern Whippet, possibly something like the one pictured.
Chapter XVI describes alaunts, of which there were supposedly three sub-types. All of them were harebrained and reckless, according to Gaston. The alauntes gentle were to have the body of and speed of a Greyhound and a “great and short” head, and the good ones should be white with sharp standing ears surrounded by black spots. The image above is a modern recreation of an alaunt, probably similar to the alaunt gentle (except for the ears). Their bite was supposed to be more powerful than three greyhounds, and they were used to pin down prey. Alauntes veutreres were supposed to be ugly and slightly stockier than greyhounds, with a big head and great lips and ears. After the greyhounds chased down the prey, the slower alauntes veutreres would catch up with them and pin it down. They were good for hunting boar, and used in the sport of bull-baiting. The third type of alaunt was the butcher’s alaunt. They were used by butchers to heard cows in to towns, and to catch and pin down any cows that tried to escape. They could also be used for hunting boar and bull-baiting. Smith (1998, pg. 864) identified three dogs which may have been considered butcher’s alaunts. They were bow-legged dogs, 26.5-39cm high at the shoulder, and one had a skull very similar to a modern Bull Terrier (Like Dan’s dog!).
Chapter XVII is about spaniels, which he also calls hounds for the hawk. They should have a big head, a big body an be “fair of hue, white or tawny…and of such hue they be commonly best”. Their coat should not be too rough, but they should have a rough tail. Pictured above is a modern French Spaniel. They were supposed to run ahead of the hunting party and scare fowl and other animals for the hawks to pounce on. They were best for hunting quail and partridge. When they were taught to be setters (to lie down) they were useful for hunting partridge and quails with nets. They were also good for use in the water, such as to retrieve water-fowl. Gaston really dislikes them though, because they would bark at any animal that passed by, which would egg on the greyhounds. And since they ran back and forth barking, they would make the running hounds lose the scent. He said like alaunts, they came from Spain, and that “they have many bad qualities like the country they come from”. Unless you were hunting by hawk, he didn’t recommend using them.
Mastiff’s are the last type discussed by Gaston, in chapter XVIII. These dogs were used for keeping “his master’s beasts and his master’s house”. He finds them to be “of a churlish nature and ugly shape”. The above pictured dog is a Mastiff of the Abruzzi, also known as an Abruzzese Shepherd. I only included it because in Italy these working dogs are still outfitted with the exact same type of spiked anti-wolf collar which the Mastiff pictured in the Livre de Chasse is wearing. It also looks fairly similar to it in shape, and as a sheep guarding dog performs the same function. Gaston says they are also good shooting dogs (not sure exactly what that means…maybe sort of like a modern retriever/pointer?), and good for driving game. They are also good for people who hunt for profit. When crossed with alaunts, they were good for boar hunting. When crossed with hounds for the hawk, “(there be bred) hounds that men should not make much mention of…for there is no great mastery nor great readiness in the hunting that they do”.
- Common dogs
While not a piece of medieval artwork, the above Hellenistic-era mosaic from Alexandria is one of my favourite pieces of artwork (And my profile picture ). It depicts a pet dog looking guilty after knocking over a bronze pitcher. Smith (1998, pg. 869) paraphrases a passage from The Boke of St. Albans which describes the types of dogs one might expect to find in a medieval Scottish town: “butcher’s hound, midden dog, trundle-tail, prick-eared cur and ‘smale ladies popis that beere away the flees’”. Butcher’s hounds were likely the butcher’s alaunt mentioned by Gaston. The ‘ladies popis’ were probably like small terriers and lap dogs of today. The smallest skeleton of the Scottish assemblage, only 23 cm high at the shoulder, was likely a lap dog as it seems to have been a decrepit elderly individual, and would have likely only survived that long as a well loved pet (Smith 1998, pg. 870). The other types were probably normal mongrels of different sizes like the one in the mosaic, which may either have been pets, strays, or feral dogs surviving off trash from the middens.
- Local dog varieties
In both his chapter on running hounds and his chapter on spaniels Gaston mentions how different regions are known for their dogs. Spain is known for it’s hawking dogs, it’s alaunts, and along with the Basque countries it’s hounds for hunting boar. Scotland and England were known for their greyhounds (Although a footnote in the book notes that in the original French version of the Livre de Chasse, Gaston says Brittany and not Scotland and England. It maybe an error on the part of the English scribe who translated it). This isn’t really surprising - different regions of the world are still known for their local dog breeds. It wouldn’t be far fetched to assume that in different parts of Europe the different hunting dog types defined by Gaston were performed by a variety of locally bred dogs. I’d like to take this opportunity then to highlight two modern Czech breeds which are claimed to come from ancient stock, which might be appropriate to include in the game in some form (Obviously, the devs are probably aware of them. This is more for us non Czech people): The Český Fousek (Top image), which today is used as a gun dog and so might have been classified as a spaniel by Gaston, and the Bohemian Shepherd (Bottom image), which would probably have been considered a Mastiff. Of course, as mentioned previously, modern breed requirements did not exist in the middle ages. So while the Český Fousek is supposedly mentioned as a hunting dog known as a ‘Canis Bohemicus’ in a Czech document of 1348 (Maybe some Czech board members could find and translate it for us? The specific document is talked about in the link), it is unlikely those dogs looked exactly like the modern breed, and probably varied quite a lot in appearance. Kind of like the varied appearance of the Scotch and English Collie landrace breeds. The same might go for the Bohemian Shepherd.
Anyways, while this post was long, I hope it didn’t ramble too much and included some good information. If you are interested in the topic, I do highly recommend you read the two sources I based most of this post on as they provide a lot more information than I could summarize. The article about the archaeology of Scottish medieval dog remains also has a bibliography with more books and articles on the subject of ancient dogs.
Also of interest is this chart I found from an article in the journal Nature. The article is an analysis of the genetics of modern dog breeds. It’s interesting how some dogs which perform similar functions come from different genetic stock.
Hopefully you’ve enjoyed reading this! When doing this research I couldn’t help but think of a variety of quests which could lead you to a dog companion - maybe while hunting hart with some noblemen, you perform an action which leads one of them to gift you one of their dogs. Or you could return to your old village, and rescue an injured mongrel or butcher’s dog. Who knows! I’m sure the devs will come up with something awesome though
EDIT: Slightly changed the Mastiff section