The Maltese is acknowledged as one of the oldest breeds of dog, clearly identifiable over hundreds of years. The beauty and lovely name of these small dogs has been acclaimed from pre-Christian times by poets and artists alike. A model of a Maltese, presumed to be a child’s toy, going back as far as 8,000 BC has been found in excavations and it has been written that Charles Darwin placed the origin of the breed at 6,000 BC.
Why the name Maltese? This has never been fully agreed by scholars. In A.D 25 it was written that ‘There is a town in Sicily called Melita whence are exported many beautiful dogs called Canes Militei’ there is also reference to Melitei Dogs from the Island of Melita, the Roman and Greek name for the Island of Malta.
Certainly it is claimed that Publius, the Roman Governor of Malta, owned a Maltese, as have many famous people from history to the present day. The Emperor Claudius may well have brought the first Maltese to Britain. Maltese are depicted in many paintings, which helps in tracing their progress across the centuries. We see them in paintings of Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria and in the works of Joshua Reynolds and Goya. Indeed, Mary Queen of Scots received her Maltese from France and many references declare that it was possible that this very dog was discovered under her skirts after she was beheaded and that would certainly be possible with this affectionate breed.
In 1839 the Duchess of Kent, Queen Victoria’s mother, commissioned Sir Edwin Landseer to paint the portrait of her little dog ‘Quiz’ in which he was Depicted snuggled up against the massive head of her Newfoundland. Later around 1851, the Duchess once more commissioned a pastel portrait of her Maltese ‘Lambkin’ and copies of this delightful work are reproduced for sale to this day, illustrating clearly just how little the breed has changed since those times.