The name of the Italian greyhound breed is a reference to the breed’s popularity in Renaissance Italy.
The blue Italian Greyhound is an old one and is believed to have originated more than 4,000 years ago in the countries now known as Greece and Turkey. This belief is based on the depiction of miniature blue Greyhounds in the early decorative arts of these countries and on the archaeological discovery of small greyhound skeletons.
Many hounds similar to the blue Italian Greyhounds have been found in Egyptian tombs. Mummified remains have been found in the tombs of the Pharaoh’s in Luxor. However, the Romans brought the Italian Greyhounds to the Mediterranean about 600 BC. Evidence of early Italian Greyhound has been found during the excavations at Pompeii. The remains of a small hound with a similar skeleton-like that of the Italian greyhound were discovered.
Pictorials of blue Italian Greyhounds have been found in Pompeii, and they were probably the only accepted companion dog there. As an amusing aside the expression “Cave Canem” (Beware of the dog) was a warning to visitors, not that the dogs would attack but to beware of stepping on the small dogs.
These blue Italian Greyhounds have been quite popular since the days of Cleopatra, who bestowed Italian Greyhounds upon Julius Caesar when he conquered Egypt in 48 BC.
By the Middle Ages, the blue Italian Greyhound had become distributed throughout Southern Europe and was later a favorite of the Italians of the sixteenth century, among whom miniature dogs were in great demand. It is, in fact, due to its popularity in Italy at this time that the breed became known as the “Italian Greyhound.” From this period onward the history of the breed can be fairly well traced as it spread through Europe, arriving in England in the seventeenth century.
European nobility was also fond of this breed with its delicate looks, soft demure, and because of its popularity in Italy. It came to be known as the Italian Greyhound during the 17th century.
They have been pets of famous royalty such as Mary Queen of Scot (1542 – 1587), Charles I (1600 – 1649), Princess Anne of Denmark (1574 – 1619), Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901), and Catharine the Great of Russia (1729 – 1796) whose favorite Italian greyhound “Zemira” was buried in the Peterhof Park and his porcelain figurine was kept in the Grand Hall of the Peterhof Palace.
Fredrick the Great of Prussia carried his pet, an Italian greyhound, to all his military campaigns.
There was an African chieftain who was willing to exchange 200 cattle for a single Italian greyhound in the early 19th century.
They came to England in 1860 at the Birmingham Dog Show. The AKC registered this breed in 1886.