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Pompeii mosaics: Beware of the Dog!

Dog mosaic from the House of Orpheus where the remains of a real dog were also found

They are among the most distinctive features of Pompeii. Dog mosaics placed at the entrance of peoples' homes, exactly where a modern welcome mat would go. Some even bear a familiar sign: Beware of the dog (cave canem).

We know the mosaic guard dogs reflected the real ones - the remains of one poor hound were discovered by excavators still tethered to its post by the door at the House of Orpheus in Pompeii.

Dog mosaic at entrance of the House of the tragic poet

Pompeii's decorative dogs seem to have been well known in the region, even in Roman times. They appear in Petronius's novel The Satyricon, which is set either in Pompeii or another (unnamed) town in Campania. It was written about fifteen years before the eruption of Vesuvius.

In a comic incident, a guest to a dinner party sees "a huge dog with a chain round its neck" by the entrance and nearly falls over in fright. But there is no need to fear: "It was painted on the wall and over it, in big capitals, was written: BEWARE OF THE DOG"

Sometimes a different wild or ferocious animal is shown. There are a couple of mosaics showing wild boar - including the one above. This is one of my favourite photos I took at Pompeii. The boar still guarding the deserted home, the hint of past luxury, and the view of the mountains the owners might have seen from their windows.

Another wild animal is shown below, this time an injured bear. The slogan beside it reads, HAVE (welcome). This house is on the street behind the brothel, opposite the (real) inn where I imagined characters in my Pompeii set novel The Wolf Den drinking and scheming. I love this view from the doorway, so close to what it must have looked like to passers by two thousand years ago.

Below is the mosaic which bears the same motto 'Cave Canem' as the imaginary dog painting in The Satyricon. The mosaic can only be seen behind glass on the site - which explains the state of my photograph!

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