The Dogs of War

There is reason to think that early Indo-Europeans had adolescent war-bands, bands identified with dogs or wolves. It seems likely that they were composed of boys about the same age , came from the wealthier families,  wore animal skins, and were sent off into border areas, where they caused trouble.  After a few years they rejoined regular society.

Passages in the Vedas suggest that there was a midwinter initiation ritual in which these JDs died and were reborn as dogs of war. There are lots of references to this sort of thing in Celtic, Germanic, and Indo-Aryan legend and  mythology.

Dorcas Brown and David Anthony report on the excavation of an late Bronze Age settlement near Samara, Russia.  They found evidence of a winter-season sacrifice of many (> 50) dogs and wolves – not usually eaten in these cultures.  They were chopped into little, tiny pieces., especially the heads.

The animals were mostly over six years old and had been well treated: Brown and Anthony suggest that they were pets, and that the boys had to kill their own dogs as part of the initiation rite. That’s disgusting.


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117 Responses to The Dogs of War

  1. Ed Johnson says:

    Well, it certainly teaches a young man about the impermanence of attachments, mates, pets, anything can be taken away at the whim of the gods, or the tribal leaders, or whatever. This kind of forced cruelty seems to have been a recurring theme in training warriors in many cultures. Though, since I’m not a credentialed historian or humanities professor I MUST be wrong…. After all that would be unnatural.

  2. melendwyr says:

    “That’s disgusting.”
    …and probably very effective.

    • ursiform says:

      But effective at what? Learning that to be tough you need to be ready to kill a loyal companion? Not quite the same thing as being willing to kill an enemy.

      • melendwyr says:

        Many states of mind that we currently consider to be ‘mental disorders’ are highly adaptive responses to certain kinds of environmental demands. I will further note that lots of people raise animals with individual care and attention despite always intending to butcher and eat them. Generations of 4H kids have done so. If the young soldiers expected to have to kill the dogs, is it that much different from raising a pig or calf?

        I suspect a lot upset of this is because dogs are involved. Medieval Europeans were totally unsentimental about dogs, and killed them horribly when convenient. We view them as beloved members of the family.

      • Cracker1 says:

        It wasn’t about learning to kill. It allowed the merger of the dog’s spirit with one’s own. They didn’t feel bad about it. They felt good about it every day because their dog’s essence was within their being.

        • melendwyr says:

          I remember reading about a prehistoric burial in which a puppy was cradled within the arms of a young boy (about fiveish, I think). The puppy had been killed by a blow, as by a club.
          If you genuinely believed that burying the pet with the owner would reunite them in an afterlife, then killing the pup is arguably an act of love, towards the child, the puppy, or both. It’s only superficially similar to the tradition of entombing (sometimes postmortem, sometimes not) servants and slaves of a dead ruler. I doubt very many of those people would freely have chosen to accompany their lord, even if they truly believed an afterlife awaited.

          • Cracker1 says:

            I think that there were cultures where large numbers of devoted followers willingly went to their death with the leader. Certainly there were cultures where mass sacrifices were made of the not so devoted. In this instance with the pet dogs it allows the boy and dog(and wolves) to combine their attributes during this lifetime. Nothing would have prevented these people from believing that the boys and dogs would be separate beings in the afterlife, which they would enter together with the death of the boy. I get the impression from a lot of the comments here that most of the commenters have never believed in the supernatural nor have they paid close attention to the behavior of people who do.

  3. jamesd127 says:

    If some of them were wolves, probably not pets.

    These guys were hunters and herdsmen. Dogs were a tool, a domestic animal. They had plenty of dogs available which did not have a strong human bond.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Most of the dogs were more than six years old, a fair number more than 10. Pets.

      • melendwyr says:

        The tendency to care for pets is a charming and relatively recent addition to human psychology. For most of history, ‘civilized’ people haven’t viewed animals with empathy. Hunter-gatherers had more subtle views… but then there wasn’t nearly as much difference between humans and other animals in how they lived. And those views likely developed as a survival strategy to prevent those peoples from killing off all their prey animals.

      • Dylan says:

        Iraq has lots of dogs, many of which appear to be of an advanced age (fewer once psychopathic American infantrymen visited for a few years), but very few of them are pets. They’re tolerated vermin who eat the trash thrown in the streets.

        • dearieme says:

          But don’t Muslims harbour a strange antipathy to dogs? There have been complaints in Britain about Muslim taxi-drivers refusing to allow guide dogs for the blind into their vehicles.

          • Sandgroper says:

            That’s a known. The local population of Phuket in southern Thailand is about 2/3 Buddhist, 1/3 Muslim. If you go up into the hills, you can immediately identify which villages are Buddhist villages, and which are Muslim villages. The Buddhist villages are full of stray dog packs and the coffee is generally awful. In the Muslim villages you can’t see a dog anywhere, and the coffee is excellent.

            So if you want a good cup of coffee that you can sit and drink in peace, without having to keep a weather eye out for some feral dog stalking you, you know what to do – look for a Muslim village. And the only way you can do that is to look for a village devoid of dogs, because otherwise the people are generally indistinguishable, and they both grow coffee as a cash crop.

            And don’t take offence that the lady who has made the coffee for you has strained it through one of her old, worn-out stockings. It beats getting a mouthful of grounds.

  4. jabowery says:

    My dog bit a guy. Everyone who met my dog thought him exceptionally good except for the unfortunate victim. The sheriff contact me. I rounded up my dog and took him into the pound. I then sought information on the bite to determine whether to put him down due to bite severity (independent of rabies — for which he was immunized). I was fully prepared to kill my dog. I finally got in contact with the bite victim. When he told me he thought my dog was just doing his job I still insisted that I would put my dog down if the bite was severe enough. It wasn’t. That very day, my dog died.

    Dogs aren’t merely pets. They’re symbionts — particularly for hunters and farmers — and when they get to be too old or otherwise a problem, they die.

    • jabowery says:

      I was not insistent upon putting my dog down. I was insistent on maintaining my good standing in the community. I placed great value on that dog and do not imagine I’ll ever have a dog as good as he. It was a family tragedy when I found him dead at the edge of our property but when I view it philosophically, he had a job to do as part of our family, had failed and that was that. He made a mistake that not only cost us hundreds of dollars in pound fees and court costs, but threatened the good standing of our household in the community. I looked into the cost of bite-inhibition training but that would have been additional hundreds of dollars with no guarantee of success given his age. His coincidental death was quite bizarre, but it wasn’t the first instance of “dog magic” with him. I don’t have an explanation for these things but it strikes me that there is a lot more to our relationship with dogs than people who think of them as “pets” are likely to imagine.

    • jabowery says:

      In civil society, dog bites are, rightfully, seen as the moral equivalent of assaults by their owners. Your lack of sensitivity to this indicates you’re probably very poorly adjusted to civil society. Interestingly, I am probably not too far from the “sociopathic” Indoeuropeans in my “hard-ass” relationship with my dogs and that attitude may, indeed, be more “civil” than the candy-ass treatment people give their pets as an opiate for their loss of total fertility rates and “empty nest” syndrome.

      There is a fine line between a mutualistic symbiont and a parasitic symbiont. As long as we’re imputing “attitudes”, this cricket may well feel very good about himself for jumping into the water to help his little friend inside proceed to the next stage of life.

      Your imputation about my “negative attitude” is not something worth arguing about since I can deny it and you can say I’m “denying” it. We may as well impute to my dog an instinct to do what he felt best for his family, sparing me the distress of being a true “hard-ass”. Indeed, if I had been from an ancient agrarian or barbarian pastoralist society, I might well have put my dog to the sword without a “negative attitude and vibe that hurt the dog”. Imputing feelings to “the dogs of war” in their treatment of the dogs they put down is a stretch.

  5. icareviews says:

    “That’s disgusting.” But compared to the willingness with which Abraham is expected to snuff his son on the whim of an invisible friend given to getting high off burnt animal carcasses, it sounds positively civilized.

  6. Count Doofus says:

    So is “kill Lassie and show you are a true son of a bitch”. They were selecting for mild sociopathy, probably an useful trait in the four millennia ago steppe.

  7. Finnish Yamna Apologist says:

    Greg, you seem to be a little bit Anti-Indo-European. Don’t forget that the Neolithic cultures of Old Europe were quite morbid too. Talheim Death Pit, mass Human sacrifice and cannibalism in Herxheim and who knows what else. I’m sure the Yamnaware were actually quite tolerant people and would have assimilated the farmers if they did not keep trying to kill/eat them.

    • reiner Tor says:

      I’m sure the Yamnaware were actually quite tolerant people and would have assimilated the farmers if they did not keep trying to kill/eat them.

      I agree: they would have assimilated the farmers if they hadn’t eaten them first. However, once eaten, those early European farmers proved to be impossible to assimilate.

      • Hipster says:

        Layman Here.
        Could you direct me to sources showing that Yamnaware people ate EEFs? Sounds fascinating, I would love to read more about how these ancient societies interacted when they met. It was obviously violent but the details would be interesting.

        • Anonymous says:

          I don’t think they were cannibals. I thought it was obvious that it was a joke, playing on the ambiguity in the first comment (which “they” is which?), I’m not sure if it was funny or anything, but at least I had fun while typing, and need one any further reasons for commenting?

        • stalin says:

          how these ancient societies interacted when they met.
          the details would be interesting.
          HA HA, details……they killed each other until there was only one society left.

  8. kai says:

    When all the adolescent boys were sent doing the dirty job on the frontiers, quite a few dying in the process, the adolescent girls stayed at home, bored, and available to the older batch of warriors that managed to come back the previous years….
    Now that I get older, it sounds like an excellent society 😉

  9. Dipitty do says:

    Other possibilities?
    Neighboring tribe attacks, kills everyone’s dogs.
    Winter is bad, unusual food eaten.
    Winter bad, excess mouths eliminated.

  10. Kuba says:

    I’m not sure why it seems so weird. Killing dogs wasn’t all that uncommon east of the Iron Curtain until very recently. During wartime dogs became so rare that certain eastern European breeds almost went extinct. My grandfather would always tell me to be nice to the stray dogs “because if a war came they’re essentially walking cans of spam.”

    I love my dogs, but if I had to kill them I would. But then again I grew up poor.

    • reiner Tor says:

      I grew up east of the Iron Curtain (although not poor, rather middle class, at least by 1980s Hungarian standards), and in general I don’t like dogs (at least since a dog bit and almost killed me at age 10), but still there are individual dogs who I like, and I appreciate the fact that a dog is (or could be) a loyal companion to man, and the idea of killing a loyal companion is abhorrent to me.

      Of course I accept the idea of killing a dog during famine or if dogs are found to carry infections etc., but killing a loyal dog only to experience killing?

      I dunno, I don’t like the idea. Maybe it could be done in a way so that after a while I found it acceptable (I’m thinking of rituals, a religion which posits that the dogs will get into Dog Valhalla afterwords, etc.), but still.

      • Kuba says:

        I agree that killing pet dogs was not something that was common in the European east, but i do remember instances of such killings going from rare to bizarre over time. Though most were old men, typically old enough to remember the war snapping.

        The issue is that these people likely lived under much higher levels of survival pressure than most poor eastern Europeans thus making a traumatic practice like this more understandable. Killing animals, whether they be pig, sheep, or dog nulls you to death it makes killing easier for the mind to cope with when struggling for survival.

        Under the stress of war this kind of trauma of sacrificing a close companion prepared the minds of young men for battle. However killing their dog was a more gradual thus less likely to lower functionality while being less costly than seeing their human companions die. Essentially telling the young warriors; “if you feel terrible seeing your dog being killed think of what it’ll be like if you fail to defeat your enemy and they kill your family members”

  11. Greying Wanderer says:

    One of the ideas around MAOA is it triggers with childhood trauma.

    Getting a boy to slaughter his pet dog seems like a good way to achieve that.

    • JayMan says:

      The childhood trigger part is likely bunch of steaming you-know-what.

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        Maybe. I can definitely see how this could work on people who weren’t naturally psycho enough for tribal needs.

        (If you accept reluctance / hesitation to kill as an automatic emotional response then deadening that response will be effective.)

        The bit I find staggering is a) enough of them weren’t naturally psycho enough for this to be necessary and b) some one figured this out as a solution because the only way this makes sense is if they weren’t mean enough for their environment.

        That to me is the kicker – why weren’t they mean enough already?

    • Sandgroper says:

      I’m very sceptical about the whole thing.

      I was an obedient kid, relatively speaking (until my MAOA was triggered by being routinely physically beaten up by gangs of bullies) (learning to fight back has a pretty amazing effect on bullies, JayMan – don’t dismiss it out of hand).

      But anyone who had told me to kill my pet dingo would have been told very firmly to go and get f*cked. Anyone. She was the one who comforted me whenever I came home bruised and bloodied. Hence my scepticism. It takes a sociopath to kill his own dog. I would have killed all of the bullies and all of the people trying to tell me what to do before I would have raised an unkind hand to that dog.

      So, no offence to Greg, who is in my experience normally a very reliable source. But I just can’t picture a realistic scenario for this (> 50 dogs, in one event, chopped into tiny pieces, and they were able to reconstruct the tiny pieces of all 50+ animals and figure out what had happened).

      Greg – do you have an original reference for this? Because I’m hugely sceptical. I know cruelty to dogs happens, but the way this event is described just strikes me as very unlikely.

      • Sandgroper says:

        I assume it’s extracted from “The Samara Valley project: late Bronze Age economy and ritual in the Russian steppes”, but I can find only citations of that, not the document itself. And basically, I don’t believe them – I think they are making shit up, unless I see some at least second-hand evidence to the contrary.

      • gcochran9 says:

        It seems strange to me, too. There’s no question about the basic archaeology: about the numbers, age, and condition of the dogs (with a few wolves). We know what time of year it happened. We know that the people of this culture normally didn’t eat dogs. We definitely know of many references to people being initiated into a roving warrior groups associated with wolves and dogs. Lupercalia may be related to this, also Romulus and Uncle Remus being suckled by a wolf.

        The Carthaginians did things that seem even stranger to me – infant sacrifice.

        • ursiform says:

          People are capable of creating social conventions that make no real sense.

        • Sandgroper says:

          To show I’m paying attention, your use of “Uncle Remus” in this context is pure self-indulgent mischief, Prof. Cochran – checking to see if your readers are awake, or indeed to see if they can actually read.

          And I know enough about David Anthony to know he is a careful archaeologist, and not some hand-waving loony, and I’m definitely not rejecting anything he has written out of hand.

          Which makes this report all the more puzzling, troubling and begging for explanation, and makes me feel even more frustrated that I cannot locate the original reference.

          As for those who accuse you of an anti-Indo-European bias…huh? Have I missed something? First I have heard of it. That is not the same as declining to accept the ravings of obviously mentally troubled people who insist that Indo-Europeans were the source of all higher civilisation and all of the higher achievements of modern humanity – not the same thing at all.

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        If you’re forced to fight a lot then it gradually deadens any emotional reluctance to hurt.

  12. Justin says:

    I guess they had to kill dogs so that we, today, don’t. If you view it from that perspective, dogkind is a lot better off for it. But for the Finns, nonindoeuropean speakers are pretty unkind to their dogs even today (Red Chinese for example). (I suspect that Iranians would be nicer to dogs than Arabs, though maybe that’s unfair. )

  13. Kate says:

    People have such nutty ideas about growing up. What did the girls do?

  14. dave chamberlin says:

    Cochran has made the point many times, which I agree with, that as you move backwards in time people were progressively more violent. Steven Pinker in his book “The Better Angels of our Nature” pounded this fact from a hundred different perspectives, but still people whom are ignorant of history hold ridiculous opinions of noble savages or some such bullshit.

    Why were people so different in the past? The same reason people are vastly different in their practice of violent behavior when you walk across the border separating El Paso and Ciudad Juarez Mexico. In 2012 El Paso had 16 murders while Ciudad Juarez Mexico had 1955. When you remove consequence to violence all hell breaks loose.

    I remember being told as a child that humans were very unique among various species in their ability to kill their own kind. This is utter nonsense, at least among carnivores. Prey animals patrol their territory, much like adolescent war bands Cochran speaks of, and will kill outsiders whom they are in constant competition with for food. People who drift off into wishful thinking about our inherent peacefulness know nothing about how survival of the fittest works among carnivores.

    • Weltanschauung says:

      dave chamberlin wrote “people whom are ignorant of history hold ridiculous opinions …”:

      My dear dave, no matter how severely formal you may aspire to be, you really mustn’t stick an “m” on the end of every “who”.

    • JayMan says:

      “Cochran has made the point many times, which I agree with, that as you move backwards in time people were progressively more violent.”

      “Why were people so different in the past?”

      Genetics and the Historical Decline of Violence? | West Hunter

      “In 2012 El Paso had 16 murders while Ciudad Juarez Mexico had 1955. When you remove consequence to violence all hell breaks loose.”

      That’s interesting, but I don’t think that’s the reason.

      • dave chamberlin says:

        I always appreciate your fact based comments Jayman. If there is any one reason for the number of murders in Ciudad Jaurez Mexico it is the out of control narcos killing each other and anyone in their way. But narco terrorism, or whatever you want to call it doesn’t spin out of control as it has in parts of latin america without weak government which cannot enforce consequences to violence.

  15. sconzey says:

    I’m cagey about the initiation rite conclusion because George R. R. Martin has his slave-soldier ‘Unsullied’ do this as part of their rite of passage. There’s a danger we might be privileging the hypothesis unfairly brought to our attention because of its presence in a wildly popular fiction.

    50 six year old dogs sacrificed annually implies a maintained population of 300 dogs. That’s a lot of dogs. Working dogs would be treated as well as pets. (How do they tell the dogs are well-treated if they’re cut up into tiny pieces?) It’s possible that e.g. this is the less-disgusting euthenising of dogs who are too old to work, or any number of other things.

    • Sandgroper says:

      And recall the reference is to >50 dogs and wolves. So what was this, in reality – some massive wolf hunt using dogs, with the dogs that got killed during the hunt being chopped into little bits the same as the wolves that were successfully killed?

      I read somewhere that Irish wolfhounds only live to an age of 6 or so anyway – they are just too big and their bodies wear out early. I’d be interested to know what kind of dogs were involved. If they were big, rangy, toothy, fast runners, there’s a fair chance they were wolfhounds. The pre-Roman Brits used similar dogs as war dogs, IIRC.

      So, my totally hypothetical scenario – the juvenile males who, let’s admit it, are a pretty irritating and repugnant bunch in any society, are sent off into the wilderness accompanied by their pet pups to raise their wolfhounds, learn self-reliance and survival, for 5 years or so until the wolfhounds have grown huge and are getting towards the ends of their useful lives – then the hopefully more mature males and their dogs are allowed back to base camp and are sent out on a massive drive/wolf hunt to free the area from predatory wolves, and a whole heap of dogs and wolves get killed in the process.

      So they chop them up into tiny little bits, especially the heads. I still don’t get that bit. But then, if this was a culture in which horse remains were used in funeral rites, maybe the chopping up business was to render the other animals unrecognisable by whichever deity mattered at the time, and special attention was needed for the heads because wolf and dog heads are easily distinguishable from one another, but the sub-crania not so much.

      How am I doing on making shit up? Is this worse/less credible than whatever Brown and Anthony are claiming?

      • gcochran9 says:

        Worse: a good fraction of the dogs were old, over 10. I’d bet on pets.

        • Sandgroper says:

          So too old for wolf hunting. Damn. OK. So we have some culture that eats but reveres horses, and ritually smashes their 10 year old pet dogs to bits. This is getting difficult.

          • dave chamberlin says:

            I like your healthy skepticism Sandgroper. But it is what it is. We are talking about a brutally successful culture that crushed their enemies. Anthony talks about how fast and how far this culture spread in an area very much occupied by a very advanced iron age culture. In a period of 400 years their very distinctive tiny horse drawn carts, only a meter wide by one meter long, were found in burials ranging from the area that is now Iran to Scandinavia. These people were cold stone killers and the most likely explanation at this point is that this seemingly senseless slaughter of pets was part of a toughening up process of their young men.

          • correction, the carts were one meter wide by two meters long

          • Sandgroper says:

            I’m wrong about something else as well – they ate cows and sheep, but not horses. They ate cows and sheep all year round, but the dog/wolf destruction occurred only in early-mid winter, and on a greater scale than the cow and sheep eating.

      • Cracker1 says:

        This was a spiritual union of the dog with the boy. It wasn’t training to kill. They felt very good about it because their spirits were united until the death of the boy. The little pieces comes from their conception of the essence of the dog. For some cultures the spirit resides in the heart, for others it is in the mind. These people likely thought in complete being terms and tried to release the essence by freeing it from each and every cell. Doesn’t anybody understand the power of belief in the supernatural?

  16. Flemur says:

    I’ve found the remains of several apparent dog “sacrifices” – or killings, at least – in the desert just outside a rez. Intact skeletons with undamaged skulls, roped up, the legs cut off and lying nearby; the best I can figger is that they were tied up and died from their legs being cut off. We’ve also found 8 puppies, one or two at a time and < 3 months old, that were left in the desert to die (we get 'em to a 'rescue' group).

    • TWS says:

      Probably not a ‘sacrifice’. Nearly every rez I have worked or lived on had terrible animal abuse problems. Tying them up and cutting off the legs is mild compared to what I’ve seen.

  17. dearieme says:

    One of our cats was very old, and obviously in a bad way; near to death and suffering. I volunteered to my wife that I’d put him out of his misery with a spade. She said “no” and took him to the vet to be put down. I have no idea what the inwardness of this tale is.

    • CBurd says:

      I once had a few beers with some BC civil servants whose jobs involved driving thousands of miles a year through near-wilderness. They got onto the topic of putting down large animals that they’d hit on the road. One guy described having to smash in a moose’s skull with a tire iron. The consensus was you should always have a gun in your truck.

    • Sandgroper says:

      This is why some American states prefer the much more humane practice of lethal injection over the barbaric Chinese practice of a bullet in the back of the head for state-sponsored murder of humans. At least, I think that’s the theory.

  18. The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

    The Confessions of a public defender has an interesting statement by a defendant who committed violence against a couple of female shopkeepers:

    He told me what I suspected—what too many blacks say about the suffering of others: “What do I care? She ain’t me. She ain’t kin. Don’t even know her.”

    Could it be that the mental machinery of other groups is incomprehensible to some groups?

    Perhaps as incomprehensible as deliberately killing pets and animals, William Golding notwithstanding.

  19. a very knowing American says:

    A lot of sacrifice seems to be a form of “costly signaling,” where you demonstrate your loyalty to god-and-group in one or another nasty way. Sacrificing your pet dog is nasty. Sacrificing your own child is even nastier, and it seems to have been established practice in Phoenicia and Carthage. The point about the Abraham and Isaac story seems to be “Our guy was just as willing to sacrifice his son to YHWH as you guys are to sacrifice your kids to Baal, but our god is also merciful, and lets us off the hook on doing the actual sacrifice.” Sacrificing your son’s foreskin as a sign of commitment to the tribe is pretty civilized in comparison.

    • reiner Tor says:

      Your comment illuminated the psychology behind it: it wasn’t because they were psychopathic. It was because they weren’t. This was what guaranteed that the sacrifice was real. For a psychopath, killing your dog doesn’t hurt, if that’s what you need to do for social advancement. For a non-psychopath, that’s real and serious sacrifice. I guess those guys sacrificing their dogs had their methods to get rid of psychopaths among their midst, so it was real sacrifice for them.

      Now I think I understand it. I only hope you won’t comment on the benefits of eating Irish children, for fear you could convince me on that one as well.

  20. Kamran says:

    Were ancient western europeans as fond of dogs as modern western europeans? I mean society as a whole, not just the nobility.

  21. Patrick Boyle says:

    My dog Charlie is so cute no one except maybe a psychopath could possibly consider harming him. Everyone who comes to my house immediately loves him. When I walk him in the village he is a real ‘chick magnet’. Women cross the street to pet him. They seem to accept him as some kind of baby substitute. He is adorable. He has all the ‘baby’ cues – round head, big eyes, a little clumsy, etc.

    He’s a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Blenheim – very childlike and sweet natured. He was ‘invented’ of course by dog breeders quite recently – apparently from Cocker Spaniels. He was by no means a product of natural selection. But if dogs were at risk of being killed by their owners then Charlie would have been the dog form that you would have expected to evolve. So in his case artificial selection may have worked in the same direction as natural selection.

  22. Jus' Sayin'... says:

    I got a kick out of “That’s disgusting!” Professor Cochrane regularly writes about prehistoric masscres and genocides without a qualm but tears up when few score dogs appear to have bitten the dust during an initiation ritual. If I remember my Greek history correctly, Spartan boys lost their virginity baptising their sword with a Helot’s lifeblood. Animal and human sacrifice during rites of passage and other important occassions seems to be a constant in human societies. If one thinks about it objectively, contemporary Americans celebrate Thanksgiving ad Christmas with hetacombs of turkeys and Easter with holocaustas of lambs.

    • reiner Tor says:

      The difference is obvious: the dogs were loyal companions, i.e. members of the ingroup, whereas turkeys, lambs, Helots etc. are members of outgroups.

      • Jus' Sayin'... says:

        “…the dogs were loyal companions…” That’s just an assumption. But I’ll offer infant sacrifice to Moloch, the story of Jeptha, sacrifice of Aztec (not captive) adolescents on certain important Aztec holidays, axing of high status persons to Cernebog (the dark god) in pagan Russia, burial of wives, servants, etc,., with war leaders in scores of old world excavations (this was the norm in China before the Qing emperor substituted clay statues), etc., etc., as examples of sacrifice of beloved animal and human companions. And these are just off the top of my head. Such sacrifices have been very common in human history

    • whocares says:

      ” If I remember my Greek history correctly, Spartan boys lost their virginity baptising their sword with a Helot’s lifeblood”

      IIRC, that claim about the krypteia first pops up in Plutarch and contemporary classicists aren’t particularly convinced.

      • Lars Grobian says:

        It does seem you’d run through a godawful lot of Helots that way — just as somebody above noted about the dogs.

        Which is another point: If this was a customary business, it must have gone on for decades at least. Perhaps it wasn’t every year, but still, if it happened repeatedly, we should expect to find other piles of little bits of elderly dogs thereabouts.

        Is there any reason to believe the Fido hekatomb wasn’t just a one-off religious mania, like the amerind ghost shirt thing or that African tribe killing all their cattle because some girl had a vision?

        • Greying Wanderer says:

          “It does seem you’d run through a godawful lot of Helots that way — just as somebody above noted about the dogs.”

          It does, unless they picked out just the old ones but even then. It also seems like the sort of thing that would spark rebellions.

          If they had some kind of Sacred Band and it was just them who did it. I could believe that.

      • Patrick Boyle says:

        There’s always a ‘contemporary classicist’ who can’t bear to think bad thoughts about anyone.

        In that same vein until quite recently the Maya were held to be sweet harmless philosophers. Unlike the nasty Aztecs the Maya were held to be dreamy, dopey flower children.

        I also see now that Bonobos are finally losing there status as peaceable, feminist creatures obsessed with sex. Before Goodall the chimps on the other side of the river had also been romanticized.

        In my experience the worst stories are the ones most likely to be true.

        • Sandgroper says:

          “peaceable, feminist creatures obsessed with sex” LOL. Patrick, just occasionally, you say something that renders me helpless with laughter. Now you’ve given me all kinds of dreadful mental images.

  23. grosvenor says:

    Is it true that some rural Swiss eat dogs and cats? Or just an urban legend?

    Hundreds of thousands of people in Switzerland eat cat and dog meat, particularly at Christmas, according to a Swiss animal rights group seeking to ban the practice.

    SOS Chats Noiragigue is behind a campaign to ban the consumption of cats and dogs, more commonly associated with countries such as China and Vietnam, in the small European country. A petition to parliament has gathered almost 18,000 signatures so far, including actress and animal rights activist Brigitte Bardot.

    Founder and president of the group Tomi Tomek told the BBC that 3% of Swiss people eat cat or dog meat, 80% of them being farmers. The Lucerne, Appenzell, Jura and Bern areas are the main culprits.

    “One woman gave me a recipe for cooking newborn cat,” Tomek said. “I went to the police, a veterinarian and the government and they all told me that there was no law against it.” She was told to write a petition and try to get a politician to support her. She’s now rallied five to her cause.

    Cat meat even features prominently on Christmas menus in some parts of Switzerland, Tomek said, while dog meat is also used to make sausages. “It is an old tradition in Switzerland to eat dog meat like sausages and use dog fat for rheumatism,” she said. “They eat cats because they taste like rabbits.” They are apparently prepared in the same way and best served with white wine and garlic.

    “Farmers will eat their cats and dogs when they have too many, says Tomek. “I told them to sterilize the animals but they said it was too costly and it made a good meal.”

    • R. says:

      Cat eating was pretty common earlier in the 20th century. Dogs are still eaten in many parts of Europe, local traditions, etc.

      I’d be completely unsurprised if some insular Swiss kept such traditions.

      Besides, there is no moral principle from which one can decide that eating rabbits or pigs is fine but dogs and cats are verboten. I doubt they even have a rational argument there..-

    • Cattle Guard says:

      I would like to thank these people for raising my awareness of the fact that cat tastes like rabbit, and can be prepared in white wine and garlic. It’s definitely raised my interest in trying cat meat sometime. I love eating bunny meat.

    • Anonymous says:

      My father in law lived in Poland through World War 2. It was a terrible place to be for a number of reasons. The people were half starving. He commentated that he never saw any free running cats or dogs for the entire war. Before the war and after the war they were common. It isn’t hard to guess why.

      • ursiform says:

        “My father in law lived in Poland through World War 2. It was a terrible place to be for a number of reasons.”

        There were two fundamental reasons Poland was a terrible place to be: The Germans and the Soviets.

        Being located between Prussia and Russia was a tough place to be a country.

        • Steven C. says:

          There are people in my country who complain about how terrible it is to live next to the USA; none of these people are old enough to remember the War of 1812. I tell them that they should be glad they don’t live in Poland. The funny thing is that Poland, actually the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, used to be one of the largest countries in Europe; reaching almost to the Black Sea. From its greatest extent in 1619 it shrank until it was eliminated from the map in 1795, and re-appeared in 1919.

      • Marshall says:

        It’s not surprising that people would eat dogs and cats in wartime and under starvation conditions.

        This NY Times article from about a century ago talks about dog and horse meat consumption in German cities:

        These weren’t wartime or famine conditions, although the article does mention that other types of meat were expensive. The article also mentions some slaughterhouses stealing people’s dogs and selling their meat.

  24. little spoon says:

    People have an ability to forego their capacity for empathy in favor of ideology. Not long ago, there was a culture that put a bunch of Jewish children in gas chambers. Modern day pashtuns show total indifference when others in their community murder their wives and daughters on a whim. People are fucked in the head like that. Or at least we can be if we choose to be.

  25. Matthew Jones says:

    Interesting. I wonder if the Greek practice of dedicating young girls to serve as arktoi — she-bears — at the temple of Artemis at Brauron was a distaff tradition that survived into historical times.

    Most cultures, I think, have had some sort of tradition that involved separating young men at their most aggressive and horny from the rest of society. Physical discipline, deprivation of material comforts and physical and mental exhaustion are pretty powerful tools for getting people to behave.

  26. bryan says:

    Seems a lot less disgusting than the pederasty young boys had to endure in ancient Greece. I’d much rather kill my dog than have to suffer that.

  27. John Hostetler says:

    It seems everyone has some push-button for irrational sentiment. It’s useless to judge Bronze Age Russia by the standards of post-industrial America.

  28. Ross says:

    Michael Stone who was a member of one of Northern Ireland’s loyalist terrorist groups has claimed that as part of his initiation he was given a dog to look after for a while and then ordered to shoot it. He’s not the most reliable witness but it seems like a plausible way of demonstrating ruthlessness.

  29. Campesino says:

    Anyone who has raised children or spent much time among adolescent children knows how amazing powerful peer pressure is in that group. Adolescent kids will do just about anything to fit into a group. It’s such a powerful impulse I think it is hard-wired somehow.

    Imagine a society, where he majority of its members fit into this demographic. That would fit the profile of most prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies. Of course there are some older people involved who know just enough as to how to manipulate the peer pressure to help control the rest of the micro-band (probably 30 people or so).

    But then you can look to a modern version of this. As I have told many people when discussing this topic – if you want to know what life in a a prehistoric hunter-gatherer band society was like, look at a modern street gang.

  30. Anonymous says:

    Lars Weisaeth, a Norwegian psychiatrist specialising in trauma, was asked to interview a psychopath, as I recall someone who had committed at least one murder. At one point, somewhat in exasperation, Lars asked him: “Is there anyone you WOULDN’T murder?” The psychopath spent some time considering this unlikely possibility and then said, doubtfully, “Perhaps someone who had a dog”. Since then, Lars has carried a photo of a dog.

  31. TWS says:

    Until fairly recently there has been little sentimentality regarding even pet animals. People used to routinely abuse them to death for entertainment. At the beginning of the animated cartoon period there were still references to it in the stories like the three little pigs filling the cook pot with turpentine so the wolf would burn his ass. The only way that reference makes sense is if some, if not all of the people who watched it knew that people put turpentine on a cat’s rectum to torture them and watch them run. This was the middle of the twentieth century that people routinely tortured or told stories of torturing cats.

    I have no doubt that the big wolfish dogs served several purposes. The ‘Wild Hunt’ is accompanied by big hounds or wolves. I imagine these dogs were bred for hunt and war. When the time came for the men’s initiation then the dogs gave up their savage nature, power, and essence to the new wolf-man warriors. Maybe the kids had a hard time killing their pets but I see little sentiment in farmers or ranchers with animals these pastoralists probably had no more problem killing Fido than they did Bossy the cow.

  32. jabowery says:

    My working hypothesis is that the evolution of individualism in Europe was bolstered by coevolution with canines in a replacement of intraspecific specialization with interspecific symbiosis. The evolution of eusociality in primates, culminating in human eusociality, involved specialized roles in human groups including hunting packs. Coevolution with canines during hunting tended to displace the need for specialization in human society in early Europe.

    What we may be seeing in the Indoeuropean rites of passage involving the mass killing of dogs is an attempt to ritualistically kill the individualistic predisposition of the young men so they could form more cohesive, intraspecific hunting packs with command-structure specialization to wage war.

    • JayMan says:

      Individualism in Europe likely doesn’t go back that far.

      • jabowery says:

        Why not?

          • jabowery says:

            When you’re talking about 15,000 years of coevolution with canines, trying to attribute great importance to volatility during the clash of cultures during the last 3 thousand is rather irrational. Having said that I’ll point out that in the cases we know of that involve expansion of the Germanic (IndoEuropean) peoples to relatively unoccupied lands — Iceland and the New World respectively — the genetic predisposition toward individualism that had coevolved with dogs (but which had been restricted by relatively recent IndoEuropean warrior culture for obvious reasons and further submerged by the even more recent JudeoChristianization) was allowed phenotypic expression by the low population densities. Indeed, in Iceland, it was not until JudeoChristianity was adopted circa 1000AD that the Althing finally outlawed Holmganga, which allowed the head of a kindred to challenge the head of any other kindred — as individuals — and required that other head to engage or be outlawed. It was only after this point in time — the medieval period — that blood feud (group selection) became the dispute processing appeal of last resort. Likewise the degraded form of individual dispute processing known as dueling was practiced by Presidents of the United States.

  33. Paul Conroy says:

    I grew up on a farm in a very rural part of Ireland, and dogs were always viewed as, “working animals”, not pets. So although you fed your dog and patted it after it obeyed a herding command – as a reward/behavior enforcer – you did not see them as a human substitutes. So for instance dogs were never allowed in the house, under any circumstances. Having a dog in the house would be equivalent to having a cow in the house. To this day that’s how I see dogs, and never understand why people keep them in homes, letting they lie on their sofas, and some even in their beds at night…
    I’d imagine that there could be 4 possible explanations to the scenario, 2 ritualistic, 2 practical:
    1. Killing a dog, like the Maasai tradition of killing a lion, is an initiation ritual, where you prove your eligibility to join the male team.That the skulls were broken to bits could suggest that the spirit of the hunting dog was to be incorporated into the young warrior.
    2. Killing a dog Mid-Winter, in a hunting culture, could be a sacrifice to the waning sun/hunting deity, that spring would return and hunting would be good again.
    3. Mid-Winter is a time of food scarcity, so maybe like the Inuit (aka Eskimo) putting their old folks on the ice to die during times of scarcity, older hunting dogs were culled.
    4. Maybe the village also kept stocks of dried meat and in winter wild dog/wolves prowled the outskirts of the settlement to get at these stores and needed to be rounded up and slaughtered on occasion. Since food was scarce, they ate the entire dog, brains and all – hence the smashed skulls.

  34. The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

    Seems there is some old Sanskrit writing about space planes and hair driers from 7,000 years ago as well:

  35. Thiago Ribeiro says:

    “There is reason to think that early Indo-Europeans had adolescent war-bands, bands identified with dogs or wolves. It seems likely that they were composed of boys about the same age , came from the wealthier families, wore animal skins, and were sent off into border areas, where they caused trouble. After a few years they rejoined regular society.”
    “Passages in the Vedas suggest that there was a midwinter initiation ritual in which these JDs died and were reborn as dogs of war.”
    The Vedas, of course. Maybe here is something about it in the first chapter of Genesis.

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