All we have of poor Caesar is just one bone – one very small one at that. It was part of the animal’s left front paw. We found the bone lying immediately outside the north wall of the circus as if he had died in the immediate vicinity.
Caesar was big, in fact just under a metre tall. Many years ago, on one of our largest-ever digs, we found very many dog bones spread around the site. Our animal specialist at the time was able to estimate the height of 101 of them. Caesar turns out to have been twice their average height and 25% taller than the very tallest of them. Caesar must have been an exceptionally big dog.
Not only was he tall but he was muscular too. This is apparent from his little bone. It’s thick showing that his skeleton needed to support a lot of muscle.
Britain was famous in the Roman world for its pugnacious dogs (Pugnaces Britanniae). These made good guard or fighting dogs. Caesar was a type of mastiff of which the English mastiff is thought by some to be a descendant. So maybe Caesar was one of those Pugnaces Britanniae who either served as a guard dog in the circus or was made to fight there to entertain the spectators. Who can tell which? But to me the latter explanation seems more likely given the bone’s very close proximity to the circus and the fact that we have found, not just any bone, but one from a part of his body that would have been at great risk from serious injury when he was in a fight. Was our poor Caesar dragged off the arena badly injured, either dead or dying?
Caesar is a truly extraordinary if tragic find. You can learn more about him in the Roman Circus Centre. Free entry…