What Were Maltese Bred for? History of the Maltese


The Maltese is a very popular toy breed that has won the affection of many. These fluffy white little companions have wonderful personalities and are an excellent choice for allergy sufferers, being one of the few dog breeds considered low-shedding and allergy-friendly.

Dogs have a long history with humans and each breed has its own history. Maltese were bred for exactly what they are used for today, companionship. No wonder they are so good at their job! Here, we’ll take a close look at this loving little breed and how it got its start.

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Early history of the Maltese

One thing is certain, the Maltese are an ancient breed that have lived around the Mediterranean for thousands of years. Their origin is somewhat of a mystery based on the educated guess of historians.

The breed likely originated in Asia, but some even think it may have been somewhere in the Swiss Alps. The breed was eventually transported to Malta, hence its name. They are thought to have been brought to the island, which lies off the Italian coast by the Phoenicians who came to colonize the area.

Before the rise of Greece, the Phoenicians ruled the Mediterranean and sailed far and wide for trade. Some say they may have traveled with the breed for rodent control on ships, but on the island of Malta these dogs were bred specifically as companions. They came in a variety of colors before finally being an all-white breed.

maltese dog in the meadow
Image credit: TaniaVdB, Pixabay

Ancient Greece

Maltese was recorded in ancient Greece during the rise of the Greek Empire. The breed was revered for its beauty and companionship. Famous Greek philosopher, Aristotle documented the praise of a small companion dog around 370 BC. It is theorized that he referred to the Maltese dog. The breed has been mentioned by many ancient poets and historians and even depicted on Greek vases dating back to 500 BC and many other works of art.

Ancient Egypt

Representations of the Maltese race have been discovered in Fayoum, Egypt, in the form of hieroglyphs dated between 600 and 300 BC.

Ancient Rome

In ancient Rome, the Maltese was a fashion statement and a status symbol among Roman aristocrats. The breed was called “Roman Ladies Dog” and is considered by some to be the first “fashionable” dog in history. One of the most famous Roman legends involving the Maltese was the story of Saint Paul, the apostle of early Christianity. It is said that Paul was shipwrecked in Malta, where he eventually healed the governor, Pulibus, who then presented Paul with a Maltese.

young maltese dog in a meadow
Image credit: Dora Zett, Shutterstock

Maltese in the 1500s

It is assumed that the Maltese traveled around the world by trade. The breed made its way to Europe in the 1500s where its popularity continued to soar.

The Maltese were labeled as kings in England and were treated as such. They arrived in England during the reign of King Henry VIII. Only the wealthiest people could afford to own a Maltese and they maintained their reputation as a status symbol far beyond ancient Rome.

Over the following centuries, it was believed that the Maltese were selectively bred and changed slightly in size. They went from a variety of colors to solid white dogs.

Maltese at 19and and 20and Century

19and Century

The Maltese have managed to keep their reign as status symbols for centuries. The beloved breed was still considered a symbol of wealth and success in the 1800s. Called Maltese Terriers back then, they became one of the first breeds to be shown at dog shows.

The breed made its way to America in the late 1800s as the Maltese lion dog. The Maltese Lion Dog was even shown at the first Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York in 1877. The breed was recognized as Maltese by the American Kennel Club in 1888.

20and Century

Despite being an officially recognized breed by the American Kennel Club and having a place in competitive dog shows, the Maltese was still a rare breed that did not gain popularity as a breed. pet in America until its numbers began to increase around the 1950s.

In the 1990s Maltese popularity in the United States began to take hold. In the decades leading up to the 90s, breeders began to focus on the breed and more and more Maltese appeared. With their beautiful, silky white coats, loving natures, and ability to entertain with their lively antics, Maltese became one of the top 15 dog breeds in the United States in the 1990s.

maltese dog walking with owner at the park
Image credit: artellii72, Pixabay

Maltese today

The little Maltese with a sweet but fiery temperament has retained its popularity to the present day. The breed sheds little and generally does not aggravate allergies, making it an ideal dog breed choice for those with dog allergies.

The breed exhibits small dog syndrome and has a flair for not only being the center of attention, but also everyone’s boss. They don’t take strangers very well and will need early training to understand the household pecking order to avoid unwanted behavior.

Maltese have higher maintenance grooming requirements which is common with long coats. As with any breed, it is strongly recommended that you buy from a reputable breeder who performs the appropriate health tests, as the breed is predisposed to certain genetic health conditions.

This loving and playful little breed has made history and shows no signs of slowing down. To top it off, they still look and act like the little status symbols they were once known for.



The Maltese is a beloved lap dog in homes around the world. They were bred for companionship and they certainly excel at it. Their history may be up for debate among historians, but they are nonetheless an ancient breed with a long history. From hundreds of years BC to the present day, these adorable little dogs have certainly been able to capture the hearts of human companions from the very beginning.

Featured Image Credit: monster_code, Shutterstock

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