Described initially as a “terracotta bear figure” on the finds list for the Beau street dig, the little pipeclay dog overcame his identity crisis and can now be found in the museum, and spotted just before you enter the Temple Precinct.
The figure was found during the 1989 excavations close to the Cross Bath in Trench IV, which was situated where the Thermae Spa can be found today. However, it is believed that both it and the other pipe clay ‘dog’ we have in the collection came from the Allier region in central Gaul. It is possible that traces of red/brown paint remains, and figures from this region are also known to be painted.
The fine clay used for the figure is similar to the clay used to create white clay pipes many years later, plenty of which can be found on archaeological digs in the area. Definitely not indestructible and usually found broken, the pipes were a disposable item that was fairly easy to make in high volumes. Although not as slender and spindly as a pipe, an effort probably would have been needed to protect the little dog from getting unrecognisably shattered if he was handled on a regular basis. He would have been produced in a bivalve mould, however only the front of him remains today. Despite his ears breaking off at some point, his collar, and possibly a bell still remain, and he is certainly recognisable as a dog.
Dogs are common features in ancient art, often in reference to their contributions to hunting, and there are many instances of dogs on other items in the collection. It was even thought that dogs possessed healing powers. At an Aesculapius healing centre in Epidaurus, an inscription describing a miraculous cure from a growth at the hands (or rather tongue) of a sacred temple dog is found. We could theorise that this is why the little dog found its way here to Bath and the hub of healing; perhaps it was a personal talisman for attracting good health. There have even been many contemporary stories of dogs curing ailments, detecting cancer, and helping with physical rehabilitation. Dogs can even be found on some hospital wards as visitors for patients who benefit from the company of a furry friend. Our want to have dogs around us definitely has not faded from our collective consciousness.
We will never know the circumstances surrounding the little pup’s journey to Bath, perhaps that connection does lie with the therapeutic waters found here, or maybe his original owner understandably just really liked canine knick knacks.
Ella, Placement from New Zealand