When discussing ancient Great Dane history many zoologists and canine historians hypothesize that all Mastiff type dogs originated in Asia. And, that the Tibetan Mastiff is the closest descendant of this ancient breed. Why mention a Mastiff? Because Great Danes share a common origin with an ancestor to the Mastiff known as the Molossian Dog.
Could this be why the earliest written description of a Dane like dog is found in Chinese literature dated 1121 BC?
Interestingly, ancient Great Dane history describes images of large Mastiff type dogs appearing on Egyptian monuments dated as early as 3000BC!
Carvings of large Dane type dogs, similar in appearance to the Tibetan Mastiff, have been found on artifacts as old as 2000 BC. These carvings depict ancient Assyrian hunters walking with the large Dane like dogs at their side.
General concensus is that these dogs were probably traded for goods by the Assyrians to the ancient Romans and Greeks. These dogs were then thought to have been cross bred to other lines in the Romans and Greeks possession, including dogs received in trade from other ancient nations such as England and Britain.
This supports the theory that our breed is descendant of both Tibetan & English type Mastiff Dogs. The Romans often used the dogs in their arenas for battle games and blood sport.
Further evidence of early Dane like dogs appears on artefacts of ancient Russia and many European countries.
Ancient Great Dane history & the The Irish Wolfhound Connection
The idea that Irish Wolfhounds, or Irish Greyhounds played a part in our breeds development is primarily due to the fact that some of these giant dogs were taken from the English and Romans by the Celts.
Back in Ireland, these early Mastiff dogs were bred to Irish Wolfhounds. However, it is commonly agreed that both English and Irish lines have been bred for over a thousand years and both are ancestors to the Great Dane as we now know it today.
On to Europe
Around the 5th century, Mastiff type dogs of both of English and Irish heritage began to appear in England and Germany. The dogs were brought over during invasions by the Alanis and Asiatic people and also the Romans.
For hundreds of years the dogs were cross bred, possibly with Irish Wolfhounds and Greyhounds with the end result a taller, leaner, faster, more chiselled German Mastiff, or Great Dane type dog.
From this point in ancient Great Dane history, we pick up in Germany, where the true characteristics as we know them today were improved upon.