2000-Year-old ‘Beware of Dog’ Sign Is Sure to Have Kept Unwanted Visitors Out

This amazingly preserved tile mosaic from a Roman poet’s house who lived in Pompeii 2000 years ago could be the most ancient “Beware of Dog” sign ever discovered.

Photo: Xuan Che

The unique mosaic features an image of a dog and the words “Cave Canem” which roughly translates to “caveat” (beware) and “canine” (dog). It can be seen at the House of the Tragic Poet, a Roman building in Pompeii, Italy dating back to the 2nd century BC. The house is famous for its elaborate mosaic floors and frescoes depicting scenes from Greek mythology.

Discovered in November 1824 by archaeologist Antonio Bonucci, the building has fascinated scholars and writers for generations. Even though the size of the house itself is in no way remarkable, its interior decorations are not only numerous but of the highest quality among other frescoes and mosaics from ancient Pompeii – as evidenced by this hi-res image of the mosaic awaiting the unwelcome visitor at the entrance (click to enlarge).

Photo: Sailko (Source)

Since the size of the house and the quality of its decoration do not really match, there has been a lot of speculation about the lives of its owners. Unfortunately, little is known about the family members, who were likely killed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.

Nevertheless, the house is full of beautiful intricate mosaics like this one:

Mosaic depicting a cast of tragic actors. Hence the name of the building. Photo: Marie-Lan Nguyen

With the rather lame “Beware of Dog” signs that are around today, one wonders how much more effective their 2000-year-old counterpart was in keeping out unwanted visitors. Well, we don’t really know, but imagine walking up to the gate of the house at twilight and seeing this rather sinister-looking sign emerge in the semidarkness…

For our part, we definitely wouldn’t have entered without an invitation.


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