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Cane Corso History

The following articles are by Renzo Carosio of Val Derro kennels in Italy. The President of the A.I.C.C. (Association of Italian Cane Corso), Renzo Carosio is the author of the book "Il Cane Corso" in addition to numerous articles on the Cane Corso. He is among the most highly respected authorities and historians in the world regarding the Cane Corso.

Author: Renzo Carosio

The story of the Cane Corso, coincides extraordinarily with the history of the Italic peoples, in all the splendor and their misery. The History of the Cane CorsoUnfortunately this race, saved in the last few years from what seemed an inexorable and fatal decline, reaches us with a scanty but still significant historical and iconographic background from which a few enthusiasts have tried to reconstruct the origins of this race. The etymology of the name Corso is still uncertain. The most credible hypothesis are those which indicate Greek origins: KORTOS = wall and from the Latin: COHORS = guard of the courtyard. Until recently the oldest documentation citing the name of the Cane Corso, consisted of a few poems and some prose dating from 1500. In 1998 the A.I.C.C. or Associazione Italiana Cane Corso published a study on the race which brought to light the military use of the Cane Corso, in 1137 in Monopoli di Sabina (near Rome) , the finding of kennels from the period and the close links between the race and Roman history. All of this allows us to consider the Cane Corso, as the principal evidence of an ancestral race which has maintained particular characteristics over the centuries, which take us back in time, not just to the period tied to agricultural economy immediately prior to the industrial revolution, but even further back linking dog fanciers with the great civilizations of the past; the rise and fall of the Roman empire, the middle ages and modern times.

The Cane Corso, has maintained through natural selection over the centuries, the closest possible contact with environment and the roles which man has asked this precious companion to play. We are talking about hard times when the success and survival of a race depended exclusively on their ability to render work, so the choice of raising and keeping a dog was a purely economic one. A responsibility taken which had to correspond to the acquisition of a good or service, nothing superfluous was allowed. The Cane Corso, which we can admire today is the best evidence of the theory which sustains that when a race exhibits certain morphological and behavioral characteristics relating to the work it is required to do, then that race shows harmony of form and balanced character. The past of the Cane Corso, is not only largely present and alive but also extraordinarily current, as if time had just slipped away. The Corso has conserved from its ancestors the Molossi of Epiro and the pugnaces of Rome, used in war and for fighting in the circus, the aggressive and combative nature necessary for successfully reaching its goal, with no hesitation and with surprising potential force. Through contact with man in social situations he has learned to react only when necessary, becoming an excellent interpreter of human gestures. With these characteristics the Cane Corso, has survived until today. In small settlements in the south of Italy where they have maintained an archaic system of agriculture and a multi purpose dog is an essential partner.

The modernization of agriculture and systems of breeding, in particular the disappearance of breeding in the wild and semi-wild state. The disappearance of wild game and the use of firearms with the consequently different techniques of hunting have reduced the traditional uses of the Cane Corso. It is for this reason that the diffusion of the Corso has suffered drastic reduction since the Second World War. The situation at the beginning of the 1970s was worrying for the very survival of the race, then reduced to a modest number of examples and no longer considered by in official dog-fancying circles despite the efforts of individuals like the Count Bonatti and Professor Ballotta. It was in the 1976 that an enthusiastic dog lover and researcher of the rural traditions of Italy, Doctor Breber, brought the Cane Corso, to the attention of the public and official dog fancying circles in an article published in a number of the ENCI (Italian Kennel Club) magazine. He followed this first step with the setting up of a rescue mission carried out by a group of enthusiasts who had made contact with Dr. Breber in the meantime.

In October of 1983 these enthusiasts formed the S.A.C.C. (Società Amatori Cane Corso). The common intentions of rescuing the race were the basis for the forming of the SACC, which suffered its first shock in 1986 when Dr. Breber abandoned the society. This fact has little resonance at the time as the group was not well known and lived on the edges of dog-fancying officialdom. This was a determining factor in the future direction of the race as was the contribution of the man who was among the first to contribute to the new interest in the race and who provided the dogs for the first litter: Basir the model for the standard of the race was the son of Dauno and Tipsi, two dogs chosen by Dr. Breber. When Dr. Breber left the SACC centered itself around the kennels in Mantova run by Giancarlo Malavasi with the entire breeding program of the race and the running of the SACC in the hands of Stefano Gandolfi, Gianantonio Sereni and Ferdinando Casolino. The need to move the breeding program forward at all costs become the justification for centralized running of the association which was not very democratic and often object of not positive chattering. For these reasons the SACC, two vice-presidents from different times stand out, Mr. Oreste Savoia and Dr. Flavio Bruno. In this period it must be highlighted that the activities of the SACC for the recognition of the Cane Corso were carried out with energy and appreciable results. Unfortunately the same cannot be said from the dog fanciers point of view because the level of quality of the litter thrown by Basir in 1980 were never repeated and the subjects produced, appeared and today still appear distant from the desired model and show considerable variation. In that period the SACC successfully organized dog fanciers meetings with the scope of making the race known and allow the judges of the ENCI to carry out tests and measurements.

This activity produced an official standard document edited by Dr. Antonio Morsiani ratified by the judging committee of the ENCI in 1987. In the same edition of the standard, perhaps because of the need to differentiate the Cane Corso as much as possible from the other Italian Molosso hounds, the Neapolitan Mastiff, for the purposes of recognition, some inaccuracies were allowed which led to considerable discussion. The most important regards the closure of the teeth in that the standard requires a slight prognathism. The level bite is only tolerated, however being just as common in the Corso. This is shown not only in the many positions taken by enthusiastic breeders (including Breber) but also in the official records of the first convention, Convegno nazionale di Civitella Affadena, June 16th 1990. In 1992 in order to better follow the evolution of the Race the ENCI decided to record the births of Corsi born of parents verified by the judges and as such considered heads of blood lines, in an unofficial book called the Libro Apperto or open book. The data contained in this book was transferred into the official books when the race was officially recognized on January 20th 1994.

The enthusiasm for this race, the curiosity and the knowledge that a greater number of dogs and a greater interest in the race would have helped in the push for recognition, lead to an uncontrolled increase in the production of litters with a consequent reduction in the average quality of the offspring. In this phase the SACC, not only omitted take any action to inhibit this phenomenon, but rather took every opportunity to publicize the race and themselves as its saviors. Under this pressure the number of Corsi produced jumped from a few tens of animals at the beginning to the current 2500 annual registrations. Given the lack of improvement in the quality of the animals produced the success of the race was vaunted in terms of numerical increase. This choice penalizing the zootecnical aspects paid of in terms of political ratification. On May 22nd 1996 at Arese the best Cane Corso were gathered. CH Boris was used as the model for the presentation of the characteristics of the race at the upper levels of the F.C.I. A few months later in November 1996 the Cane Corso was recognized at an international level. This seemed a positive result but it lead to further worsening of the system because many enthusiast from outside of Italy, inspired by the novelty of the situation bought the Corso without due care or consideration. Often their chose was based on lack of information, ready availability, colour or the price of the puppies. What has been revealed in the last few years is the total lack of a serious information service and management of the race at an international level. In the general confusion, those few who have tried to organize the Cane Corso enthusiasts in their own country have found difficulty in opening communication with the SACC which has often hid its obvious shortcomings behind a veneer of arrogance.

Author: Renzo Carosio

The History of the Cane CorsoThe Protagonist
The Montopolesi (the inhabitants of Montopoli), who preserved the accommodations of the Cane Corsos during the centuries and gave help in our research.

-Don Carmelo Cristiano, The parish priest, who being in close contact, like all country parish priest with the citizens, is the author of a worthy historical essay, The territories of Montopoli Di Sabina and Bocchignono-historical news.

-Luciano Trombini, Town councilor, deeply fond of dogs, who acknowledged the importance of some written documents, pushed for further investigations and tried to involve the A.I.C.C. (The Italian Association for Cane Corso)

-The Italian Association for Cane Corso, that played an important role in giving advise, researching and publishing.

The beginning, That curious nickname
The inhabitants of Montopoli Di Sabina, commonly known as Montopolesi, have a nickname, Corsari (meaning Corsairs-pirates), Which goes deeply into time. They have disputed for a long time about the origins of the nickname, which recalls the times of the pirates, piracy and naval battles.

This explanation is not historically correct, because the first actions of piracy go back to the XVI century and took place in the far seas, where the fast English and French ships haunted Spanish galleons loaded with gold on their way back home. And what’s more we must underline that Montopoli lays several Chilometers away from the sea. Its inhabitants have traditions linked with agriculture. Our researchers acknowledged the importance of stating a period of birth of that nickname, just to concentrate their studies on a given historical lapse of time. It was also important to verify, in that same territory, the existence of towns whose inhabitants had nicknames not recalling there present names. It came out that the inhabitants of Casperia have the nickname of Aspresi, with Medieval origin, as that town was once called Aspra (hard, rough) because it was not easy to be reached. The inhabitants of Cantalupo were called Bambocciari (from Bamboccio, meaning plump child), because of the presence, at the entrance of that town, of two ancient Roman statues. As a consequence this suggested that the nicknames derive from the middle ages and that they recall characteristics of the territory. They could also find written evidences in an ancient manuscript of an unknown author of Montopoli; this work is still preserved at the Alibrandi archive of Montopoli. It deals with the history of Montopoli from the origins up to the XVI century, and there you can read: The inhabitants of Mons Operis (Montopoli) are known by tradition to be strong men, warriors provided with Cane Corso’s for there own defense, and the defense of the lands, so as to be called Corsari (Corsairs).

The Cane Corso Kennel, a strange den
The old area of Montopoli preserves its charm as a medieval town, with entangled narrow streets climbing up to its higher parts, interrupted by narrow but clean alleys. From the summit, in the little square, in front of the tower, you can have a wonderful panorama of the wide Farfa valley with the majestic and famous Abbey, the counterforts of the Appennini mountains, and the several small villages built on top of the mountains for the purpose of defense.If you draw your attention from the beauty of the territory , to the architectural details, you can easily notice small doors at the ground floor of some dwellings. Behind the doors you can notice small rooms(4/6MQ), with an unusual height (1.30/1.40) unsuitable for any use, because it is hard even to stand up. The Montopolesi find them not fit as a cowhouse, because they are to low for cows, and to narrow for sheepfold, and not fit to breed pigs. Some of them had been dug during the centuries to gain an acceptable height, this can be easily seen when observing the original level of the ground floor. The excavations brought to light some of the stones from their foundation. You can find one of these store-rooms preserved in its original height in the school building, closed by a walled fence. These rooms are similar in their dimensions and entrances to those containing the animals used in the fights with the gladiators, found in the Amphitheater (80B.C.).

The origins of Montopoli, The Romans
You just go back through the origins of a name, dig the underground, give a look all around and you get in touch, in Italy, with the Roman Civilization, the same also happened to us. During the age of Augustus, a famous man of letters and Roman general, whose name was Caius Asinius Pollionis, owned a villa located in the present territory of Montopoli, this settlement gives the original name of the town, Mons Pollionis, from which derives Mons Operis, with clear reference to the industriousness of its inhabitants, Mons Opulens, for the fertility of the land, and soon afterwards Montis Opulis. We can easily affirm that the ancient Romans were actively present on that territory, an influenced also its future development. After two thousand years we can nowadays observe traces of ancient Roman divisions of the territory (Centuriazioni and Jugeri) and in some case, the division was 50 "jugeri" ( the Jugeri was a quantity of land which one slave, with two oxen, was obliged to tend in one day, about a quarter hectare). The origins of Montopoli further affirm that the Cane Corso is a direct descendant of the dogs used by the Romans in war or in circus shows: The Molossian hounds and the Pugnaces Britanniae.

The event: The destruction of the Castle of Triburco (1138)
We can’t talk about the history of the castle of Triburco, without mentioning the Abbey of Farfa, because the events which involved this castle are closely linked with that Abbey. The Abbey of Farfa was built in the middle of VI century, thanks to S. Lorenzo Siro, on the ruins of a Roman villa of the II/I century B.C. destroyed by the Longobards, it was abandoned and later rebuilt by S. Tommaso Da Moriana, on his way back from a pilgramige in the holy land. With the help of Faroaldo II, Duke of Spoleto, and after the Saracens’ domination (898-915), it began its rise. Farfa followed the reforming influence of Cluny and flourished again, supported by important imperial privileges. Farfa was at that time a state with a flourishing economic policy, and had also its own army to fight against squires and local vassals, for the estates of Triburco and Bocchignano. During the struggle for investitures Farfa became more independent from Rome and the Pope, it supported the Emperor, Henry IV; after the worms pact (1122), it gained the protection of the Pope. The castle of Triburco always tried to hinder the feudal domain of Farfa. A monk in particular was horribly mutilated (he was blinded and his tongue and ears were cut) this fact caused deep a indignation and violent reaction from the Farfensi. The following story is taken from a document dated 1862, entitled:

Upon the Salso-Marziale water in Farfa Di Sabina,
Memories of Dott. Lorenzo Costantinifrom Poggio S. Lorenzo.

The unhappy blind monk, bereft of his tongue and of his ears, barbarously cut, was bounded by these criminals and put on a horse, who led him, dripping with blood, to the monastery. You can imagine how terrible that sight was to the Abbot’s eyes and the awful story of such a cruel and inhuman behavior caused grudge in the whole monastery. A call to arms was published in Farfa. The first to run in order to avenge the terrible infamy inflicted to the Abbot were the inhabitants of Montopoli, which were known by tradition to be brave men of arms, all provided with Cane Corso’s for there own defense and the defense of the land, so they were called Corsari (Corsairs). The vassals of the nearby castle of Fara also ran, and made the same offer. The Abbot of Farfa, supported by all the monks, then ordered the Montopolitani and the Faresi in arms to attack the rebel castle of Triburco, to chase its inhabitants away together with crescenzo, the usurper, and send everything to flames, so that not even the ruins could recall that rebellion. The attackers met strong resistance; as the count had straightened the forces of the Tribicesi (inhabitants of Triburco) with a great deal of Nazzanesi vessels.It was a bloody fight that lasted almost a whole day. Those big dogs caused a terrible massacre during the attack, because the long lack of food made them more aggressive. The rebels had to run away and in the end abandon the castle.

You can read further details of that event in an article published in the magazine called Mondo Sabino in 1992, whose author was Roberto Donati. He wrote about the direct participation of the imperial troops, which were among the Emperor Lotarius II’s suite. to the destruction of the castle of Triburco. Lotarius II was in fact in Italy during that period because of the churches internal conflicts between Pope Innocenzo III and Antipope Anacleto II, and wanted to put an end to the rebellions, which caused great damages to the Abbey of Farfa. The presence of the Cane Corso is mentioned here too: But the Montopolesi discovered by chance a secret passage leading to the inside of the fortress, Through which some Cane Corso’s, starving themselves and devoid of water for days, entered the castle. When they saw the inhabitants of Triburco, they were so hungry that they furiously rushed against those people causing a massacre. The exhausted defenders of the castle got so scared because of the slaughter that they abandoned the fight, looking for a way out in the waters of the Farfa river. This is the story of the events that led to the destruction of the castle of Triburco (also called Tribico). There remains nowadays only a few traces of the ruins of that old castle, which is located nearby the present town of Pontesfondato, close to Montopolo Di Sabina.

Montoploi and the Cane Corso, from the past to the future
The help given by the Montopolesi to the Abbey of Farfa during the centuries was fully rewarded: on April 24, 1390 the Abbot Niccolo’ II, in solemn proceedings, and on payment of 94 florins, assigned half of those territories belonging to the destroyed castle of Triburco to the people of Montopoli; soon afterwards, in 1489, the commendatory* Abbot, Cardinal Gianbattista Orsini, made another donation. These bequests gave the Montopolesi a real well being, preserving those people from famines, which followed during the centuries. These estates are nowadays rented for farming. In the Last few years it became common opinion to suggest a different use for those estates, in order to increase there income, and give other people new chances of employment, as well as increase the international fame of Montopoli. A project called Montopolandia, has been developed, and it’s plans the building of an international pleasure ground, several big Italian and foreign firms have shown deep interest in it. The protagonist of the local history, the Montopolesi and the Cane Corsos, suggested a new project: an international Dog meeting to celebrate that breed in 1999, as the last act of this story at the end of the second millenium.

* The commendatory Abbots were not monks. The Popes were the first to recommend people, considered worthy by the church, for this honorary appointment. As time went by, this title became hereditary and the Abbeys and there territories became the patrimony of some families.

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