Known in modern history as the “big dog of the little man”, the Neapolitan Mastiff traces its roots all the way back to the giant war, hunting, and arena Tibetian and Persian Mastiffs of Egypt, Persia, Mesopotamia, and Asia. The breed is said to have evolved from the Molossain of Epirus, a Greek cross-breed created by Alexander the Great in 326 B.C. for battle, which was characterized by a wide short muzzle and a heavy dewlap. The Mollossain wasn’t fast but was a fighting breed of great courage and incredible strength capable of hunting bulls, wild-boars, and lions. It was a better dog of war than the Greek Molosser breed already occupying the battlefields of Rome. The Mollossain was later bred again by the Italians with the Roman Mastiff to create the Mastino (or Mastinari), a breed whose looks were designed primarily to deter intruders.
Traditionally used as an Italian estate guard dog, the first standard of the breed was written in 1948 by Dr. Piero Scanziana, re-written for greater precision in 1971, and formally recognized by the FCI (Fédération Cynologique Internationale) and Italian Kennel Club (ENCI) in 1949. Breeding programs were then enacted up until 1960. The dogs became highly prized and treasured by their owners as a relic of the past.
By the early 1970’s, recognition of the breed had spread across Europe and North America, establishing a solid presence in Germany and the USA with renowned dogs including Ch Sansone di Ponzano, Ch Leone, Ch Socrates di Ponzanno, Ch Madigam della Grotta Azzurra and Falco della Grotta Azzura. The first pair of Neapolitan Mastiffs arrived in Britain in 1974 (Kronus Delle Prese and Ursula whose lines carried the Mario Querci Ponzano prefixes). They were later passed on under a breeding terms agreement producing Britain’s the first of five litters of Neapolitan Mastiffs in 1975. Through the remainder of the 1970s through to the early 1990s breed enthusiasts including Trevor Lewis, Nick & Lynn Homfray, Dr. Alistair Clark, Dr. Jean Clark, and Douglas Oliff heavily promoted the dogs throughout the UK. They were instrumental in importing and breeding the first litters, identifying the first problems and coming up with suitable solutions. In 1973 the Neapolitan Mastiff Club of America was formed.
A standard for the breed was approved by the American Kennel Club in 1996 and in 2004 the dog was admitted into the Working Group. Dogs belonging to the Working Group are ones bred to perform such tasks as guarding property, pulling sleds, and performing water rescues. They are also recognized as being invaluable assets to man throughout the ages.