"Swifter than the Arrow" explores a little-known aspect of life in Ancient Egypt, celebrating the Egyptians as the first known civilisation to have formed the special bond with the dog that persists today as the most remarkable and enduring of human-animal relationships. Five thousand years ago the Egyptians selected and bred hounds for the chase and as the loved companions of both the 'Great Ones' - the ruling classes - and of less exalted folk. For more than twenty-five centuries they kept the breed true, a remarkable achievement to be counted alongside the development of stone architecture and the building of the pyramids, the invention of hieroglyphs, the creation of kingship and of the first nation-state in the world. The dogs on which the Egyptians lavished such loving care and skill were the elegant, slender, prick-eared golden hounds, familiar from a thousand tomb reliefs, that they called tjesm. They were given affectionate names and were the companions of kings, who honoured them with rich burials to ensure that they would be together for ever in the Afterlife.
Numerous representations of dogs and their masters from predynastic rock-art through to elaborate tomb paintings and reliefs leave us in no doubt as to the sincerity of the affection that the Egyptians felt for their dog companions. The first named dog-lover in history was the earliest known queen, Herneith, who was buried with her hound at Saqqara. Dogs and other canines also played their roles in the rich pantheon of ancient Egyptian religion, figuring as semi-divine messengers between the worlds of the living and the dead. Perhaps the most familiar such deity is the sleek, black jackal-headed god Anubis, guardian of the Necropolis and attendant of the underworld. "Swifter than the Arrow" also examines the evidence that hounds living today - most notably modern breeds such as the so-called 'Pharaoh Hound' - are directly descended from the Egyptian hound. It reveals remarkable information about the ancestry of the hounds of the Mediterranean islands that unmistakably share the appearance and character of the dogs that once raced across the Egyptian deserts.
This unique book throws fresh light on our understanding of ancient Egypt while providing a completely fresh insight into the development of mankind's remarkable bond with the domesticated dog.
Michael Rice is a specialist in the ancient history of the Middle East and the author of a number of books on Ancient Egypt, including Egypt's Legacy, Egypt's Making and Who's Who in Ancient Egypt. He was appointed CMG in 2002.