According to the American Kennel Club's website,
The Maltese, the ancient dog of Malta, has been known as an aristocrat of the canine world for more than 28 centuries. Their place in antiquity is well documented. At the time of the Apostle Paul, Publius, the Roman governor of Malta, had a Maltese name Issa of which he was very fond. Issa was the object of the poet Marcus Valerius Martialis (Martial), born in A.D. 40 at Bilbilis in Spain, in one of his celebrated epigrams:
Issa is more frolicsome than Catulla's sparrow.
Issa is purer than a dove's kiss.
Issa is gentler than a maiden.
Issa is more precious than Indian gems...
Lest the last days that she see light should snatch her from him forever,
Publius has had her picture painted.
This picture was said to have been so lifelike it was difficult to tell the picture from the living dog.
Many similar accounts in ancient doctrine address the Maltese as an object of beauty and value. The Greeks erected tombs to their Maltese, and from the ceramic art dating to the 5th century innumerable paintings of the little dog are evident. Literary accounts detail Maltese maintaining a place of esteem and privilege in Royal households, a status the Maltese has maintained throughout history.
The first Maltese exhibited in the United States was white and listed as a Maltese Lion Dog at Westminster's first show in 1877. The American Kennel Club accepted the Maltese for registration in 1888.
Perhaps due to the popularity of the Maltese for centuries as household pets of people of culture, wealth, and fastidious taste, the Maltese has remained a dog of refinement, fidelity, and cleanliness. It should be noted that the Maltese is a spaniel possessing a healthy and spirited temperament, even though tiny and artistic in appearance.
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