Text Box: Kangal: A Galatian Canine?
Dr. Tamer Yılmaz, April 4, 2009
(©Copyrights © registered in the U.S. Library of Congress)
Kangal is an internationally recognized canine breed and is indigenous to Asia Minor.  For centuries these canines have been used as sheep dogs in Asia Minor.  Among the several theories regarding the origin of Kangals is that they were brought to Asia Minor by Galatians according to a Turkish newspaper.[1]  The geographical distribution of Kangal, although can be found anywhere in Turkey, is mostly the central highlands (old Galatia) of Turkey with a heavier concentration in the Kangal region of Sivas area.  Sivas area was part of the homeland of Trocmians, the easternmost tribe of Galatians.  Galatians were famous with their wool as an export item.  The last Galatian king Amyntas was known to have 300 herds of sheep to the west of Lake Tata (Tuz Gölü).

Kangal is a large dog with a bulky and a heavy head.  Kangal’s face is covered with a black mask, a typical appearance many mastiff dogs in Europe.  It has a thick tail that curves upright and coils like a loop anteriorly.  Kangal has a coarse double coat, a short thick coat closer to his skin and a loose longer coat hanging over his short coat.  Individual coat colors of Kangal change from fawn to gray.  Kangal is fed a meal (called “yal”) containing grains and does not require meat.  If Kangals are to be raised as a sheep dog, then their ears are clipped when they are very young, giving them a lion like appearance as adults. (Figure 1)

Figure 1

In addition, due their coloring, Kangals easily blend with sheep herds, but they are hardly noticeable to outsiders’ eyes.

Kangal, with its large body and independent character, is not a canine for commanding.  Kangal cannot be used as a police dog or a search and rescue dog.  The efforts of the government agencies to utilize Kangals in the 1970’s proved to be unsuccessful.  Kangal is known throughout Turkey and abroad for its strength, intelligence, loyalty, endurance to extreme temperatures, and its absence of predatory behavior toward livestock.  As a sheep dog, Kangal does not drive the herd but protects it from intruders such as strangers, wolves and mountain lions.  Kangals are known to catch wolves and choke them to death by their strong jaws.  Kangals independently scout the terrain around a sheep herd and watch for intruders.  When there are more than one dog in a herd, each Kangal protects a certain area of the herd according to the hierarchy they decide among themselves without intervention from their owners.  In that sense, Kangal reminds us the unruly Celtic mercenaries.  How appropriate for a rowdy Celtic dog!

The first written information regarding Kangal dates back to a certain Evliya Çelebi[2], a 17th century traveller.  The next written record is from J.W. Childs[3] who travelled extensively in Turkey during the early 1900’s.  In the 1960’s an American couple brought a pair of Kangals from Turkey.  A Kennel club for Kangals was founded in the USA in the 1970’s.  From then on, a world wide interest was grown, gradually.  Fueled by this interest, starting in the 1980’s, we begin to see many magazine  articles written on Kangals.  The Kangal Kennel Club of Turkey was founded in 2001.

As for the origin of Kangal, there are a few pictures of mastiff like dogs on Assyrian and Babylonian tablets, that somewhat look like Kangals. (Figure 2)  However, there are no mastiff dogs in those regions, today.  If mastiff dogs were native to Mesopotamia, then there should still be some specimens visible today, or, at least, certain physical characteristics should have been preserved in local canine populations.  Similarly, seeing pictures of tigers or giraffes on Roman artwork does not indicate that the animals were native to Europe.

Figure 2

Figure 3

Although a Hittite clay tablet (Figure 3) depicting domestic dogs attacking a mountain lion in Asia Minor proves the existence of a variety of dog breeds at the time, the particulars of the dogs are not uniform to assign a single breed to these dogs.

Kangals are specifically bred and used for the protection of sheep herds.  This use of Kangal is so important that the decrease in the herding business due to urbanization in Turkey also resulted in a significant decrease in the population of Kangals.  In the year of 2005, the Kangal dog’s origin was unanimously announced as Asian Turkic by a panel of Turkish and International researchers.  However, none of what you will read in the following was discussed nor was considered at the time.  Many Turks are very sentimental about thinking that Kangal is more Turkish if its origin is central Asia.  Because of the general consensus, it is difficult to find support for the Galatian origin of these dogs in Turkey.  However, several and consistent findings in recent scientific studies on canines appear to support a western origin of Kangals.  One study on canine genetics found that a certain haplotype D appears to be present only in the canines in Turkey (20%), Scandinavia (38%), Portugal (20%), and Spain (1%).[4]  In addition, a more recent study found that the haplotype D (among the Turkish dogs) appears to be unique to Kangals only.[5]  Akbash (another canine that is assumed to be brought along with Turcomen into Asia Minor in the 11th century) does not carry the haplotype D according to two different genetic studies.[6]  Therefore, the results of the recent genetic studies raise a new and a significant question regarding the true origin of Kangal.[7]  More recent studies[8] also reiterate along the similar lines consolidating the previous findings.  As one can easily follow from the above, the findings of independent scientific researchers all add up to the final conclusion: Kangal enters Asia Minor from the west, not from the east.  Then, the next question is “Could it be that the Galatians introduced Kangal into Asia Minor?”

Çelebi writes about these dogs being paraded with Jannissaries as “samson” dogs in his “Book of Travels” in the 17th century.[9]  By all means, the descriptions of the samson dogs reminds us Kangals.  İndeed, Çelebi himself owned three of these dogs who saved him from a certain death in the hands of Mongolian Kalmuks at least on two occassions.   It’s likely that the “samson” name is a distant echoing of the biblical story of “Samson,” for there is no other meaning of the word in Turkish other than a city named Samsun in northern Turkey.  However, the etymology of this city’s name is already known to be a degenerated form of its antiquity name Amissus, and the city is not known to be a locale famous with its Kangals.  Therefore, “samson” should be a nickname for “lion killer,” as in the story of Samson.  Moreover, Çelebi writes that these dogs were bred by janissaries who worked as dairy workers and were taken to battle fields with the janissaries.  It is interesting to note that historian Lequenne states that many Galatians were recruited into the Ottoman Janissary army of converts.[10]

There is additional evidence, that one may call linguistic, connecting the culture of Kangals and herding in Turkey to Galatians.  Since the extinct Galatian language is a Celtic language, it may be exciting to find Celtic sounding words related to Kangals in Turkish.  One of the names given to the collar (Figures 4 and 5) worn by the these dogs to protect their necks from being attacked by wolves is called a “tork!”[11].  It is a known fact that the spiral bound necklaces worn by Gaulish warriors are also called “Torc.”  A common example of a torc would be the one worn by a Galatian warrior as we see on the neck of the infamous “Dying Gaul” sculpture.  Again, “tork” has no other meaning in Turkish, and it is not a Turkic word.  The tork accentuates the Kangal’s already fierce and primitive looks, although the breed is said to be very friendly with children and family members.

Figure 4 – Kangal with a torc

Figure 5 – Kangal with a Torc around its neck
In addition to the black mask on the face, Kangal’s second most prominent characteristic is its upward curved tail called also “kangal,” [12] literally meaning “a loop,” as in a coiled rope or a coil of sausage link.  Interestingly, Irish, a Celtic language, also has a similar word “ceangal,” [13] meaning “loop” or “link.”  One cannot help but think of the canine’s Celtic origins again.  Furthermore, the shepherds herding the sheep wear a hooded coat that is called a “kepenek.”   There is no documented etymology for this word in Turkish other than a description of its origin: provincial.  Again, “kepenek” is synonymous with the Irish “caipineach,” which also means a “hooded overcoat.”[14] Figures 6 through 10 presents pictures from the daily lives of sheep herders.

Figure 6                                                         Figure 7

Figure 8

Figure 9

Figure 10
Naturally, The canine’s modern name cannot be used to explain its origin because how the canine got its modern name was explained above.  As for the supporters of the Asiatic origin of Kangal, they must first be able to explain the European genes of Kangal before even attempting to refute its European origins.  In summary, both genetic and linguistic data together with cultural and historical findings represent a strong evidence for the western and, specifically, Celtic origin of Kangals.  It looks like the pieces of the puzzle are fitting together rather nicely, and the true origin of Kangal is more than likely to be the Galatians of Asia Minor.

As we leave these modern Galatian shepherds in the mist of the evening, we cannot help but think of the centuries that have long passed, and how much of the Galatian heritage had survived to date. 
[1] “Bozkırın Gözleri,” Hürriyet, November 10, 1998.

[2] Kahraman, S.A., “Günümüz Türkçesiyle Evliya Çelebi Seyahatnamesi,” Yapi ve Kredi Bankasi Yayinlari, March 2003, Istanbul.  ISBN 975080562-3.

[3] Childs, WJ, Across Asia Minor on Foot. London, 1917, pp.164-167.

[4] Savolainen P., et al, “ Genetic evidence for an East Asian origin of domestic dogs”  Science 2002, 298, 1610-1613.

[5] Gökçek, Çiğdem, “Mitochondrial DNA (MTDNA) sequence analyses of Kangal dogs in Turkey,” Middle East Technical University, M.Sc. thesis, 2004, Ankara, Turkey

[6] Ibid, Gökçek

[7] Altunok, V, “Genetic evidence for the distinctness of Kangal dogs,” Bull Vet Inst Pulawy 49, 249-254, 2005

[8] Koban, E., et al, “Genetic relationship between Kangal, Akbash and other dog populations,”  Discrete Applied Mathematics, June 2008

[9] ibid, Kahraman

[10] Lequenne, Fernand, “Les Galates,” pp.330-332, Librarie Artheme Fayard, Paris, 1959.

[11] Kartay, Doğan, “Bozkırın Gözcüsü Türk Çoban Köpeği Kangal,”  p.122, T. C. Kültür Bakanlığı, 2002, Ankara, Turkey

[12] Kartay, pp.107,146

[13] De Bhaldraithe, Tomas, "Focloir Gaeilge-Bearla,"  Mount Sales Press Ltd., Ireland, 1992.  ISBN 1-85791-037-0

[14] ibid, De Bhaldraithe