The name of the breed is a reference to the breed's popularity in Renaissance Italy. Mummified dogs very similar to the Italian Greyhound (or small Greyhounds) have been found in Egypt, and pictorials of small Greyhounds have been found in Pompeii, and they were probably the only accepted companion-dog there. Dogs similar to Italian Greyhounds are recorded as having been seen around Emperor Nero's court in Rome in the first century AD.
The breed is believed to have originated more than 2,000 years ago in the countries now known as Greece and Turkey. This belief is based on the depiction of miniature greyhounds in the early decorative arts of these countries and on the archaeological discovery of small greyhound skeletons. By the Middle Ages, the breed had become distributed throughout Southern Europe and was later a favorite of the Italians of the sixteenth century, among whom miniature dogs were in great demand. Sadly, though, 'designer' breeders tried, and failed, to make the breed even smaller by crossbreeding it with other breeds of dogs. This only led to mutations with deformed skulls, bulging eyes and dental problems. The original Italian Greyhound had almost disappeared when groups of breeders got together and managed to return the breed to normal. From this period onward the history of the breed can be fairly well traced as it spread through Europe, arriving in England in the seventeenth century.
The grace of the breed has prompted several artists to include the dogs in paintings, among others Velázquez, Pisanello, and Giotto. The breed has been popular with royalty. Among the royal aficionados are Mary, Queen of Scots, Queen Anne, Queen Victoria, Catherine the Great, Frederick the Great and Maud, Queen of Norway.