It is the ancient sport of coursing that has brought the Greyhound breed down the centuries to us. Originally derived from hunting, coursing is distinguished from hunting in that the objective of coursing is not to catch or kill the game — usually the hare — but to match the athletic ability of the dogs against each other and against the game.
Flavius Arrianus, an early writer on hunting and coursing with dogs, wrote of the objectives of coursing in 116 A.D. in a quote that has become famous:
The true sportsman does not take out his dogs to destroy the hares, but for the sake of the course and the contest between the dogs and the hares, and is glad if the hare escapes.
This has been the central tenet of coursing since those ancient times.
The sport of coursing was introduced into the ancient world by the Celts, sometime before the second century after Christ. The dogs used by the Celts were called Vertragi, which closely resemble the “modern” Greyhound of the last two centuries. In the ancient Celtic coursing, scouts were sent out to find a hare and herd it onto a designated field. The dogs’ handlers then slipped their dogs, usually not more than two at a time, and the object then was to see whose dog gave the hare the best chase.
Coursing became popular with the Romans who were then occupying Britain, and it is believed that the brown hare, which populates England today and serves as the game for coursing, was brought to that island by the Romans for such sporting purposes.