The Great Danes is often called the "Apollo of dogs" due to her size and majesty. It's country of origin is Germany ... not Denmark ;o)
The very, very early beginning is believed to be found in the highlands of Tibet - the Tibetan Mastiff showed high similarity to today's Great Danes and even in Chinese literature (1120 BC) there were dogs described that might have looked like a Great Dane ancestor.
Further proof was found in drawings on Egyptian monuments dating back to 3000 BC and Babylonian temples from 2000 BC which showed tall, strong, long-legged dogs like our Great Danes.
So how did the the Tibetan Mastiff become a German citizen than?!?!
The Assyrians might have traded their dogs along with other goods to the Greeks and Romans and they might have bred these dogs to dogs from Britain. Hence a cross of Tibetan and English Mastiff seems to be the great-great-great-great-great-grand-parents of our Great Danes of today.
But now there's a little glitch in the ancestry ...
While some believe the cross of the Tibetan and the English Mastiff was the foundation of the Dane some others believe that the Irish Greyhound was crossbred with the "Anglo-Tibetan Mastiff" and this resulted in the early Danes ...
In the early days of the Great Dane it was used for hunting and known under the names "Saupacker" or "Hatzrüde". Around 1680 German noblemen bred these dogs to keep the biggest and most impressive ones to stay with them in the house as guard dogs - so called "Kammerhunde (Chamber Dogs)". They lived very close with their humans were well taken care of and had collars of velvet and gold.
Before the first standard of the Great Dane was pronounced a "Dogge" was known as a big, strong dog not particularly belonging to a certain breed. Later names like "Ulmer Dogge (Ulm's Mastiff)", "Englische Dogge (English Mastiff)", "Dänische Dogge (Danish Mastiff)", "Hatzrüde Hunting Dog)", "Saupacker (Boar Hound)" and "Große Dogge (Great Mastiff)" were the definition of a certain color, size and purpose of these dogs.
Under the chairmanship of Dr. Bodinus a comitee of seven dedicated breeders and judges determined in 1878 that all above varieties of this dog shall be called "Deutsche Dogge (German Mastiff or Great Dane)".
This was the breeding foundation of the Great Dane as a breed in Germany. In combination with a show in Berlin in 1880 the first standard was defined and is ministered by the "Deutschen Doggen Club 1888 e.V.“ since 1888. Over the years the standard changed several times and it's formatting of today conformes with the regulations of the F.C.I.
In the mid 1800's the Great Dane made it's way to US territory by importing primarly German breeding stock. A specialty club was organized in 1889 which evolved to "The Great Dane Club of America" in 1891. The US standard of the Great Dane however is slightly different than the one from the parent club and under control of the AKC.
A very interesting website with lots of pictures of the earliest Danes can be found on the page of the Great Dane Club of the UK