The History of Cats Explained
The world’s most popular pet is the domestic cat, there is believed to be close to half a billion domestic cats in the world today. The history of cats however starts way back before the modern twentieth century right to the beginning of known and recorded history. The ancient history of the domestic cat starts at the time of the ancient Egyptians 4000 years ago where they were regarded as sacred creatures.
Cats in Ancient Egypt
The origins of cats (domestic cats) are thought to have come from the African Wild Cat. The breed was domesticated in ancient Egypt to control vermin which was harming crops and causing diseases. And like our fury friends now they were very good at catching mice and rats! The cats controlled the rat population which reduced disease and deaths and also allowed a larger supply of food for the poor. This therefore changed the quality of living for the Egyptians and cats become a sacred creature representing life. They were associated with the goddesses Bast, Isis and Pasht.
By the time the Egyptian empire fell cats were revered as master hunters and were worshipped like gods by all Egyptians including the pharaoh. If an Egyptian killed a cat they were immediately given the death penalty yet the fear of the all mighty cat itself made this a rare occurrence. The pharaoh’s were mummified and buried with statues of cats. This represented good luck and safe companionship to the afterlife. Even today archaeologists are finding more and more hieroglyphics, statues and carvings of cats emphasizing there importance in Ancient Egypt. Some cats were even mummified and their bodies left to lay in tombs and shrines. It was illegal to sell a cat outside of Egypt as they were such an important asset to their beliefs and society. The history of domesticated cats started in Egypt where they acclaimed their first home, but like all cats they didn’t want to stay in one place to long!
History of Cats . . . From Egypt to China
Towards the end of the Egyptian empire cats were sold to the Greeks and Persians. In 500 BC a domesticated cat was given to the Emperor of China and cats were the most popular pet of the rich during the Song Dynasty. The cats were bred with the wildcats of Asia and became a common asset of the first emperors, then the nobility, priests and eventually the peasants. Cats in China were breed with many local breeds which had helped produce some of the breeds we know today such as the Siamese and Birmese. The domesticated cat spread to all the surrounding countries of China Including India and Japan.
History of Cats . . . From Rome to Beyond
Egyptian traders brought cats to Europe and they were introduced to the Greeks and then the Romans. The Romans used cats to control the pest population and as their empire increased so did the population of cats. Cats become common and valuable assets to all those who harvest crops who had problems with rats and disease. They were introduced to Britain around 100 AD and were protected by Law by the King of Wales, Hywel Dda as sacred and valuable animals. Killing a cat could again be punishable by death.
History of Cats . . . The Fall of the Cat
During the Middle Ages cats were associated with superstition and witch craft. They were considered animals of sin and were thought to be associated with Satan. When the Black Death (The Plague) started in 1348 the rulers ordered the killing of all cats who were the initial suspect of the disease (or the devils work). Ironically because of this mass killing the rodents spread and populated Europe in abundance which spread and worsened the pandemic. Many believe that the mass cull of cats cost millions of lives where the population of Europe was killed off by 50%.
From Europe to America
Cats were used upon Ships on voyages of discovery during the 15th/16th Century to control rodent population and disease. A ship crashed off the Isle of Man in the United Kingdom and the cats on board the ship swam to the shore. This created one of the first known pedigree breeds, the Manx. When Christopher Columbus discovered America cats from the Ship were left in the country and flourished. The breed today known as the American Shorthair is thought to have originated from the British Shorthair which was believed to be used on those ships.
The Twentieth Century
Cats flourished in the Twentieth Century when they were introduced once again as household pets by Queen Victoria of England and have become a key part of modern society. Kings and Queens, Presidents and Prime Ministers have all owned pet cats during the twentieth century. New breeds were created such as the Sphynx, the Bengal and the Himalayan. During the 1990s cats overtook the dog as the world’s favorite and most common pet and today there is thought to be close to 500,000,000 domestic cats in the world. Films both Animation and Sci-Fi have been made about cats and they are a huge part of family life and culture amongst modern society.
We hope you learnt some cat history facts from our cat history timeline! From the cats of Egypt 4000 years ago to the modern day cats of today they are still a very sacred animal to many people around the world.