Old Times Cats

Old Times Cats
Ancient Times

Codependent: Of the existing species, house cats are most closely related to the African Wild Cat, and most likely evolved from their ancestors (the two species still have much in common.) Centuries ago, these highly adaptable creatures came to live on the outskirts of human civilizations, especially near Egypt, where they were always sure to find food.

Cradle of Cats: Egypt was one of the world's first great civilizations. Positioned along the great Nile River, its entire culture centered on the great river. Its people and all its great cities sat along her bank. Her waters provided fertile land, allowing the Egyptians to create a wealthy and stable civilization. All aspects of Egyptian life centered on the Nile. Its habits, generosity, and fertility determined, to a large degree, the economic, spiritual, and familial life of every Egyptian.

Exterminators: But life along the Nile could be quite precarious. Floods endangered food and storehouses. And also attracted disease-carrying rodents. Not only did vermin carry disease (as the people of the Middle Ages were to learn), their population could very easily get out of control, especially if left unchecked. Luckily for the Egyptians, this large rodent population attracted the African Wild Cat. These ferocious hunters patrolled the cities and storehouses of Egypt, ridding them of pests.

At first, the Egyptians saw these cats mainly as effective exterminators, and overlooked the threats a wild animal pose. But eventually Egyptians began appreciating cats on a more personal level. Food was left out for them, which brought the animals closer and closer to their homes. The cat began to recognize the humans as generous and became less aggressive. A mutualistic relationship developed- each species gained something quite valuable from the other. The cats gained food, while the humans found exterminators. Soon cats were welcome even inside the home and, because of their vital role, became important members of the community. By around 2,000 BC, the process of cat domestication, which had begun around 4,000 BC was well established.

Thou shalt worship: Cats undeniably served an essential role in Egyptian life. The service they provided could, if left unattended, have a devastating effect on Egyptian life. Soon the great respect they garnered grew into outright reverence. By 1,500 BC religious cults began to grow around cats (an event the cat seemed to approve of). Cats became closely associated with the goddess Bast (or Bastet), who was represented with the body of a woman and the head of a cat. Magnificent temples sprung up throughout Egypt in honor of the goddess. Her most famous temple was established in the town of Bubastis. There, cats lived a life of luxury and cats throughout the kingdom, became sacred. Killing a cat, even if done accidentally, was punishable by death.

World Travelers: From Egypt cats spread to the rest of the known world. Merchant ships brought them aboard to control the rodent population. They found themselves in Asia and Europe. Once they arrived their mysterious nature inspired the same devotion they had found in Egypt, especially in Asia. In the Temples of Siam, they were believed to house the souls, even kings. Here they lived a life of luxury, and were, again, treated as sacred. In Japan for instance, Emperor Ichijo once imprisoned a man whose dog had chased the Emperor's beloved cat.

Population Drop: By the Middle Ages however, the cat's reputation began to suffer a serious decline in Europe. Cats became associated with the devil and witchcraft. Cats were persecuted, sometimes even brought before judges and sentenced to death. Their population in Europe nearly collapsed. Simultaneously, the rodent population rose, and with it all the corresponding health problems. Plagues and disease struck Europe, sometimes wiping out huge portions of the population. Cats were slowly brought back to the continent, in an effort to control the rodents. As the rodent population was brought under control, the prejudice against cats subsided. Soon it became acceptable to own cats, and eventually even fashionable.

The New World: When explorers set out for the New World they had already learned the lessons of the Middle Ages and decided to take cats along. They were invited onto ships, and asked to serve in their traditional roles as rat-catchers. There are even records that cats were brought along on the Mayflower.
Cats of the Middle Ages

Cool Reception: Cats most likely came to Europe along trader ships coming from Egypt. In ancient Egypt cats had been revered, even worshipped. But in Europe, especially during the Middle Ages, their reputation was less glamorous. Here they were often mistrusted, even feared.

The Midnight Hour: It may have been their nocturnal habits, or their association with sexuality (Even in Shakespeare's Mac beth one the 3 witches, or weird sisters, is named Grimalkin, which can mean either gray cat or promiscuous woman), but cats became associated with the devil during the Middle Ages in significant parts of Europe. Those who owned cats were sometimes accused of being witches and burned alive. There are even instances of cats being tried before judges, then were tortured and killed. Some believed it was good luck to bury live cats inside the walls of new buildings.

Rat-attack: As the cat population began to diminish, the rodent population began to rise. It is reasonable to believe that the prejudice against cats allowed, at least to some degree, the rise of disease, and some of the horrible plagues that struck the continent during the Middle Ages. Obviously sanitation and medicine were the primary factors, but cats had long assisted in controlling rat and rodent population, which are now known to be the primary carriers of certain diseases.

People began seeing the cats as important, and even essential, so the prejudice against them began to subside. Important and well-known figures made it acceptable, and even fashionable, to own cats. Cardinal Richelieu, one of the most important and powerful men in all of Europe, loved cats and owned many until his death in 1642.
He even had a cattery built in Versailles to house them all. Nearly everyone in France started taking cats into their home, and soon they became associated with refinement and sophistication.