Animal Info Cats History

About the history of the cat from domestication in Egypt to the plague to modern times.



About 4,000 years ago, the Egyptians tamed an African wild cat. Closely associated with the cat-headed goddess Bast, their lean Abyssinian-like cats were working deities. They earned their keep by ridding granaries of rodents. So important was the cat as a defense against famine and disease in Egypt that the punishment for killing a feline--even by accident--was death.

It was also illegal to export Egyptian cats. Nevertheless, by 900 B.C., they had been smuggled out to all parts of Europe. There they bred with local wild cats and produced two other basic feline body types, the sturdy British short-haired tabby and the flat-nosed longhair.

Cats were idolized in the 14th century when the bubonic plague was spread throughout Europe by rodent carriers. Unfortunately, felines were also brutally tortured and murdered during the witch-hunting Middle Ages.

Cats were considered lucky by sailing ship captains, and a tabby was a crew member on the Mayflower, American colonists prized their expensive imported cats both as ratters and pets.

Today some cats still earn their living as rodent exterminators, and a few star types like Morris make good money on TV. However, the modern cat's primary role is that of a good companion and benevolent master to its pet human.

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