Ancient Egyptians long had an intense love and protective disposition toward their cats. It was a distinct cultural feature that intrigued visitors from other civilizations. The Greek scholar, Herodotus (490-425/420 BCE)—often called the founder of the academic field of history—had the impression that ancient Egyptians were more concerned about protecting cats than about the safety of humans or their property. Herodotus put forth the example of a house fire that broke out near where cats lived; in such a situation, he claimed, saving the home was secondary in importance to keeping the cats safe from the flames, “for it is only the cats that matter” (Herodotus, The Histories, 2.66). If a cat did, however, die a wrongful death, the person responsible for the feline’s premature demise was said to have been subject to the death penalty. With such a protective stance in defense of their cats, Ancient Egyptians, unsurprisingly, were also serious about the way they fed the small and furry friends in their communities. The aforementioned Herodotus reported that during his own travels through Egypt during the 5th-century BCE, the usual meal given to the cats were bite-sized strips of fish meat. A later historian, Diodorus Siculus (c. 1st century BCE), also saw the animals being fed fish, but in addition to that, he witnessed a new dish being served to the grateful furballs—milk. For the cats, Diodorus Siculus reported, “they break up bread into milk and calling them with a clucking sound set it before them” (Library of History, 1.83). Fed on a hearty diet of fish and bread-laden milk, these beloved cats led a life of luxury, indeed.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Cat Statuette dated to the Ptolemaic Period ( 332–30 B.C.), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and The Metropolitan Museum of Art).
- The Library of History, by Diodorus Siculus, edited by Giles Laurén (Sophron Editor, 2014).
- The Histories by Herodotus, translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt and revised by John Marincola. New York: Penguin Classics, 2002.