A report from the University of Delaware detailing excavations at the Red Sea port city of Berenike, Egypt, includes the finding of a 2,000 year old ‘pet’ cemetery containing the remains of 17 dogs and cats, some still wearing their iron collars and attended by jewelry.
The ancient Egyptians’ love for their cats was well known to the ancient historians – although we need to treat their accounts with a certain amount of caution – Herodotus ( II: 66-67) describes the funerary processes, including embalmation, following the natural death of a cat [dog lover’s will be pleased to note that canines are also included!]. Diodorus Siculus (1st cent BCE) writes that even the unintentional killing of a cat was a capital offence:
“Whoever kills a cat in Egypt is condemned to death, whether he committed this crime deliberately or not. The people gather and kill him. An unfortunate Roman, who accidentally killed a cat, could not be saved, either by King Ptolemy of Egypt or by the fear which Rome inspired.
Such was the Egyptian’s veneration for the cat, Polyaenus (Stratagems VII:9) provides an account of the Battle of Pelusium in 525 BCE, between Pharaoh Psametik III and the Persian leader Cambyses II in which cats played a strategic role. Polyaenus writes that aware of the reverence with which the Egyptians held the cat, Cambyses ordered that images of the cat-god Bastet be painted on his soldiers’ shields. Furthermore, he placed before his front-line all those animals, including cats, that he knew the Egyptians held dear. Fearing to injure the animals the Egyptian army took flight and was massacred. After the battle, it is reported that the cats were thrown into the faces of the defeated Egyptians by Cambyses, disgusted that a nation should surrender to ensure the safety of animals.
What is really interesting is that this find points to practises and attitudes relating to a multi-cultural, non-aristocratic levels of society.
“What makes this unique is (despite) the very rough circumstances in which these people are living, they still manage to find the time and effort to have companion animals with them,”
Steven Sidebotham of the University of Delaware.
For the USA Today article click here