Cats Through History.

Posted by Theresa Blood on

Hair Tonic.

The fur and excrement of cats were put to medicinal use in Egyptian prescriptions. One lotion, which was supposed to stop hair going grey, was made using one crucial ingredient – the placenta of a cat.

All Wrapped Up.

Ancient Egyptians believed that all creatures, human or otherwise, could look forward to an afterlife and that mummification was a necessary process t secure safe passage to the next world. Some special individual animals (favored pets of the royal family, for instance) were mummified and given elaborate burials in their own right, in a similar fashion to humans.

Hundreds of thousands of cats were given ritual burial following death from natural causes, but many, many others were deliberately killed so they could be mummified and offered to the gods. Millions of animal mummies have been excavated from various sites in Egypt, and more are still being discovered. Cats, dogs, ibises, crocodiles, baboons, mongooses and scarab beetles were mummified in staggering numbers. Indeed, animal mummies were produced on an industrial scale in order to satisfy the demand from the great crowds of pilgrims who flocked to the most popular temples. The animals were mostly bred and killed specially for the purpose.

It’s hard to reconcile these contradictory attitudes to cats from a modern perspective. On the one hand, they were revered, and Egyptians would stand round and watch in awe as cats went about their ordinary business as mousers or mothers. On the other hand, there was mass slaughter, which seems horribly cruel. Egyptians did believe the mummified cats would live on elsewhere, but the scale of this waste of life still seems breath-taking. 

Dust To Dust.

The mad scramble to excavate anything and everything in Egypt (preferably before anyone else got their hands on it) began when Napoleon Bonaparte arrived in Egypt in 1798. The Egyptians’ obsessive devotion to creating material objects for their gods has left us with enough cat exhibits for virtually every museum on earth to have one, and countless artifacts have made the journey from Egypt to museums across the world. Priceless and irreplaceable historic objects have not always been well cared for, however. Many mummified remains were exported to Europe, only to be ground up and used as fertilizer.  

On The Tiles.

It seems likely that cats first made their way to Italy around the 5th century BC, a time when Egypt was a Roman province. Although the expansive Roman Empire was probably in large part responsible for spreading cuts across Europe, they were never revered in the same way as they had been in Egypt. Cats were probably kept to control rodents, but they had no particular status. This is perhaps why there is not a great deal of surviving imagery of Roman cats. One striking exception is a mosaic which was found in a house in Pompeii. It shows a very life-like tabby hunting wildfowl and probably originally formed the centrepiece on the floor of a wealthy home. 

 Ten Cat Museums.

There are a number of cat museums around the world to satisfy the cat lover with a thirst for further knowledge about all things feline. Some of them are tiny, one or two of them are a little eccentric, more than one of them claims to be the only cat museum in the world, quite a few have real cats on the premises and all of them are a fabulous testament to a friendship that goes back a long, long way.

  • De Kattenkabinet (the cat cabinet) in Amsterdam houses a collection of cat-themed art and is also home to a few real-life cats.
  • The Cat Museum in San Francisco organizes ‘pop-up’ exhibitions around the city on themes such as cats in Japanese art and felines on film.
  • The feline Historical Museum in Alliance, Ohio, has an extensive collection of lucky Japanese cats and you’re quite likely to bump into a Maine Coon or a Ragdoll strolling about the place.
  • The Kuching Cat Museum in Malaysia has over 4000 feline artifacts, including some that were previously held at the National Museum in Kuala Lumpur.
  • Singapore’s Lion City Kitty cat museum features catty art and crafts from around the world and doubles up as a rescue shelter and re-homing centre.
  • Moscow Cat Museum has a wide range of cat-inspired art and objects and has exhibitions on cats in Russia, as well as one on the special relationship between women and cats.
  • Petersburg has its own Cat Museum, which has exhibitions on cats in the city’s history and celebrates the feline muses to artists, writers and musicians. The museum even has a cat-friendly café nearby.
  • The Cats Museum in Kotor, Montenegro, has an impressive collection of prints, postcards, advertisements and labels featuring cats and even some very old invoices with cat designs.
  • The Cat Museum in Siauliai, Lithuania, has a large collection of cat-themed items from all over the world. There are figures in porcelain, amber, crystal and marble and even stained-glass windows and lamps.
  • The Maneki Neko Museum in Seto, Japan (a town famous for its ceramics), has several thousand pottery cats on display, as well as information about the history of Japan’s lucky beckoning cat.



Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published