Cat Smuggling in Ancient Egypt

Mar 2017
873
Colorado
Ancient Egyptians revered cats. This is well demonstrated in surviving mummies and artifacts.

Unfortunately, many cat lover sites cut&paste anecdotal information all over the place. Does anyone know primary SOURCES for the following?

1) The penalty for a peasant killing a cat was death.
2) Cats could not be exported. In fact, like Zahi Hawass gone wild, they were 'reclaimed' from foreign countries by force.
3) Phoenicians not only used cats for ship pest control, but spread them to the rest of the Mediterranean ... presumably smuggling them out.

There are plenty of sites that repeat this information over & over. I haven't seen a source. Herodotus talks about 'mourning" the death of household cats, but nothing about the other stuff ... that I can find.
 
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Jun 2017
462
maine
Ancient Egyptians revered cats. This is well demonstrated in surviving mummies and artifacts.

Unfortunately, many cat lover sites cut&paste anecdotal information all over the place. Does anyone know primary SOURCES for the following?

1) The penalty for a peasant killing a cat was death.
2) Cats could not be exported. In fact, like Zahi Hawass gone wild, they were 'reclaimed' from foreign countries by force.
3) Phoenicians not only used cats for ship pest control, but spread them to the rest of the Mediterranean ... presumably smuggling them out.

There are plenty of sites that repeat this information over & over. I haven't seen a source. Herodotus talks about 'mourning" the death of household cats, but nothing about the other stuff ... that I can find.
“You are the Great Cat, the avenger of the gods, and the judge of words, and the president of the sovereign chiefs and the governor of the holy Circle; you are indeed the Great Cat.” (Inscription from the Valley of Kings, Egypt)

The harsh penalty for killing a cat has its roots in Egyptian mythology (worship of Bast) but it is discussed by Diodorus Siculus in his Bibliotheca Historica.

The prohibition against feline exportation is part of ancient Egyptian law. In fact, there was a department of government just for this.

I don't know if there is a source for Phoenician pest control by cats. It has been thought that they were the ones to introduce the concept to Rome (and hence to the rest of the empire).

An interesting sideline: in 525 BC, the Egyptian army and the Persian army faced off at the Battle of Pelusium. The Persians won the day by letting loose a large number of cats and the Egyptian, unwilling to harm a cat, gave way.
 
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Feb 2019
856
Pennsylvania, US
As far as killing cats being a crime, there is one story that I know of where a mob went after a Roman for killing a cat... Told to my ancient art history class by a teacher who cancelled class because her cat was sick (twice)! :lol: So, she had her priorities in life figured out... LOL! The class may have been rather cat-centric as a result.

But in tracking it all down, it was written by Diodorus, who doesn't seem to be considered very legit because he tended to repeat other people's stories and mix myth and reality... plus this would have been very late, whereas the worship of Bastet started well before this (by some 2,000 years), but it's an interesting story...

Diodorus - On Killing Cats or Ibises

”And whoever intentionally kills one of these animals is put to death, unless it be a cat or an ibis that he kills; but if he kills one of these, whether intentionally or unintentionally, he is certainly put to death, for the common people gather in crowds and deal with the perpetrator most cruelly, sometimes doing this without waiting for a trial. 7 And because of their fear of such a punishment any who have caught sight of one of these animals lying dead withdraw to a great distance and shout with lamentations and protestations that they found the animal already dead. 8 So deeply implanted also in the hearts of the common people is their superstitious regard for these animals and so unalterable are the emotions cherished by every man regarding the honour due to them that once, at the time when Ptolemy their king had not as yet been given by the Romans the appellation of "friend"24 and the people were exercising all zeal in courting the favour of the embassy from Italy which was then visiting Egypt and, in their fear, were intent upon giving no cause for complaint or war, when one of the Romans killed a cat and the multitude rushed in a crowd to his house, neither the officials sent by the king to beg the man off nor the fear of Rome which all the people felt were enough to save the man from punishment, even though his act had been an accident. 9 And this incident we relate, not from hearsay, but we saw it with our own eyes on the occasion of the visit we made to Egypt.”


Reading farther, there was a reference to Egyptians “ransoming” cats and hawks in foreign countries “even when their supply of money for the journey was running short”.
 
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Jun 2017
462
maine
As far as killing cats being a crime, there is one story that I know of where a mob went after a Roman for killing a cat... Told to my ancient art history class by a teacher who cancelled class because her cat was sick (twice)! :lol: So, she had her priorities in life figured out... LOL! The class may have been rather cat-centric as a result.

But in tracking it all down, it was written by Diodorus, who doesn't seem to be considered very legit because he tended to repeat other people's stories and mix myth and reality... plus this would have been very late, whereas the worship of Bastet started well before this (by some 2,000 years), but it's an interesting story...

Diodorus - On Killing Cats or Ibises

”And whoever intentionally kills one of these animals is put to death, unless it be a cat or an ibis that he kills; but if he kills one of these, whether intentionally or unintentionally, he is certainly put to death, for the common people gather in crowds and deal with the perpetrator most cruelly, sometimes doing this without waiting for a trial. 7 And because of their fear of such a punishment any who have caught sight of one of these animals lying dead withdraw to a great distance and shout with lamentations and protestations that they found the animal already dead. 8 So deeply implanted also in the hearts of the common people is their superstitious regard for these animals and so unalterable are the emotions cherished by every man regarding the honour due to them that once, at the time when Ptolemy their king had not as yet been given by the Romans the appellation of "friend"24 and the people were exercising all zeal in courting the favour of the embassy from Italy which was then visiting Egypt and, in their fear, were intent upon giving no cause for complaint or war, when one of the Romans killed a cat and the multitude rushed in a crowd to his house, neither the officials sent by the king to beg the man off nor the fear of Rome which all the people felt were enough to save the man from punishment, even though his act had been an accident. 9 And this incident we relate, not from hearsay, but we saw it with our own eyes on the occasion of the visit we made to Egypt.”


Reading farther, there was a reference to Egyptians “ransoming” cats and hawks in foreign countries “even when their supply of money for the journey was running short”.
I've read that lynching story also. It was in Alexandria: the pharaoh tried to intervene but without success because the mob was so incensed.
 
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Mar 2017
873
Colorado
Diodorus may have reported rumor & myth, and copied from others ... like many historians (Cassius Dio is the worst, he just invents stuff) ... but a quick review shows his Egyptian accounts to be firsthand knowledge as he was recorded to BE there 60-56 BC doing research.

This is a really good source. Thanks.

There's a lot more detail on that battle of Pelusium ... if I believe the sites that don't post sources.
The Persians painted cats on their shields and some actually held cats (c'mon, does that sound practical?). Whether for fear of breaking the law or just not wanting to kill cats, the city surrendered. Rubbing salt in the wound, the Persian commander went around the city throwing cats at people.
.... That's why you need primary sources. Cats painted on shields? Sure, I can go for that. Holding a cat in battle? A DEAD cat would work I guess, but no one would have problems throwing spears or shooting arrows into dead cats. ... and was the commander so intent on humiliating Egyptians that he carried a bag of cats (probably dead) just so he could reach in, grab one, & huck it?
 
Mar 2017
873
Colorado
"[9] Cambyses.

G When Cambyses attacked Pelusium, which guarded the entrance into Egypt, the Egyptians defended it with great resolution. They advanced formidable engines against the besiegers, and hurled missiles, stones, and fire at them from their catapults. To counter this destructive barrage, Cambyses ranged before his front line dogs, sheep, cats, ibises, and whatever other animals the Egyptians hold sacred. The Egyptians immediately stopped their operations, out of fear of hurting the animals, which they hold in great veneration. Cambyses captured Pelusium, and thereby opened up for himself the route into Egypt."
--Polyaenus, Stratagems, Book 7

Thanks for another good source. This is entirely believable ... not cat-centric, but "let's try a bunch of their sacred animals, they're beating the Hell out of us."
Not even shields, and certainly no cat flinging.

He wrote ~250 yrs after it happened, but there's nothing outrageous about it. It could even have been a diversion: no soldiers, just animals running around that the Egyptians wouldn't hurt unless they had good reasons ... Persians attack from someplace else. Caesar did that kind of thing all the time: "Look over here! Look over here!"
 
Mar 2017
873
Colorado
Diodorus is also supposed to have the cat riot story: Book I, 83:8 ... but I can't seem to get penelope.uchicago.edu to come up right now. Diodorus witnessed this.

I read some more about the validity of Diodorus & Herodotus. When it comes to what happened to ancient pharaohs, Diodorus blindly accepted what the priests told him, and there are HUGE errors. When it came to observations about the beliefs of the people, they generally give him credit for accuracy ... it was a small offside comment. I *THINK* that's what it said (JSTOR article: Herodotus and Diodorus on Egypt).
 
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Mar 2017
873
Colorado
This is the kind of internet thing that drives me nuts. www.ancient.eu looks like a decent history site. The original Polyaenus story, all four sentences, is above. This is www.ancient.eu's version of exactly the same source.

"The greatest example of Egyptian devotion to the cat, however, comes from the Battle of Pelusium (525 BCE) in which Cambyses II of Persia defeated the forces of the Egyptian Pharaoh Psametik III to conquer Egypt. Knowing of the Egyptian’s love for cats, Cambyses had his men round up various animals, cats chiefly among them, and drive the animals before the invading forces toward the fortified city of Pelusium on the Nile.

The Persian soldiers painted images of cats on their shields, and may have held cats in their arms, as they marched behind the wall of animals. The Egyptians, reluctant to defend themselves for fear of harming the cats (and perhaps incurring the death penalty should they kill one), and demoralized at seeing the image of Bastet on the enemy’s shields, surrendered the city and let Egypt fall to the Persians. The historian Polyaenus (2nd century CE) writes that, after the surrender, Cambyses rode in triumph through the city and hurled cats into the faces of the defeated Egyptians in scorn."

Or does he? Sheesh ... "cats chiefly among them", "shields", "held cats", added city motivation, cat hurling. This is the kind of thing Cassius Dio does: makes it more interesting.
 
Mar 2017
873
Colorado
I skimmed that Diodorus quote too quickly. It's got both things: implication that there's a law against killing cats & the riot.

Just from that text, the riot can be dated:
"Ptolemy their king had not as yet been given by the Romans the appellation of "friend" "

Ptolemy XII bribed Pompey in 63 BC to receive official patronage. That wasn't good enough. He went to Rome to negotiate and borrow money for his second bribe to Pompey AND Caesar (now consul), which got him official status as "friend". The cat riot happened 80-63 BC. Diodorus didn't show up until 60 BC.

I know it's a small trivial point, but I hit three websites that said he witnessed it. It's not that they can't do math. ONE guy couldn't do math, and it sounded good so others copied him. The cat riot is still probably true and there were people alive who had been in it.