How the Persians Defeated the Egyptians With Cats

Posted on 07 Dec 2015 16:27 by EricT

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The Ancient Egyptians so revered cats, that the Persian army is said to have defeated them using cats. No, the cats did not fight. You can't train a cat to be a soldier.

According to this legend, which has several different versions, when Great King Cambyses, heir of King Cyrus, of Persia, invaded Egypt, the Persians well knew of the Egyptians reverence, and laws concerning cats.

To kills a cat was, in Egypt, a crime punishable by death.

Cats were, of course, an embodiment of the goddess Bastet, who, having the body of a woman and the head of a cat, was responsible fo a great many things, notably love, sexuality, fertility, bringing rain, and protecting the dead. Bastet first appears in the historical record around 3000 B.C. By 950 B.C. she was the primary goddess of Egypt, and 700,000 people a year make a pilgrimage to Bubastis at the Nile Delta, to honor the Goddess.

Knowing all this, the Persians use cats as a weapon. One story has it that the Persians brought in many cats and lined the cats up in front of them, so that the Egyptians could not fire their weapons for fear of hurting or killing a cat. Since getting cats to stand in a line is about as easy as herding cats this version of the story is quite impossible.

In other versions, the Persians simply carry in a lot of cats and release them into the city, so that there are so many cats, around, the flummoxed Egyptians are afraid to fire because they might accidentally hit a cat. To clinch things, each Persian soldier holds a cat under his arm. There is even a version where the Persians attach cats to their shields.

Whatever the case, the Egyptians are defeated without a single blow ever being exchanged.

Where this story came from is not clear. It is sometimes credited to Herodotus, but this does not appear to be accurate. Herodotus does inform us that should the household cat die, Egyptians would enter into an elaborate mourning period, and all members of the household would shave their eyebrows. The cats would be taken to the city of Bubastis where they were mummified, and were buried in sacred cat repositories.

Could This Story Be True?

The story seems to be a fanciful illustration of just how important cats were to the Egyptians. It is probably not true! Can you imaging the difficulty of gathering up enough cats to defeat the Egyptians, and then transporting them to a battle, probably over a long distance?

As for as the killing of cats, and the story told by Herodutus about the death of a cat, mourning, and subsequent embalming, all is not as it seems. The Natural History Museum examined 55 mummified cats held in their collection. They took X-rays of the remains. Those images howed that the cats were young, and that their necks appear to have been purposefully broken. It has been speculated that young cats may have been sold as offerings.

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