A (Brief) History of Cats

Cats hold a very special place alongside humans. Originating in desert biomes, it’s rumoured that cats domesticated themselves, with little help from humans. The ancient Egyptians near Cyprus learned they could have a symbiotic relationship with the furry desert creatures, who loved hunting and eating the rodents that were decimating Egyptian grain stores. 

At around 500BCE our favourite little mouse hunters had made their way into the hearts of the Romans and the Greeks, who grew to see them as symbols of liberty and independence.

Continuing to spread and gain popularity threw Europe, cats fell far from grace as superstition and fascinations with the occult grew throughout the Middle Ages. Black cats were thought to be the familiars or manifestations of witches practicing dark magic.  This branded them as “bad omens” and a sign of malevolence, leading to mass killings and the demonization of black cats for centuries to come. Today, black cats are still the least likely to be adopted and most likely to be euthanized in Australia.

During the 14th century, the Black Plague ravaged through Europe, killing millions of people. Cats were again targeted and killed on mass due to the belief that they were spreading the disease. Sadly, for the Europeans at the time, they still believed in the Miasma theory of disease, the belief that bad smells were what caused disease. The current theory, Germ theory, wouldn’t be discovered for another 400 years. Leaving the real spread of disease, the rodents, free to decimate the continent undetected while they’re natural predators were wrongly purr-secuted (get it?).

With the onset of the Renaissance in the 15th century, attitudes toward cats began to shift. Cats started to regain favour, particularly among artists and intellectuals. They were portrayed in art as mysterious and elegant creatures, helping to rehabilitate their image. 

Despite the negative associations, cats continued to hold symbolic significance in various cultures. In some regions, they were seen as guardians of the home, protecting it from evil spirits and pests. The image of the cat as a mysterious and independent creature persisted.