Strange Life of Cats in the Dark Ages

Cats had very different lives from dogs living in the Middle Ages. In the Ancient World of Egypt and Rome, cats were famously divine or at least highly valued.  Things then took a wrong turn in the Middle Ages when they became associated with witchcraft and death.  Most of the time, cats were barely permitted around as pest control. Only a very lucky few made it to be a house pet. 

As Perfumers

A secretion from the civet cats' anal glands was one of the most expensive materials used by perfumers.  Apparently, the potions were also good for fatigue, stomach sickness, colic and as aphrodisiac. Pregnant women received them as a protection for the unborn baby.

Defense against Plague

One may think cats ate rats, warding plague off. But for sad reasons, cats were blamed and exterminated. With the predator gone, the rats population carrying the plague fleas quickly spread across the continent. The eventual return of cats helped end the Black Death. 

As Rockets

The person behind the idea of rocket cat was Franz Helm, an artillery master from Cologne in the the Holy Roman Empire.  Helm wrote a treatise on siege warfare, detailing how to use a rocket cat to set fire to enemy positions by attaching an incendiary to its back and setting it loose. It reads:

“Create a small sack like a fire-arrow… If you would like to get a town or castle, seek to obtain a cat from that place. And bind the sack to the back of the cat, ignite it, let it glow well and thereafter let the cat go, so it runs to the nearest castle or town, and out of fear it thinks to hide itself where it ends up in a barn hay or straw it will be ignited.”

As Loving Pets

Doubled up as mouse catchers


As Lucky Charm 

Whatever their initial purpose—whether to scare away rats or protect the house from witches—dried cats soon evolved into an all-encompassing good-luck charm. The number of dried cats found, as well as the poses of many of them, point to a definitive intentionality on the part of humans building and occupying the space. Of course, the mummies are so old by the time they’re found that it’s hard to tell how the cats died, but all were dead before being interred.


Source: The Bizarre Life of Cats in Shakespeare’s England by Cassidy Cash, Another cat in the wall By Elena Goukassian

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