Cat Chronology: Out of Egypt


Image: Carole Raddato, CC BY-SA 2.0

The Early Years

8th Millennium BC

Cyprus: A cat is buried close to a human grave. (Vigne)

Libya: Circa 8000 BC, Neolithic people engrave two cats fighting and create other rock art in Wadi Mathendous. (W)

wadi fighting cats ruba flickr
Some think they’re monkeys, but other images I’ve seen, with closeups of the heads, clearly show an African wildcat. Rudolf Baumann CC BY 2.0.

Fourth Millenium BC

Egypt: Around 4500 BC, the Naqada I culture lives in villages along the Nile. (T)

Around 4221 BC, the possible base year of the Egyptian calendar. (T)

At Mostagedda, circa 4000 BC, a cat is buried with a human and a gazelle in a grave. (S)

3rd Millenium BC

Egypt: Around 3700 BC cats, presumably domesticated or at least tamed, are buried in an elite human cemetery. (V)

Around 3100 BC, predynastic kings unify Egypt. (T)

2nd Millenium BC

Egypt: Domestic cats appear more frequently in art, showing that the human-cat bond is growing stronger. (O)

From roughly 2600 to 2550 BC, Fourth-Dynasty rulers build the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx. (T)

Around 1500 BC

Egypt: What I think might be the first cat meme – a cat sitting under a woman’s chair – shows up in multiple tomb paintings. (T)

I can haz – FISH! via Wikimedia.

10th Century BC

Egypt: Cult of Bastet becomes more important and cats are associated with the goddess. (S)

China: King Wu, of West Chou, is allegedly the first traveler on what will become the Silk Road. He gets as far as what is now Iran. (H) I have no idea who this was, but the Silk Road would become a major highway for cat traders..

8th Century BC

715 BC: Ethiopia conquers Egypt. (T)

According to a genetic study, Egyptian cats begin spreading through the Eastern Mediterranean lands in the 8th century. (O) Egypt’s geopolitical problems may have had something to do with it.

753 BC: Traditional date for the founding of Rome. (A)

7th Century BC

Egypt: The practice of offering mummified cats to Bast, which has been around for a while, now becomes very popular. (K)

Assyrians conquer Egypt in 671 BC. (T)

6th Century BC

Persia: Cyrus the Great comes to power in 550 BC. He will build the 1700-mile-long Persian Royal Road (later a major part of the Silk Road) that helps establish Sardis, on the Aegean, as a major east-west trading center. (F)

Persian Royal road
Fabienkhan via Wikimedia. At the southern end of the Persian Royal Road, a cat trader from the Eastern Mediterranean, where Egyptian cats were available now outside the Land of the Pharaohs, could sail down a river to the Persian Gulf and trade exotic pets for goods in India, Arabia, and even the east coast of Africa.

Cyrus also liberates the Israelites from Babylonian captivity–domestic cats are not mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures or the Christian Old Testament. (G, TWF)

Egypt: Battle of Pelusium in 525 BC, cats used as psychological warfare against Egyptians. The Persians conquer Egypt and will dominate Egypt until 332 BC, when Alexander the Great moves in. (A, T)

Rome: 509 BC: The city-state Rome becomes a republic. This Roman Republic will last until 44 BC, when Julius Caesar is murdered. (MET)

5th Century BC

Greece: The port of Piraeus near Athens is bustling. A 480 BC marble sculpture shows a leashed cat confronting a dog. (A, S)

Italy: Greeks introduce cats to southern Italy, where they become popular exotic pets, showing up in Etruscan art, pottery, and sculpture. (LAV, S)

India: Gotama Buddha passes away in 480 BC, according to some reckonings. (B) No one knows if there were cats in India at this point, but this is relevant because Buddha’s followers eventually will write down his teaching and use cats to protect the temple manuscripts.

temple cat
Greg Willis. CC BY-SA 2.0.

4th Century BC

Rome: Cats are now commono enough for Palladium to recommend using one for pest control, calling this animal cattus for the first time (the word felis back then referred not only to cats but to polecats, martens, and ferrets). (LAV)

India: Following the Buddha’s parinibbana, his followers have been passing down the teachings orally; some monks can recite the whole Pali Canon!

A schism happens in roughly 380 BC. It will ultimately result in two major strands of Buddhism–one form predominant in northern Asia, Korea, and Japan, and the other more common in southern and southeastern Asia. (B)

Egypt: In 332 BC, Alexander takes over Egypt without resistance, founding the Ptolemaic dynasty of pharaohs that ends in 30 BC with Cleopatra.

Along the way, Egypt’s Ptolemies will build a temple to Bastet in the port city founded by Alexander and named after him: Alexandria, as well as reopen an old canal and overland road to the Red Sea and the port of Berenike. This route will become part of the Maritime Silk Road during the Roman Empire. (C, CHW, T)

3rd Century BC

At some point before 200 BC, at least one domestic cat – a mackerel tabby – reaches China. (S)

India: King Asoka (269-237 BC) converts to Buddhism and sends out missionaries to northwest India (what are now Pakistan and Afghanistan). They probably get there via the Uttara Path, which predates the Buddha and runs for some 1600 miles from the mouth of the Ganges to the northwest boundary of the King’s empire. Later it will be called the Grand Trunk Road–a major artery of the Silk Road. Monks also go to Sri Lanka and across Southeast Asia. Monks and nuns depend completely on the laity for support, in return offering education and a chance for laypeople to earn merit in the next world. Caravan traders and businessmen are the best patrons of any sizable monastic group. (B, H, W)

By roughly 280 BC, the Roman Republic dominates central Italy and is on its way to become a major regional power. (A)

roman republic and empire
varana via Wikimedia. Caption: Subtract yellow and green (which mark imperial expansions)–the rest is the Roman Republic.

2nd Century BC

Many merchants along Central Asia’s caravan routes convert to Buddhism, which becomes popular in cities like Kotan, where the first contacts with the Chinese happen. (B)

China: In 200 BC, the new Han dynasty makes peace with the nomadic Xiongu of central Asia, against whom Chinese emperors had built the Great Wall. That boosts east-west caravan trade. Then General Zhang Qian heads west to establish military alliances. By formalizing trade, especially silk, with Persia, he gets credit for opening up the Silk Road all the way from the Mediterranean to China. (H)

According to MET, with the Silk Road now in place:

…merchants, diplomats, and travelers could (in theory) cross the ancient world from Britain and Spain in the west to China and Japan in the east. The trade routes served principally to transfer raw materials, foodstuffs, and luxury goods from areas with surpluses to others where they were in short supply. Some areas had a monopoly on certain materials or goods. China, for example, supplied West Asia and the Mediterranean world with silk, while spices were obtained principally from South Asia. These goods were transported over vast distances— either by pack animals overland or by seagoing ships—along the Silk and Spice Routes, which were the main arteries of contact between the various ancient empires of the Old World…

Ironically, the camels that we associate with Silk Road caravans actually were not very common in the region until trade picked up and they brought in to handle the extra cargo. (MET)

silk road caravan 1992
fdecomite. CC BY 2.0. Caption: Yes, mountains. The desert camel trek was along the incense route across the Sahara (not so much cat-related but still interesting, especially if you’re an Indiana Jones fan!)

1st Century BC


55-54 BC: Julius Caesar enters Britain. (A)

44 BC: Julius Caesar is murdered in Rome. (A)

30 BC: Anthony and Cleopatra kill themselves after Alexandria falls to Roman forces. Egypt is now a province and will go on to be the “breadbasket of Rome.” In 27 BC, after some political maneuvering, Caesar’s heir Octavian becomes the Emperor Augustus and the Roman Empire begins. (A)


45 BC: Cat remains this old have been found in the tomb of Guangyangqing King, Beijing. (Vigne)

Cited and Uncited ources:

A = Ancient History Encyclopedia. Multiple posts, multiple authors. Last accessed in the fall of 2017.

B = Buddha Dharma Education Association/BuddhaNet.Net. Buddhist World, multiple articles, multiple authors. Last accessed February 3, 2018.

British Library. 2004. The Catalogue: Dunhuang: Official and Religious Life, in The Silk Road: Trade, Travel, War and Faith, eds Whitfield, S., and Sims-Williams, U., p. 236.

C = Silk Road Seattle. n.d. University of Washington, Walter Chapin Simpson Center for the Humanities. Last accessed October 9, 2017.

CHW = Charlesworth, M. P. 1926, Trade-routes and Commerce of the Roman Empire. Cambridge University Press. Ereader version of 2016 paperback, Last accessed February 3, 2018.

F = R. N. Frye Cyrus the Great: King of Persia. Encyclopedia Brittanica online. Last accessed February 7, 2018.

G = Gershom, Y. 2014. The Jewish view of cats. Last accessed February 7, 2014.

Gaur, A. S.; Abhayan, G. S.; and Joglekar, P. P. 2011. Excavations at Kanjetar and Kaj on the Saurashtra Coast, Gujarat. Last accessed February 5, 2018.

H = J. Hays, 2013. Facts and Details. Last accessed February 2018.

J = Japan Buddhist Federation/Buddha Dharma Education Association. 2004. A Guide to Japanese Buddhism, Kōdō Matsunami, ed. Last accessed February 3, 2018.

K = Kurushima, J. D.; Ikram. S.; Knudsen, J.; Bielberg, E.; and others. 2012. Cats of the pharaohs: Genetic comparison of Egyptian cat mummies to their feline contemporaries. Journal of Archaeological Science. 39(10):3217-3223.

Kurushima, J. D.; Lipinski, M. J.; Gandolfi, B.; Froenicke, J. C.; Grahn, J. C.; Grahn, R. A.; and Lyons, L. A. 2012. Variation of cats under domestication: genetic assignment of domestic cats to breeds and worldwide random-bred populations. Animal Genetics. 44:311-324.

LAV = L. A. Vocelle. The Great Cat website, various posts. Last accessed in the fall of 2017.

(MET) = The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History online. Multiple articles, multiple authors.

McIntosh, J. R. 2008. The Ancient Indus Valley: New Perspectives. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO. Retrieved from Google Books preview on February 5, 2018.

O = Ottoni, C.; Van Neer, W.; De Cupere, B.; Daligault, J.; and others. 2017. The palaeogenetics of cat dispersal in the ancient world. Nature Ecology & Evolution. 1:0139.

S = Serpell, J. A. 2014. Domestication and history of the cat, in The Domestic Cat: The Biology of its Behaviour, eds Turner, D. C., and Bateson, P., 83-100. New York: Cambridge University Press.

T = Colorado State University Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands (CMML). Timeline of Egyptian History & Culture. Last accessed October 9, 2017.

TWF = Turner, D. C.; Waiblinger, E.; and Fehlbaum, B. 2013. Cultural differences in human-cat relations, in The Domestic Cat: The Biology of its Behaviour, eds Turner, D. C., and Bateson, P., 3rd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Retrieved from

V = Van Neer, W.; Linseele, V.; Friedman, R.; and De Cupere, B. 2014. More evidence for cat taming at the Predynastic elite cemetary of Hierakonpolis (Upper Egypt). Journal of Archaeological Science. 45:103-111.

V = Vigne, J. D.; Evin, A.; Cucchi, T.; Dai, L.; and others. 2016. Earliest “domestic” cats in China identified as leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis). PloS One. 11(1):e0147295.

W = Wikipedia. Multiple articles. Last accessed February 7, 2018.

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