A note about The Cuddlywumps Chronicles

This blog is written and maintained by Miss Cuddlywumps, a fluffy-tailed calico cat who is both classically educated and familiar with mysteries. She receives creative input from the Real Cats and clerical assistance from She of Little Talent (old SoLT, a.k.a. Roby Sweet). Comments or complaints should be addressed to Miss C rather than to old SoLt (Ms. Sweet). Ms. Sweet accepts no responsibility for Miss C's opinions.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Egyptian Cats, According to Herodotus

Cats in History

Have you heard about how ancient Egyptians shaved their eyebrows when the house’s cat died? Ever wondered how we know that? Today we’re going to tell you, by taking a quick look at what Herodotus, a Greek who lived in the 5th century BC, had to say on the Egyptians and their cats.

#AncientEgypt #catsinEgypt
Photo via Adobe Stock.

Herodotus who?

Herodotus was a Greek born in ancient Halicarnassus (modern Bodrum, Turkey) in about 484 BC. He is considered the first historian and has been called “the Father of History”—or “the Father of Lies” by those who think he mostly made up his stories. Those stories are collected in The Histories, a work that includes accounts of important battles as well as descriptions of the places he traveled to and the peoples he encountered. One of those places was Egypt, and Herodotus is one source for information about the Egyptians and their cats.

The behavior of tomcats

Herodotus (II.66) noted that the domestic tomcats in Egypt had a habit of snatching kittens and killing them. Why? “The result is that the females, deprived of their kittens and wanting more (for their maternal instinct is very strong), go off to look for mates again. Herodotus calls the toms’ behavior “ingenious,” but it seems pretty brutal to us.

Saving cats from a burning house

The historian says, “What happens when a house catches fire is most extraordinary.” That’s because the people wouldn’t try to extinguish the fire. Instead, they would concentrate all their efforts on keeping the cats safe. The people would stand in a row around the structure, trying to keep cats from running or jumping past and “hurl[ing] themselves into the flames,” an outcome that “cause[d] the Egyptians deep distress” (II.66). This story doesn’t sound quite right to us. What cat—except a mother cat trying to save her kittens—would deliberately run into a fire?

Photo © Marie-Lan Nguyen /
Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 2.5.

When a cat died

And now we come to the eyebrow-shaving portion of our tale. It was when a cat died naturally that “all the inmates of a house … shave[d] their eyebrows.” But when a house’s dog died, the people shaved their whole bodies, including the head.

Cats were taken to Bubastis after death to be embalmed and buried. Bubastis was the city where the cult of Bastet (goddess of cats, the home, domesticity, fertility, and childbirth) was centered. Dogs, on the other hand, were buried in whichever town they’d lived in. Other animals (Herodotus mentions field mice, hawks, and ibises) were, like cats, buried in specific cities.
Perhaps you are wondering what happened when someone killed a cat in Egypt. Well, Herodotus doesn’t tell us (which we find a little odd since he specifically mentioned the eyebrow shaving for cats that died naturally). It was a later historian, Diodorus Siculus (1st century AD), who wrote that anyone who killed a cat, even accidentally, was condemned to death.

We wonder why Herodotus did not mention this. Was he unaware of it? Did he forget to ask what the penalty was for killing a cat? Did he lose his notes on that topic? Did Diodorus get hold of some bad information? All questions we can’t answer.


“Cats in Ancient Egypt,” Ancient Egypt Online, https://www.ancientegyptonline.co.uk/cat.html.

“Herodotus,” Wikipedia, 15 May 2018 (last edited), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herodotus.

“Herodotus on Cats in Egypt,” Ancient History Encyclopedia, 18 January 2012, https://www.ancient.eu/article/88/herodotus-on-cats-in-egypt/.

Quotes from Herodotus, The Histories, translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt, new edition (Penguin Books, 1996).


  1. Herodotus may have been pulling our legs!

  2. guyz....well thiz makez for interestin reedin noe matter if de dood waz a storee
    teller ore tellin de trooth ....de tomz storee iz funkee... tho male lionz ta
    thiz day... will due de same with cubs :( ♥♥

  3. Peep #1 would look kinda funny without eyebrows. MOUSES!

  4. Very interesting. I think we should still put to death anyone that kills or harms a cat.

  5. Interesting! And we gotta agree wif 15 and meowing there.

  6. I have seen cat mummies in the British Museum. Oddly moving and I felt proud they were so cared for.