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Pets from a Bygone Era
From Egypt's revered cats to Rome's devoted dogs, dive into history to unearth ancient tales of cherished pets and timeless bonds
Nick Armstrong
5 min read

Pets, Ancient Best Friends

Humans have always sought companionship, be it from their fellow beings or from the myriad creatures that populate the earth. As ancient civilizations rose and prospered, the silent witnesses to human triumphs and tragedies were often the animals they held close. These animals, over time, transitioned from being mere acquaintances from the wild to cherished household members. The ruins of ancient cities, the artifacts in dusty museums, and age-old literature all sing songs of this unique bond between man and animal. Pets, it seems, have always stood by our side, guiding us, comforting us, and sharing in our everyday joys and sorrows.

The Celestial Cat of Egypt

Ancient Egypt, with its sprawling Nile and towering pyramids, was also the cradle of an enduring cat-human relationship. Cats, with their all-seeing eyes and graceful strides, were more than mere mortals; they were the embodiment of the divine on Earth. Their association with the goddess Bastet, represented by the regal features of a lioness or a gentle domestic cat, only solidified their place in the religious and daily life of Egyptians. To harm a cat was to invoke the wrath of the gods. So cherished were these creatures that, upon their death, elaborate mummification processes ensured they journeyed well into the afterlife. Family members expressed their grief by shaving their eyebrows, a poignant testament to the depth of their loss.

Rome's Canine Companions

In the sprawling cityscape of ancient Rome, amidst the grandeur of its colosseums and the bustle of its marketplaces, dogs held a special place. They were not just beasts of burden or mere guards but were deeply woven into the fabric of Roman family life. Whether it was the Molossus, with its imposing stature guarding properties, or the nimble Vertragus partaking in hunts and games, dogs were omnipresent. Ancient Roman gravesites and tombs often bear inscriptions, with heartfelt eulogies dedicated to departed canine friends. These epitaphs, carved in stone, celebrated the unwavering loyalty of these animals and the void their absence left in Roman households.

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Photo by Tonia Kraakman on Unsplash

Exotic Treasures of the Elite

Beyond cats and dogs, the courtyards and private gardens of ancient royalty dazzled with a range of exotic pets, each more intriguing than the next. These animals, often from distant lands, were a testament to the vast expanse of empires and the deep pockets of their rulers. Birds from far-off jungles sang melodies unfamiliar to the local ear. Monkeys, with their human-like antics, entertained courts, while the roar of the lion, though muffled by captivity, resonated with the power and might of the rulers. These exotic creatures weren't merely curiosities; they were symbols of unparalleled luxury, political alliances, and the cosmopolitan nature of ancient elite societies.

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Photo by Ray Grau on Unsplash

Portraits in Time: Pets in Art

Art, in all its forms, has always been humanity's window to its past, offering glimpses into the ethos and values of bygone eras. Among the varied subjects, pets found a prominent place, underscoring their indispensable role in ancient societies. Egyptian murals, with their rich colors, intricately painted scenes where cats, revered almost as deities, engaged in hunts or leisurely activities, revealing a dual role of both the divine and the domestic. Grecian pottery, with its iconic black and red figures, captured the vibrancy of hunts, with dogs fiercely chasing after game or resting placidly beside their human counterparts. And in ancient Roman homes, ornate mosaics adorned the floors, illustrating idyllic scenes of children and their pets in moments of pure joy and play. Every brushstroke, chiseled figure, and tile was a testament to the adoration and respect pets commanded.

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Photo by Tom Podmore on Unsplash

Pets in the Afterlife

The spiritual beliefs of ancient cultures often extended beyond the realm of human existence, encapsulating the entire spectrum of life, including the cherished animals. The end of one's earthly journey did not imply a farewell to the bonds forged with pets. In the sandy stretches of Egypt, elaborate tombs were constructed not just for pharaohs but for their feline companions as well, ensuring that they'd walk side by side in the afterlife. The Norse, with their intricate beliefs of the world beyond, laid down their departed with their loyal dogs and horses, hoping they'd accompany them through the terrains of Valhalla. Such practices exemplified the belief that the bond between humans and their pets was eternal, transcending the limitations of mortality.

Echoes of Ancient Bonds

As the tapestry of history unfolds, it reveals patterns of love, companionship, and mutual respect between humans and animals that have persisted through the ages. From the winding alleys of ancient Egyptian cities to the grand avenues of Rome, the gentle purring of cats and the loyal barks of dogs have been constants. These animals, cherished and revered, were not just bystanders but active participants in shaping the contours of human civilization. They’ve stood with us during monumental achievements, comforted us during personal losses, and celebrated everyday joys. The tales of pets from bygone eras are more than just historical anecdotes; they are enduring testaments to our shared journey on this planet. And as we navigate the complexities of the modern world, these ancient bonds serve as reminders of simpler times, urging us to preserve, cherish, and celebrate the profound relationship we share with our animal companions.

Nick Armstrong
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