The Cat Army of Cambyses —- How the Ancient Egyptians Were Conquered by Cats in 525 BC.
Dedicated to Gary’s kitty, Mongo (pictured above)
In 530 BC Cambysis II, son of the legendary Persian Emperor Cyrus the Great, inherited the Persian throne. Among his many goals for the mighty Persian Empire was to conquer the ancient land of Egypt, and add the rich kingdom to his realm. In 525 BC he invaded Egypt, right when a new pharaoh named Psammetichus III inherited the Egyptian throne. Psammetichus fortified a position near Pelusium at the mouth of the Nile, confident that by holding a superior position he could easily repel the invaders. However Cambyses came prepared with a secret weapon; cats.
The common housecat was one of the most sacred animals in Ancient Egyptian religion, symbolizing the kind goddess Bastet. The cat was so highly revered that killing one was punishable by death. Cambyses used the Egyptian veneration of the cat in one of the most ingenious psych outs in military history. He ordered all of the shields of his men painted with a picture of Bastet. Most incredibly he brought along thousands of cats with his army, as well as a whole heard of animals that were considered sacred to the Egyptians. He ordered that every soldier and cavalryman carry a cat with him into battle, in essence using them as feline shields.
When the Persians and Egyptians met in battle at Pelusium it was the Persians who immediately attacked. Upon seeing the thousands of cats among the Persian Army and the Persian shields painted with Bastet, the Egyptians waivered and hesitated. Egyptian archers refused to fire and Egyptian infantry cowed at the assault, refusing to fight lest they harm the animals or profane the image of Bastet. What resulted was an immediate route as the Egyptian Army went into full retreat. Many thousands of Egyptian soldiers were massacred as the army became a panicked mob. To add insult to injury, when the Egyptian Army surrendered, the Persians then flung many thousands of cats at the surrendering Egyptians.
The Egyptian Empire fell and was absorbed into the Persian Empire. With a few exceptions, Egypt would be ruled by non-native pharaohs; first the Persians, then a return to native rule, reconquest by the Persians, and finally rule by the Greeks after Alexander the Great. Psammetichus III would be taken prisoner and treated well, but later executed after instigating a revolt. Cambyses later attempted to conquer lands west and south of Egypt, but with little success.