THE ETRUSCAN CAT

ETRUSCAN CAT HISTORY

 

The Phoenicians most probably introduced the Egyptian domestic cat to the Etruscans, as there is evidence of the Phoenician trade in Etruscan tombs located in the area of Civeta Castellani  (Hamilton, 1896).  Pictured on many of these tombs walls, the vermin killing domestic cat was familiar to early Etruscans.  On one of the stone pillars, in the Grotto Dei Rilievi at Cervetri in 

Etruscan Tomb Pillar with Cat at Bottom Cervetri, Italy, Etruscan cat history

Etruscan Tomb Pillar with Cat at Bottom
Cervetri, Italy

 Etruria, dating to 350-200BC, a sculpted cat and mouse play together (Hamilton, 1896). On a wall painting in the Tomb of Golini, near the modern day Italian city of Porano, a cat named Krankru dismembers its kill under a couch  (Dennis, 1878).  In Corneto, in the Grotto del Triclinio, an expectant cat crouches under a banquet table overflowing with food, again reminding us of those painted on the walls of the tombs of ancient Egyptian nobles. And in yet another banquet scene, in the Tomb of Triclinium in Tarquinia, dating to 470BC, we find the cat conspicuously apparent.  Moreover, in the tombs of Scrofa Nera, Francesca, Querciolu and others, cats as well as other animals appear either above or below banquet table scenes (Cameron, 2009).

Strikingly painted, with detailed spotted grey and black, or brown, or even orange coats, the cats painted in Etruscan tomb frescos are realistic representations of domestic cats.  When not under tables begging for food or killing mice, Etruscan cats were depicted as natural predators of birds (Depuma & Small, 1994). In a bas-relief a lady is playing a pipe for a cat which is standing up on its back legs begging for the two ducks hanging from a tree in the background (Hamilton, 1896).

The cat also appears on Etruscan vases and Bucchero ware on which the common motifs are those of a woman walking a cat, a cat being held up by its back leg upside down, and a cat standing up on its back legs.  Cat heads also decorate the edge of a Bucchero ware bowl from Chuisi, dating to the 6th century BC (Engels, 2001).  Etruscan cats represented on vases appear primarily with humans and birds, and are never depicted with women and children alone as they would be on later Greek vases (Depuma & Small, 1994, p. 162).

Did the Etruscans understand the character of the cat as being that of a scavenger, beggar?  Why are these tomb paintings so reminiscent of ancient Egyptian banquet scenes?   The only answer has to be that trade relations were firmly in place between the Aegean civilizations and Egypt, and that the cat was obviously a part of Etruscan domestic life.

English: A map showing the extent of Etruria a...

English: A map showing the extent of Etruria and the Etruscan civilization. The map includes the 12 cities of the Etruscan League and notable cities founded by the Etruscans. The dates on the map are an approximation based on the sources I had. If the article is updated with more accurate dates let me know and I’ll modify this map to suit. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



 

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