The Death of Paganism and the Downfall of the Cat – Roman Cat History

The foundation of our fair feline being reviled throughout most of the rest of history lies in the final years of the Roman Empire and the rise of Christianity. With Theodosius’ rule from 379-395 AD,

Theodosius I

Theodosius I
Source, Unknown

Christians gained more rights, and Paganism was declared illegal throughout the Roman Empire.  The fate of the cat was forever changed when in 380 AD, Theodosius proclaimed Catholic Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.  According to Gibbons, in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Theodosius says, “It is our will and pleasure….that none of our subjects, whether magistrates or private citizens, however exalted or however humble maybe their rank and condition, shall presume, in any city or in any place to worship an inanimate idol by the sacrificing of a guiltless victim.  The rites of pagan superstition, which might seem less bloody and atrocious are abolished, as highly injurious to the truth and honor of religion; luminaries, garlands, frankincense and libation of wine are especially enumerated and condemned; and the harmless claims of the domestic genius of the household gods, are included in the rigorous proscription.  The use of any of these profane and illegal ceremonies subjects the offender to the forfeiture of the house or estate where they have been performed; and if he has artfully chosen to the property of another for the scene of his impiety, he is compelled to discharge, without delay a heavy fine of twenty-five pounds gold….”(Gibbons, 1900, Vol.1 p. 91-2) Just one year before Theodosius’ death in 395, Nicomachus Flavianus held the last festival in honor of the goddess Isis in Rome.

Even though Paganism was forbidden under the new decree, Pagans continued to worship their gods in secret.  To meet this new threat, Theodosius established two principles that would become important later on in history when persecuting Pagans, heretics and even cats.  The first was that if a judge did not prosecute a religious crime, he would be guilty of that crime himself, and the second, idolatry,  was to be considered the most heinous crime against God (Gibbons, 1900).

By the year 476 AD, unrelenting Barbarian hordes were attacking the Western Roman Empire.  Quickly disintegrating under the strain, and with Romulus Augustus’ abdication to Odoacer, a Germanic King of Italy, Rome ultimately saw its death.  The Western Empire had lasted approximately 500 years.  In most of those 500 years, before the onslaught of Christianity, the Romans managed to include the cat in their daily lives, worship her in the form of Isis and Diana, and carry her to the far reaches of the empire. Even though sometimes aligned with the evil and darkness of Hecate and Diana, the Romans never thought to torture and kill our beloved cat.  Both Greeks and Romans simply accepted it, as they did all of nature.  Moreover, all the ancient Aegean civilizations including both Greek and Roman found the cat important enough to capture in their art.  Some postulate that it was the coming of Christianity that brought the Roman Empire to its inevitable doom, as it surely did the cat.  The Dark ages and fanatical Christianity would consume Paganism and the cat together, and the cat once adored, then tolerated, would soon become demonized.


Paganism and later witchcraft


Gibbons, Edward (1900). The decline and fall of the Roman empire. Vols. 1, 5, 7 New York: Thomas Y. Crowell and Co.

Want to know more about the cat in literature, art and history? Then Revered and Reviled is the book for  you. Now available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. 

Revered and Reviled: A Complete History of the Domestic Cat, cat history, cats

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  1. Another informative piece! Over the long haul, do you consider Christianity or euthanasia to be the feline’s greatest enemy?

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