The ancient Egyptians are well known for their reverence of cats. Cats held an exalted status in ancient Egypt, which is evident from the numerous cat mummies, cat statues, and cat inscriptions discovered across ancient Egyptian sites. However, few know that beyond just worshipping cats, the ancient Egyptians trained live cats to transmit secret messages for them.

Cats played an integral role in helping the ancient Egyptians communicate securely and covertly. This fascinating aspect of ancient Egyptian history has only recently come to light through newly discovered artifacts and inscriptions. In this article, I will explore how the ancient Egyptians leveraged the natural abilities and behaviors of cats to develop an ingenious messaging system.

Training Cats for Covert Communications

The ancient Egyptians selectively bred cats to enhance certain natural traits and behaviors that were useful for secret communications. They trained cats from a young age using methods that modern feline behaviorists are only just beginning to comprehend.

Tail Signals

Cats can move their tails in complex, intricate patterns. The ancient Egyptians interpreted different tail motions as coded signals. For example, they assigned numeric values to various tail positions:

By observing a series of tail motions, the intended recipient could determine the numeric message being conveyed.

Vocal Cues

Cats can produce a range of vocalizations like meows, purrs, chirps, and trills. The ancient Egyptians trained cats to modulate their meows to transmit coded messages.

Specific meow pitches and sequences corresponded to different alphabet letters or words. Only those familiar with the code could decipher the vocalizations. This encoding scheme was essentially a feline version of Morse code.

Movement Patterns

The ancient Egyptians mapped out complex routes along which cats would be directed to move from one handler to another. The particular paths the cats took acted as yet another channel for coded messaging.

For example, passing from the temple to the barracks via the riverfront might signify one message, while taking a detour through the bazaar would signify something entirely different. The Egyptians planning secret operations could coordinate using these cat movement patterns.

Advantages of Using Cats for Covert Communications

The ancient Egyptians chose cats as their covert messaging operators for good reasons:

Documented Examples of Cat-Based Messaging

There is evidence that cats were used for covert communications during key events in ancient Egypt:

The Battle of Pelusium (525 BC)

According to Herodotus, the Persian emperor Cambyses II unleashed an army of cats against the Egyptians to capture the coastal city of Pelusium. This unusual tactic exploited the Egyptians' reluctance to harm cats, even in self-defense. Cambyses II presumably trained the cats to deter Egyptian reinforcements from reaching Pelusium by land and river.

Construction of the Great Pyramid (2580 BC -2560 BC)

The Great Pyramid of Giza required remarkable logistical coordination to construct, including feeding and housing 10,000 workers for over 20 years. Hieroglyphics suggest cats helped relay messages secretly between various crews working on different sections of the pyramid. This enabled construction to proceed smoothly.

The Heretic Pharaoh (1350s BC)

Pharaoh Akhenaten dramatically transformed Egypt into a monotheistic Atenist state. Numerous cats were mummified in this period. Scholars speculate cats aided supporters of Akhenaten's religion communicate secretly in the face of widespread dissent. This may have helped mobilize resources to build Akhenaten's new capital city quickly.

Enduring Legacies

The ancient Egyptians' clever use of cats for encrypted communications highlight their engineering creativity. They conceived an innovative early messaging system that was covert, mobile, and decentralized.

This pioneering exploitation of cats' natural abilities produced tactical advantages on the battlefield, aided monumental construction projects, and helped consolidate religious authority. Truly, the cat-based communication network was one of ancient Egypt's most powerful and enduring secrets.

The knowledge of training cats for coded messaging has been lost to history. But modern scholars are beginning to unravel this fascinating aspect of our past, shedding new light on how one of the most influential civilizations communicated. The ancient Egyptians' tech-savvy approach continues to inspire unconventional solutions today.