Vikings Really Loved Cats, and Other Historical Feline Facts


Today, we look at the historical cat-ccuracy of the relationship between Vikings and their felines. Spoiler alert: Vikings really loved cats.

By now, we’ve all heard about the cultural significance of cats in Ancient Egypt. The basic understanding is that cats were closely linked to gods and goddesses and were treated exceptionally well.

In today’s day and age, any cat owner will tell you that their beloved pet runs the house. Whatever the light touches is the property of the cat. If the cat wants to climb on top of the shelf and knock stuff down, the cat will do so. Oftentimes, there’s very little you can do about it. They’re as mischievous as they are fun to have around.

Similarly, Vikings also held cats in very high esteem.

Basically, scientists performed a genealogical study on nearly 300 cats to trace their ancestral history in the largest mass cat study ever. By studying a number of excavations from places all over the globe, they confirmed the significant roles cats played in maritime travel.

Specifically, Vikings — they even studied a Viking graveyard in Germany — treated cats like crew members and pets. Jes Martens from the Cultural History Museum in Oslo, Norway elaborated on the history of cats in Norse mythology, “Freja, the goddess of love, had two cats that pulled her carriage. And when Thor visited Utgard, he tried to lift the giant, Utgard-Loki’s cat. It turned out to be a serpent, the Midgard Serpent, which not even Thor could lift.”

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For clarification purposes, the Midgard Serpent is sea serpent that grew large enough to circle the Earth and often used as an example of an ouroboros. (An ouroboros is a symbol in which the head eats the tail in a giant circle to signify cyclical creation and destruction; in Norse mythology, when the tail is released, Ragnorak will start. Is that the plot of the next Thor movie from Marvel? I don’t know.)

Anyways, the significance is that the Midgard Serpent chose to disguise itself as a cat to symbolize strength.

Back to our study —

Scientists traced cats from the Stone Age and found that cats took over the world in two waves. The first wave came with Meditteranean farmers and the second, more commonly known wave, came from the Egyptians and spread through Asia and Africa.

While Vikings used cats to scare off rodents on ships, farmers did the same thing to protect their grain. Grain attracted rats, which also attracted cats. But my conclusion is that these were probably large cats who saw an opportunity and took it. When people found a way to adopt cats as pets, the “process of domestication” occurred and cats just got smaller and smaller to fit in houses and adopt specific lifestyles. However, depending on who you ask, we didn’t domesticate cats, they domesticated themselves.

But then there’s this:

"Conservator, Kristian Gregersen from the Natural History Museum of Denmark conducted a search of the museum’s database of archaeological finds and has no doubt that cats were commonplace in Viking and Iron Age Denmark and that people commonly wore cat skins by the late Viking Age.“We are sure that there were domestic cats then, because of their size. Small cats accompany people, and they are nowhere near the size of wild cats,” says Gregersen."

The appearance of cats traces pretty far back and is widespread throughout the world. Their cultural significance shows the ongoing relationship we’ve had with felines is just as impactful, cherished and meaningful as mankind’s relationship with dogs.

In fact, there are several studies with evidence to show that cats are more popular than dogs. The Washington Post correctly deduces that cats are more prevalent than dogs because cats are “compact.” I estimate 3-5 (average-sized, no Maine Coons) cats equal one German Sheperd. Then, there’s this study postulating that people don’t get the social hierarchy of cats but understand cats are more useful. The idea is that if you want an affectionate companion, get a dog but if you want an intelligent partner, get a cat.

On the other hand, the statistics show that Americans prefer dogs over cats still.

But if cats were good enough for the Vikings, then they’re good enough for me.

Next: Caturday Blogging: Store-bought vs Homemade Food

Obviously, it’s not a contest, just a matter of preference. And, obviously, one breed has a richer history over the other for being more useful and amazing. Seriously, I’m not saying dogs aren’t cool or anything. Although between cats and dogs, one is a highly skilled predator often associated with deities and mystical power, while the other one eats its own poo.