Eternal Kitty: Rome’s Famous Feral Cats

Welcome to the roamin’ empire! Ancient Rome may have been founded by twin brothers raised by a wolf but these days, cats are the Eternal City’s top dogs. Numbering in the hundreds of thousands, the cats of Rome cluster in up to 2,000 “colonies” and are a familiar furry presence among the ancient city’s abundant historic ruins.

Et Tu, Felis Catus?

(image via: Pixdaus/Ademiromano)

The colossal marble foot above, located in the courtyard of the Palazzo dei Conservatori of the Musei Capitolini, has rested among other recovered parts of the monumental statue of Emperor Constantine for centuries. The cute cat enjoying the cool shade of a Roman afternoon on the stone remnant’s toes is far younger, of course, but its ancestors have felt quite at home here long before Rome’s first Christian ruler was a glint in his loving parents’ eyes.

(images via: Gone Wild and New York Review of Books)

It’s said that cats first came to Rome from Egypt, where they had been domesticated in the early days of Egyptian civilization. As the Land of the Pharaohs gradually fell into Rome’s orbit, Egypt became a Roman province and an important granary.

(images via: Hezabelle, Rome Central and FilmFather)

Cats, traditionally “employed” to control rats and other vermin around stored grain, likely hitchhiked their way to the Eternal City on ships bringing Egyptian grain and bread to Rome. Once landed in Italy, cats found favor both as mousers and as pets.

(image via: PoolPurrs)

Back in those days, there was neither the idea nor the ability to spay and neuter cats; the result was a large population of stray, orphaned and feral cats in and around Rome. While still appreciated for their natural vermin controlling abilities, feral cats were rated barely higher than the rats they preyed upon – and those sentiments have carried forward through the centuries to modern-day Romans, citizens of Italy’s capitol city.


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