Knowing the weaknesses of your enemy has always been critical to warfare throughout history. While reading To Dare and to Conquer by Derek Leebaert, I came across a fascinating battle that combines aspects of both Profiles in History and Profiles in Nature: The Battle of Pelusium.

In this battle, the Persians were able to exploit the Egyptian worship of cats by strength of arms…and cats.

As Leebaert writes:

Around the same time as his seizure of power, in 525 B.C., the half-mad Persian king Cambyses invaded Egypt. The Egyptians, at least in the two millennia before Christ, regarded cats as divine. Cambyses collected hundreds of cats from surrounding villages the night before, and then had his cavalry throw them screaming and spitting into the enemy ranks when battle was joined. The Egyptians did not try to catch these creatures–these flying felines were regarded as too dangerously charged with mana–but instead scattered much as would twenty-first-century troops before anthrax, the decisive moment moment of this invasion being styled by Herodotus simply ‘The Battle of the Cats.’

The Battle of the Cats. Image via Realm of History.
The Battle of the Cats. Image via Realm of History.

In the run-up to this battle, the Persians had actually been tricked by the Egyptians:

Cambyses, upset that Psammenitus’ father, Amasis, had sent him a ‘fake daughter,’ decided to invade Egypt to avenge the insult. Cambyses had asked for Amasis’ daughter for a concubine and Amasis, not wishing this life for his daughter, sent the daughter of the late king Apries. This woman, insulted, told Cambyses her true identity and Cambyses could not bear to be affronted by Amasis. By the time he mounted his campaign, however, Amasis had died and Psammenitus was Pharoah.

This was one of the first instances of psychological warfare in recorded history, and the Persians were rewarded for their cunning by controlling the land in the aftermath of the battle. Pelusium was a key city in the east of Egypt, and was “immensely significant from a military point of view, and any would-be conqueror of Egypt from the East would need to first take possession of this city.”

Interestingly, the Egyptians were in turn aided by animals themselves at a battle near Pelusium hundreds of years before the Battle of the Cats:

The Battle of Pelusium was not the first time a foreign invader attempted to invade Egypt from the East. During the 8th century BC, the Assyrian king, Sennacherib attempted to invade Egypt, and marched his army to Pelusium. According to the Greek historian, Herodotus, the Egyptian ruler, Sethos, had angered the warrior class, who then refused to help defend Egypt when the Assyrians invaded. Sethos, who was “the priest of Hephaestus” before ascending the throne, complained to the god about his predicament. The god appeared in Sethos’ dream, and told him not to worry, as allies would be sent. Sethos gathered what volunteers he could, and established a base near Pelusium. The Assyrians soon arrived. During the night, however, a swarm of field-mice “gnawed through their quivers and their bows, and the handles of their shield as well.” Weaponless, the Assyrians were forced to flee, and lost many men to the Egyptians.

We’ve seen many cat-lovers throughout history, but would today’s cat fans be willing to lose entire cities over their feline friends?

For more profiles in nature, from a Steve Irwin $100 bill toa deadly octopus to how 20% of fish eaten are mislabeled to a fish that weighs more than a pickup truck to a $300,000 fish to a fish named after Obama to a truly living “living fossil,” read here!

For more on political video games, Greece’s Brexit over 2,000 year ago, America’s first Donald Trump, and more, check out the rest of my Profiles in History here!