Throughout human history, many different cultures have had cats as pets and treated them in different ways. The ancient Egyptians worshipped cats and even had a cat-headed goddess, Bast. Vikings, however, were much more pragmatic in their treatment of their feline companions.

Cats as shipboard hunters

Historians believe that the cats which became domesticated house pets today originated from a single subspecies of felines which lives the Middle Eastern desert. This breed of cat can still be found roaming wild there today. From that point, the cats spread outward into Asia, Africa, Europe and beyond. The spread of cats was largely due to their usefulness at keeping rodent populations under control.

Cats’ skill at hunting rats and mice was especially useful on ships, were a few rats could turn into dozens and easily eat or contaminate the crew’s entire food and water supply. This made them invaluable to cultures which depended a great deal upon their ships and voyages, like the Vikings! Historians have found that there were few feline remains prior to Viking occupation in places such as Denmark but increased dramatically with the arrival of the seafaring warriors.

A grisly end

The Vikings were a very pragmatic culture, and while cats did eventually become seen as beloved pets, before that point they were seen only as useful animals. They were most useful for their hunting skills, but they were also useful for their pelts. That’s right, historians have recently uncovered evidence that early Vikings would skin their cats for their fur. While this seems cruel when viewed from our modern perspective, the Vikings lived in a much more brutal time, and they needed all the warmth they could get to survive the cruel winters in their lands.

Friendlier and bigger

Another interesting, less grisly, fact the historians uncovered from recent discoveries is that cats seem to have been growing ever larger since their spread from the Middle Eastern desert. While most animals become smaller with domestication (wolves are much larger than most dog breeds, for example), cats have only gotten larger, roughly 16% larger, in fact, since the Viking era.