In the ancient city of Berenice, built by the pharaoh Ptolemy II Philadelphus in 275 BC in honor of his mother, the remains of almost 600 animals, including dogs and cats, were found in what looks like a real cemetery. This is thought to have been built during the Roman rule of the city, around 2000 years ago.
Berenice, also known as “Troglodyte Berenice“, is isolated from the desert, but not far from the coasts of the Red Sea, 400 km away from the border with Sudan. Its position, since ancient times, was strategic for those who governed it, because the entire center could be used as commercial base, where to land the main precious goods from the Middle East – such as gold, ivory or the elephants themselves.
As mentioned before, it was founded by Ptolemy II Philadelphus, son of Ptolemy I Soter (ex-general of the emperor Alexander the Great) and second ruler of the last dynasty of the great pharaohs, that is the Ptolemaic one. If during his rule Berenice began to rise as a place of extreme importance for the Egyptian economy, after Roman conquest and the surrender of Egypt to a mere province of the Empire, this urban center dramatically increased its value – becoming a very important hub, always commercial, between the western Mediterranean, India and the Far East.
Furthermore, it is likely that the Via Hadriana, a thoroughfare, built at the behest of the emperor Adriano around 130 AD, immediately after the tragic death of his beloved Antinous.
It was precisely in this period of maximum splendor under Roman hegemony that many pets, especially cats and dogs, were buried following a precise, but simple, burial ritual.
The first evidences found date back to 2011, when the archaeozoologist Marta Osypinska, ofPolish Academy of Sciences, discovered the first animal remains among a pile of garbage dating back to the Roman period. Other findings followed in 2017, but they weren’t sure they were faced with anything beyond a simple accumulation of ancient waste.
Only recently, with the discovery of 585 other animals (of which 90% cats and 10% of dogs, baboons and macaques of the Indian subcontinent) it was finally understood that what was found since 2011 was nothing more than a cemetery.
Many of these ancient four-legged companions came buried in a sort of sarcophagus in ceramic or decorated fabric. In addition, some cats have also been found with particular iron collars or necklaces in glass and shells.
The curious aspect that is extrapolated from many bone fragments is that some animals had very reduced motor skills before they died and it is likely that, until the last, the owners had fed them themselves and with special foods – a little as we usually do today. This factor suggests, therefore, the idea that ours way of approaching animals has not changed totally compared to hundreds of years ago.