Gothic Cats


Gothic Cats

The Gothic word for ‘cat’ is not extant but was likely *katto (f on), with *katta (m n) / *katts (m a) for ‘tom-cat.’ This is suggested by the early Germanic cognates OE catte (f on) / catt (m a?), OHG kazza (f on) / kazzo (m n), ON köttr (m u). (The Proto-Norse u-stem *katt-u-z is seemingly a secondary analogical form extended from the acc. pl. *kattunz of an original masc. n-stem *katta, a development seen elsewhere, e.g., with örn (Orel 2003: 24-25; Kroonen 2013: 32).) The Germanic word is commonly thought to be a borrowing from (Vulgar) Latin, to wit, catta / cattus. (For a different etymology, see Kroonen (2013: 281-282).) In fact, the introduction of the domestic cat into transalpine Europe seems to have gone hand and hand with Roman northward expansion and cultural influence, for archaeological research suggests that the domestic cat was unknown to Germania before the centuries AD. Even in Southern Europe, remains of cats are uncommon from the late BC and early AD periods: while the remains of many dogs have been uncovered at Pompeii, for instance, there is none of cats. Once introduced into Germania, the domestic cat spread rather slowly, judging from osteological indices: at Roman-Iron-Age Feddersen Wierde, for example, cat bones amounted to a mere 0.01% of the total finds of domestic animal bones, while at the Viking-Age settlement of Schleswig they reach 2.5% (Tiefenbach et al. 2000: 333). And with regard to the Wielbark and Chernyakhov cultures (archaeological cultures linked to the Goths of the Pre-Migration Age), finds of cat bones were apparently insignificant enough that they fail to be mentioned in some overviews (e.g. Leiber 1995: 60; Heather & Matthews 1991: 87, 90), although cats do seem to have been kept at some Chernyakhov settlements at least (Kazanski 1991: 49).


Heather, P. & J. Matthews. 1991. Goths in the Fourth Century. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.
Kazanski, M. 1991. Les Goths, Ier-VIIe siècles ap. J.-C. Paris: Errance.
Kroonen, G. 2013. Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Germanic. Leiden: Brill.
Leiber, C. (ed.). 1995. Schätze der Ostgoten. Stuttgart: Theiss.
Orel, Vladimir. 2003. A Handbook of Germanic Etymology. Leiden: Brill.
Tiefenbach, H. et al. 2000. “Katze.” In Beck, H. et al. (eds.), Reallexikon der germanischen Altertumskunde. Vol. 16. Berlin / New York: De Gruyter.

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