Cat Shields

The Battle of Pelusium was the first major battle between the Persian Empire and Egypt, soon to be conquered by its growing foe.  The Persians easily routed the Egyptians and won a great battle, and they did so in the following way, according to Polyaenus.  The Egyptians held cats to be sacred and inviolate, and refused to harm one for any reason.  Cambyses, who disdained such religious devotion, took advantage of this.  He had his men carry cats in front of them as they advanced, as shields, preventing the Egyptians from launching their arrows at the Persians, lest they wound and kill the cats instead.  In this way, the Persians ended the independence of Egypt, which it would not regain for more than a millennium.


Ptolemy’s Library

The Library of Alexandria was the most famous in the ancient world.  Sponsored by the Ptolemaic dynasty, descended from a general of Alexander the Great, Ptolemy I Soter (the savior), the library had the official support of the dynasty and became a center of learning and literature.  Ptolemy’s grandson, Ptolemy III, sent couriers throughout the world, asking for books to copy.  Officials borrowed books from all passing ships, had them copied, and then returned the copies to the ships, storing the originals in the great library.  This practice made collectors wary of loaning out valuable manuscripts.  When, after much negotiation, Athens relented to Ptolemy, and agreed to send to Egypt its authoritative texts of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripedes, the bond was fifteen talents of gold, an amount sufficient to pay 135 skilled workers for a year, with a corresponding purchasing power.    Ptolemy was so desirous to possess the originals that he kept them and sent back the copies, forfeiting the money in exchange for an even grander prize in his eyes.