So…cats were useful in days of yore

I wouldn’t have thought it, but a 16th century text reveals something cats were good for: acting as bombs.


I bet they weren’t very good at it, though. I can’t imagine our hypothetical explosive-laden cat charging towards the enemy, but is more likely to snuggle up in our beds or fuss about in our kitchen cupboards.

(via io9)


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    Supposedly Genghis Khan conquered a city by putting it under siege and demanding they pay him a ransom in cats and pigeons. When those were received, the Mongols set them (and whatever they could strap to them) on fire: the animals ran back to the city – through/over its defenses – and started enough blazes that The Conqueror was soon able to carve another notch in his spear-shaft.

  2. madscientist says

    It looks to me like the cat and bird are enjoying rocket assisted travel. This proves that cats and birds were one more technologically advanced than the apes.

  3. The Mellow Monkey says

    And I think it’s gonna be a long, long time
    ‘Til touch down brings me round again to find I’m not the cat they think I am at home
    Oh no, no, no, I’m a rocket cat
    Rocket cat, burning out his fuse up here alone

  4. anuran says

    Pitch-covered flaming pigs were used to disrupt cavalry and elephants.
    In WWII the USSR used dogs with explosives strapped to their backs as anti-tank mines
    At the same time the US tried to weaponize incendiary-laden bats

    How did it work out?

    The pigs tended to run around in all directions, more of a danger to the troops using them

    The dogs were perfectly happy to run under Soviet tanks or towards their handlers or pretty much anywhere but towards advancing German armor

    During a dog-and-pony show in the pitiless light and heat of the Southwest one of the bats hid under a general’s car and set it on fire

    I’m betting the flaming cats and birds were no more effective

  5. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Ring the city in catnip. No bombs will make it through that defense…

  6. otrame says

    Actually, Nerd, there is a wide variation in response to catnip among domestic cats. I’ve had a couple of cats that were completely not interested.

  7. miles says

    The cat bomb… A self-defeating weapon.

    Me: Okay muffy, bomb is all set – go run next door and blow up the neighbors house!
    Muffy: Meow?
    Me: Bye! *Goes to sit down on couch
    Muffy: *Jumps up on my seat before my butt can touch the cushion, typical cat Chair Vulture behavior
    Both: Boom

  8. Holms says

    You know, considering this blog has a supposedly anti-cat stance, there sure are a lot of cat related posts here…

    @1, Pierce
    Very Apocryphal. Not only did he quickly adapt to seige by simply employing chinese tactics and equipment, but he was also adept at spreading crazy rumours spread about himself, simply to intimidate and misinform his future opponents. The more insanely violent they thought him to be, the more likely they were to surrender.

    Hence, a variety of weird, apocryphal stories.

  9. DLC says

    it was a contingency plan developed by the people who wanted to stop the bird bombs. you put a rocket on a cat, aimed the cat at the bird, and viola! anti-bird-cat !

  10. F [nucular nyandrothol] says

    Are we sure this isn’t just another effect of nascent evil teenage boy psychopaths?

  11. Fred Salvador - Colonialist says

    Surely it would be easier to just, like, throw the bombs over the walls somehow?.

  12. Brian E says

    Surely it would be easier to just, like, throw the bombs over the walls somehow?.


  13. René says

    Can somebody proficient in German palaeography please translitterate the texts, please? David (Marjanović)? (I read German, no sweat, but I find the script undecipherable.) I would appreciate it greatly.

  14. Joe Yetter says

    Ein Schloss mit Einer katzen anzuge zundten.
    I lived in Germany in the mid 1950s and learned German; there was a lot of old script that was nearly indecipherable.

  15. Pierce R. Butler says

    Holms @ # 13: Very Apocryphal.

    Probably so. Nevertheless, and fwliw –

    Hsi-Hsia, the Tangut state in the south, was organized wholly after the Chinese model, having Chinese-trained armies, and Chinese-built fortresses… During the very next year after mounting the throne of the Khakan, he [Genghis Khan] and his horsemen invaded Hsi-Hsia, defeated the army sent against him, overran a few lesser places, and came to a stand before the first big fortress, Volohai by name. … Jenghiz Khan began a systematic siege, and soon realized that his wild riders were incapable of it. … He sent a message to the commandant of the fortress saying that he would raise the siege upon the delivery of one thousand cats and ten thousand swallows. … the general hunted up all the cats and netted all the swallows in the town, and delivered the desired quota to the Mongols, taking the precaution not to open the gates of the town when doing so. … [GK] commanded his men to tie a tuft of cotton-wool to the tail of every cat and every swallow, to light these impedimenta, and to turn the beasts and the birds loose. The affrighted swallows sought their nests and the enraged and bewildered cats made for their lairs. The inhabitants of the city gained nothing by killing a few of these fire-bearers. The town was ablaze in hundreds of places at once, and, while the conflagrations raged, the Mongols stormed the city.

    — Michael Prawdin, The Mongol Empire: Its Rise and Legacy (2nd edition), pp 107-108

    How can you doubt an account using words like “impedimenta”? ;-)

    I can’t help but suspect the illustration above to be a re-telling of this same legend…

  16. Lana Tessler says

    The above manuscript is a 16th century treatise on the uses or potential uses of gunpowder from Germany. Many of the illuminations are…just as odd as this one (actually this is the second rocket cat in the folios.) That said, many 16th century manuals on science or experimentation featured acts that weren’t used more than once or were not used at all. They were typically the works of one or two people writing a lot of exploratory thinking on one topic. One of my other favorites is a slightly earlier piece with, I think Charles the VI (though that may be incorrect) in a diving bell with a cat and a dog. The cat was supposed to be able to purify the air and the dog would make a flotation device in an emergency. I believe that experiment was also tried once. Only Charles and the cat survived.

  17. René says

    @21, Joe: Thanks. I’m still interested in the exact lettering. I can now see the following:

    Ein Schlo??? mit Ainer Katzen an zue zündten.

    where ??? might be two long esses followed by what exactly?

    You are referring to the German Fraktur which I can read, also in its handwritten form. Actually, I deciphered it when I was seventeen or so, from a German-Greek travel guide, that was used by German troops in Greece during WW II.

    Interestingly, in the illustration PZ posted, you can see two dots over the u, to indicate it is a u, and not an n. The umlaut is written as two slanted strokes. In the handwritten Fraktur the e is also two slanted strokes, but connected.

    I also would like to be able to read the glosses(?) in a later hand below the illustration. I’m rather interested in scripts.

  18. Zeppelin says

    @25 I’m reading it as “Schlosß”.

    So the top one would be “Ein Schlosß mit ainer Katzen an zue zündten” (“to set fire to a castle with a cat”)

    The text on the bottom baffles me as well — what I can make out is “Kugelen z???achen die da lauffenn unnd pren-nenn.” (“balls/spheres ??? that run and burn”).

    And the black text is completely illegible to me except possibly for “fünff” (“five”), but that could also be “künst” (“arts”)…

  19. Zeppelin says

    …actually, that mystery word might just be “zu_machen”, with the usual confusion between the verbal prefix “zu” (which they spell as a separate word in the heading), and the preposition “zu” (which is supposed to be separate, but they write like a prefix). I’ve seen that a lot in texts from the period.

    Which would make that sentence “to make [cannon]balls that run and burn”, which makes a certain amount of sense.

  20. kouras says

    WMDKitty (Always growing and learning)

    *narrows eyes*
    *flattens ears*