The Real Persian Cat

A real modern Persian cat in Iran

A real modern Persian cat in Iran.

Smush faced Perian catThe world famous Persian cat, which is said to be the world’s most popular purebred, pedigree cat, has no connection with the original Persian cat. The connection has long since disappeared into the machinations of the cat fancy. Everything about the cat fancy’s version of the Persian is different to the original. Genetically it is different. The purebred Persian is more connected to Western cats. It is more connected to American purebred cats.

The appearance is startlingly different. It is bound to be because the modern purebred, pedigree Persian looks different to all freeborn cats and all other cats because of its unnaturally flat-face and overly cobby body combined with its extraordinarily long fur.

Late 1800s Persian Cat Drawing

I see a similarity between this cat and the cat in the picture heading the page.

If we are to believe what we read all over the internet and in expert’s books, the character or personality is different too. The modern Persian is described as laid back and placid; a piece of cat furniture. The original is, was and always will be a long haired random bred cat (freeborn cat) that happens to live in Iran. Such a cat has the normal temperament of a normal cat, neither overtly placid nor overly active. Just a cat.

I have referred to the original Persian cat as living in Iran. That should be where the real Persian cat lived and still lives. However, we don’t know for sure if Iran is the country from where the original Persians were imported into the West.

Middle East

Middle East

An immediate difficulty with the Persian is that the cat has long fur. The original domestic cats didn’t. They had fur of the same length as the Near Eastern Wildcat.

So, over the time of evolution of the domestic cat and before the first Persian cat was imported to the West, (s)he developed longer fur. It must have been a cold climate that demanded that change.

Eastern Turkey and Western Iran have very cold winters (-11 to -15 °C in winter)1. This may be where the Persian comes from.

It is probably more accurate to say that the original Persian cats were, and still are, located in the Middle East. The Middle East includes Turkey and Syria, for example. Thousands of years ago the Turkish Angora would have looked like the original Persian cats (in Iran) and the long haired cats of eastern Turkey would have certainly been the same cats as those in western Iran.

In the late 1800s in England the Persian and Angora were similar cats although described as slightly different. They were possible the same cat, in actual fact. The differences would have been either created through breeding or incidental. Is the Persian a modified version of the Turkish Angora? We won’t know but it is probably more sensible to not quibble over that and simply say that we are referring to long haired cats in the Middle East or a part of the Middle East which transcends country boundaries.

The first documented ancestors of the Persian were imported from Persia to Italy in 1620 and from Turkey into France by Nicholas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc at a similar time. That is what you will read over and over again in books2 and on the internet. I have two observations (a) it is quite likely that there were many undocumented importations of long haired cats to what we now call Europe, well before 1620 and (b) it supports the idea that the Persian is a modified Turkish Angora or, to be more accurate, a long haired cat from Eastern Turkey or Western Iran as mentioned. The original Turkish Angora is very similar in appearance to the traditional Persian.

In the late 1800s the Persian was “developed” per Harrison Weir’s first breed standard. The standard evolved, just as the cat had over centuries, until the standard hit the buffers at the extreme end of cat breeding, leaving the Persian cat that is so popular, so different from its natural ancestors.

Refs:

  1. Wikipedia
  2. Dr Fogle in The Encyclopedia of the Cat
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Comments

The Real Persian Cat — 7 Comments

  1. Seems the uncertified Persian cats bred in Mumbai(Bombay) are closest to the original Persian cats seen in photographs.They are now called the “Traditional Persian Cats”. As a owner of two Traditional Persian cats i am surprised at their ferocity and aggressiveness towards other smaller bird, insect or animal species.My tomcat matata once caught a bird that happened to stray into our gallery and ate it leaving only a few feathers as a witness of his hunting prowess. At that time i was not at home.Any large insect that strays into our house, usually the odd moth or butterfly is immediately attacked.Their aggressive character is a total opposite to the image of Persian cats being very docile and the laziest of cats.Who knows, my cats could be freak Persian cats. I have attached a photo of my 6 year old female cat matahari hiding in a sopping bag. This is a strange peculiarity of her, hiding in confined spaces.If a cupboard, bag lies open then she goes inside and sits quietly.My other cats didn’t ever have this peculiar habit.

    • Your Persian cats behave like normal domestic cats so on that basis they are more like the original Persians. Although they seem to like hunting more than a typical cat. Perhaps they just taking their chance to express their hunting instincts.

  2. I’ve always wanted to visit Iran – don’t know why. I love the Claus Wolfe picture of the real Persian cat. What a beautiful cat.

    • I have actually been to Iran when the Shah was in charge (1970). I have made the fair presumption that the freeborn cats (random bred cats) living in Persian today are pretty much exactly the same as the freeborn cats living in Persia in the 17th century when they were first exported from the country (we are told). Therefore you only have to wander around and look for a long haired street cat. It he is a white cat so much the better.

      It is sad that 2013 Persian cat is not a Persian cat in the true sense. It is a hybrid creation of the 20th century.

  3. Hi Michael. I am sure you did not see any long-haired cats anywhere in Persia when you were there. Long-haired natural cats developed in very cold regions. There is ample historical and anecdotal evidence that so-called Persian cats were simply Turkish Angoras taken to Persia and many other places in the east. Angoras were a typical gift from Turkey for dignitaries in other countries.

  4. Hi Rudolph. It would be very useful if you could send us some good clear pictures of your Persians. The picture of the cat in Iran 2004 is a typical Turkish long-haired cat found all over Turkey. There is one very similar to that one scrounging around a small restaurant near the Lemar supermarket in Girne (Kyrenia) , N Cyprus.
    You can see more at.-

  5. I very much prefer the traditional Persian not the modern. I feel desperately sorry for cats that cannot breathe well due to breeding to please people.

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