Cats Rule in Ancient Egypt

12 Mar 2024

Ancient Egyptians worshipped many animals for thousands of years. Animals were revered for different reasons. Dogs were valued for their ability to protect and hunt, but cats were thought to be the most special. Egyptians believed cats were magical creatures, capable of bringing good luck to the people who housed them.
To honor these treasured pets, wealthy families dressed them in jewels and fed them treats fit for royalty. When the cats died, they were mummified. As a sign of mourning, the cat owners shaved off their eyebrows and continued to mourn until their eyebrows grew back. Art from ancient Egypt shows statues and paintings of every type of feline. Cats were so special that those who killed them, even by accident, were sentenced to death.
According to Egyptian mythology, gods and goddesses had the power to transform themselves into different animals. Only one deity, the goddess named Bastet, had the power to become a cat. In the city of Per-Bast, a beautiful temple was built, and people came from all over to experience its splendor.

The internet is rife with cats: cat videos, cat memes, there are even celebrity cats! But if you think that modern folks are cat-crazy you should have been around in Ancient Egypt.
Cats were highly regarded in Ancient Egypt, which is evidenced by the overwhelming presence of cats in Egyptian art. Egyptians left behind cat statues, mummified cats, and worshiped gods who had cat features.

Curious to know more? We’ve got 6 illuminating facts about cats in Ancient Egypt.

1. The first known depiction of a domestic cat in Egypt appears on a tomb that dates to 1950 B.C.E. Though cats were common in Egypt, for a long time they were simply valued as helpful eliminators of vermin. It was only over time that they became house pets and were later seen as sacred.
2. Cast were not necessarily worshipped as gods, but were thought to have important connections to various feline goddesses. The most notable goddess was Bastet, who was initially depicted as a lioness and over time resembled a short-haired domestic cat. Bastet was worshipped as a divine mother, a protector, and a guardian against evil spirits. By the first millennium B.C.E., she had gained something of a cult following in certain areas.
3. Cats who were cherished as pets were sometimes mummified, possibly in the hopes that they could join their owners in the afterlife. An analysis of certain cat mummies found that they contained the same embalming materials as those used in humans. Because of this, some researchers believe that, at least for some cats, embalmers took as much time and care in preparing them for the afterlife as they did for humans.
4. The Roman scholar, Herodotus, recorded in his notes that when a beloved household cat died, Egyptians shaved their eyebrows. This was a sign of mourning, a period that was deemed officially over when their eyebrows grew back.
5. While cats were highly revered, evidence also suggests that cats were bred specifically for religious sacrifice. Priests raised cats who were then killed, mummified, and given as votive offerings to Bastet. Religious pilgrims could pay to have a cat mummified for this very purpose. X-rays of cat mummies reveal that some don’t even contain actual remains; the demand for offerings was so high that there were not enough cats to go around.
6. While Egyptians were not the first ones to domesticated cats, it is believed that their love of the animal greatly contributed to the cat’s popularity. A surge in Egyptian cat breeding helped create the domestic creatures we now know and love.

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