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The Cat in Ancient Egypt
Tour Egypt ^ | FR Posts 1-30-2003 (April 1st, 2001) | By Ilene Springer

Posted on 01/31/2003 2:29:42 PM PST by vannrox

The Cat in Ancient Egypt

By Ilene Springer

After the pyramids and the kohl painted eyes, almost nothing evokes more awe and mystery than the fascination ancient Egyptians had with cats.

They were not only the most popular pet in the house, but their status rose to that of the sacred animals and then on to the most esteemed deities like no other creature before them.

Cats domesticate the ancient Egyptians

Although no one can pinpoint the time exactly, we know that the cat was domesticated in Egypt, probably around 2000 B.C., and that most modern cats are descendants of the cats of ancient Egypt.  One reason it is difficult to say precisely when domestication occurred is that the ancient Egyptians did not distinguish between wild and tame cats in their descriptions of them. There was one word for cat-and that was miu or mii, meaning "he or she who mews."

So then how did domestication of the cat come about?  Dogs, associated with hunting, had actually been domesticated thousands of years before, according to archeologists.  But cats, being the aloof, aristocratic creatures they are admired for, apparently took their time in fully befriending the ancient Egyptians.


Modern Egyptian Wild Cat: The Sand Cat
Possibly one of the ancestors of the Modern Cat

There is a cat known as the African wild cat (Felis silvestris libyca)-one of the closest wild relatives of the modern cat.  It is larger than the average domesticated cat of today.  The feline's tawny, yellow-gray fur, long tapering tail and striped markings, affording it ideal camouflage among the rocks and sand of the desert.  This cat is known as a predator-a hunter of small game-rather than a scavenger.  The other cat native to Egypt is the swamp or jungle cat-(Felis chaus), but it is the wild cat which is believed to have been the cat to "domesticate the Egyptians."

In the villages, the greatest danger to Egyptian households were the

numerous poisonous snakes, rats and mice which attacked food supplies in the home and the village granaries.  The wild cat, it is assumed, strayed into the villages and hunted down the vermin, keeping them at bay.  It's easy to imagine the grateful Egyptians leaving out scraps of food to encourage the wild cats on their vigils.  A symbiotic relationship occurred between animal and human.  Next, the felines found their way into the Egyptian homes, spent some time there, allowed themselves to be tamed and raised their kittens in a human environment.  As soon as the Egyptians began supplying the cats with
food, thereby significantly changing their diet, and breeding them for certain characteristics, the cats were domesticated.   They were perfect pets-playful, intelligent, affectionate and helpful to the farmers who sustained life in ancient Egypt.

Tomb paintings with cats as part of family life began to show up during the New Kingdom-about 500 years after the first attempts at domestication.  But the most direct evidence for domestication comes from cemeteries of mummified cats.  These appear to be from around 1000 B.C. (the late Pharonic era).  And they were most likely domesticated cats from ordinary households or temple catteries; it wouldn't make sense to go to such trouble for wild animals who died.

 The lovable and helpful pet

During the New Kingdom (1540 to 1069 B.C.), there were many tomb scenes that started showing cats as part of everyday life.  The ancient Egyptians took their cats on hunting excursions, especially in the marshes where cats may have been trained to retrieve fowl and fish.  Another very common scene in tomb paintings was a cat seated under a woman's chair, showing that the cat had become an integral   part of the ancient Egyptian family life.


Modern Egyptian Mau

Many Egyptian parents named their children after cats, especially their daughters.  Some girls were called Mit or Miut.  The mummy of a five-year-old girl named Mirt was found at Deir el-Bahri in King Mentuhotep's temple.

Cats were also valued for their mysterious and superstitious qualities. There is a myth that the Egyptians once won a battle because of cats. They were fighting a foreign regiment and just at the time of attack by the foreigners, the Egyptian released thousands of cats at the front lines. Seeing the onslaught of these terrifying creatures, the foreign army retreated in panic.

Cats as sacred animals

"The progress of the cat in Egyptian religion was quite remarkable and in many respects unusual," writes Jaromir Malek, author of The Cat in Ancient Egypt.  "Unlike some other animals, the cat was not primarily associated with an important local deity at the beginning of Egyptian time.  It never attained a truly elected 'official' status which would have enabled it to become a full member of the divine community encountered on the walls of Egyptian temples.  But in spite of all this, the cat's popularity eventually surpassed that of any other animal and reached far beyond Egypt's boundaries."

The earliest feline cat goddess recorded was called Mafdet and is described in the Pyramid Texts as killing a serpent with her claws. But the most famous cat goddesses in the world, first revered by the ancient Egyptians were Bastet (also known as Bast, Pasch, Ubasti) and the lion-headed Sekhmet.

Bastet was often depicted as having the body of a woman and the head of a domestic cat.  She was associated with the Eye of Ra, acting within the sun god's power.  The Egyptians loved Bastet so much that she became a household goddess and protector of women, children and domestic cats.  She was also the goddess of sunrise, music, dance, pleasure, as well as family, fertility and birth.  

Her supposed evil counterpart was the goddess Sekhmet who represented the cat goddess' destructive force.  She is known as the goddess of war and pestilence.  But even she was tamed by Ra (who supposedly got her drunk) and she eventually became the powerful protector of humans.  Together, Bastet and Sekhmet represented the balance of the forces of nature.

Cats began to appear on objects of everyday life.  There were gold cats on intricate bracelets, small golden cat pendants, cats amulets made of soapstone for necklaces and rings.  Women made up their faces holding mirrors with cats on the wooden handles and on their cosmetic pots.  The best part was that ordinary people could enjoy the protection of the cat goddess through their amulets on their clothing or around their necks or in their earlobes. Cats even figured in dream interpretation.  In one book of ancient dreams, it was said that if a man sees a cat in a dream, it means he will have a good harvest.

In the late periods of Egyptian history, the popularity of the cat increased and a great many bronze cat statuettes were made; most were intended for shrines or funerary purposes.  Most had pierced ears and silver or gold earrings.  Their eyes were made of inlaid rock crystal or a similar opaque material.  The ancient Egyptians considered the female cat as a good mother, and there have been several statues of mother cats and kittens discovered.

Cats were held in such high esteem that at one point, the penalty for killing a cat-even accidentally-was death.

Feline festivities

Probably the greatest testimony to cats were the cults and celebrations the ancient Egyptians devoted to Bastet.  In northern Egypt, around 3200 B.C., the city Bubastis came into being.  This was the center of worship for the goddess Bastet, which simply means "she who comes from Bast."  Once a year around October 31, the festival of Bastet would occur with hundreds of thousands of people making pilgrimages to Bubastis and other ancient cities including Memphis.  There was singing and wine and wild behavior. And as the evening ended, there was also prayers to Bastet, accompanied by music and incense.

Bubastis was destroyed by the Persians in 350 B.C.  But her most famous residents live on-not only in the streets of Cairo and the villages of rural Egypt but all over the world.  Through the common domesticated cat, the ancient Egyptians achieved a most uncommon mission-immortality.

### Ilene Springer writes on ancient Egypt and archaeology and is a

student of museum studies at Harvard University.

Source:  The Cat in Ancient Egypt by Jaromir Malek  (British Museum

Press, 1993)


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Extended News; Foreign Affairs; News/Current Events; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: agriculture; animalhusbandry; archaeology; bas; cat; cats; desert; egypt; fur; ggg; god; godsgravesglyphs; history; past; paw; pyramid; worship
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A very good article.
1 posted on 01/31/2003 2:29:43 PM PST by vannrox
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To: vannrox
The ancient Egyptians didn't really worship cats, they just knew from experience that the cats would get on top of everything they built anyway, so they just carved cats on top of everything, avoiding deep scratches to their furniture.

My own theory, based on looking around the room and being looked down on from heights by 4 of our 6 cats.

/john

2 posted on 01/31/2003 2:42:12 PM PST by JRandomFreeper (How exactly did the cat get on top of the grandfather clock?)
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To: Dog
Ping
3 posted on 01/31/2003 2:43:32 PM PST by JRandomFreeper (How exactly did the cat get on top of the grandfather clock?)
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To: vannrox
attack by the foreigners, the Egyptian released thousands of cats at the front lines. Seeing the onslaught of these terrifying creatures, the foreign army retreated in panic

This is BS. The Egyptians would never have put cats in harm's way; they had laws against causing cats any harm or stress.

Bubastis was destroyed by the Persians in 350 B.C.

Ironically, the Persians DID use cats in battle. When the Egyptians were at war with the Persians and the Egyptians were wearing down the Persian army, a Persian general came up with a plan. Because he knew of the great love and reverence with which the Egyptians treated their cats, he ordered his soldiers to capture as many cats as possible from the city. When they had enough, they returned to the city of Pelusium and lined up for battle. When the dust cleared, the Egyptians were horrified at the number of their terrified cats that were running over the battlefield. Rather than harm the cats, they surrendered the city to the Persians without a fight. It was a devastating loss for the Egyptians (Coll, 1997).

4 posted on 01/31/2003 2:43:42 PM PST by petuniasevan
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To: vannrox
Cat lover bump.
5 posted on 01/31/2003 2:51:38 PM PST by NEWwoman
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To: NEWwoman
Another cat lover bump.....

>^..^<

6 posted on 01/31/2003 2:59:13 PM PST by Sungirl (Cats Rule....Dogs just drool.....)
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To: vannrox; JRandomFreeper; NEWwoman; Sungirl
This is a hilarious site that all cat lovers (and quite possibly even those who despise cats) will like:

Link to www.mycathatesyou.com

7 posted on 01/31/2003 3:14:28 PM PST by spetznaz (When i say i am perfect people say i am arrogant .....but i am just being darn honest!)
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To: Sungirl
Cat lover bump, but not too loud as don't want to disturb Thud.
8 posted on 01/31/2003 3:20:02 PM PST by ofMagog (Greetings to all. Doing OK up here with Thud and Dog.)
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To: vannrox
Man, I hope my cats don't see this article. They are insufferable as it is.
9 posted on 01/31/2003 3:22:49 PM PST by Skooz (Tagline removed by moderator)
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To: vannrox
Bump
10 posted on 01/31/2003 3:23:41 PM PST by Fiddlstix (Tag Line Service Center: Get your Tag Lines Here! Wholesale! (Cheaper by the Dozen!) Inquire Within)
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To: vannrox
Many Egyptian parents named their children after cats, especially their daughters

Me too - meet my daughters Fluffy, Tiger and Simba.

11 posted on 01/31/2003 3:24:28 PM PST by T Minus Four
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To: JRandomFreeper
I like your theory. I get looked down on by the feline as she reclines on top of the fridge.

Cats are so cool!

12 posted on 01/31/2003 3:27:07 PM PST by Luna
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To: vannrox

Diaries of a cat and a dog


EXCERPTS FROM A DOG'S DIARY

Day number 180
8:00 am - OH BOY! DOG FOOD! MY FAVORITE!
9:30 am - OH BOY! A CAR RIDE! MY FAVORITE!
9:40 am - OH BOY! A WALK! MY FAVORITE!
10:30 am - OH BOY! A CAR RIDE! MY FAVORITE!
11:30 am - OH BOY! DOG FOOD! MY FAVORITE!
12:00 noon - OH BOY! THE KIDS! MY FAVORITE!
1:00 pm - OH BOY! THE YARD! MY FAVORITE!
4:00 pm - OH BOY! THE KIDS! MY FAVORITE!
5:00 PM - OH BOY! DOG FOOD! MY FAVORITE!
5:30 PM - OH BOY! MOM! MY FAVORITE!

Day number 181
8:00 am - OH BOY! DOG FOOD! MY FAVORITE!
9:30 am - OH BOY! A CAR RIDE! MY FAVORITE!
9:40 am - OH BOY! A WALK! MY FAVORITE!
10:30 am - OH BOY! A CAR RIDE! MY FAVORITE!
11:30 am - OH BOY! DOG FOOD! MY FAVORITE!
12:00 noon - OH BOY! THE KIDS! MY FAVORITE!
1:00 pm - OH BOY! THE YARD! MY FAVORITE!
4:00 pm - OH BOY! THE KIDS! MY FAVORITE!
5:00 PM - OH BOY! DOG FOOD! MY FAVORITE!
5:30 PM - OH BOY! MOM! MY FAVORITE!

Day number 182
8:00 am - OH BOY! DOG FOOD! MY FAVORITE!
9:30 am - OH BOY! A CAR RIDE! MY FAVORITE!
9:40 am - OH BOY! A WALK! MY FAVORITE!
10:30 am - OH BOY! A CAR RIDE! MY FAVORITE!
11:30 am - OH BOY! DOG FOOD! MY FAVORITE!
12:00 noon - OH BOY! THE KIDS! MY FAVORITE!
1:00 pm - OH BOY! THE YARD! MY FAVORITE!
1:30 pm - ooooooo. bath. bummer.
4:00 pm - OH BOY! THE KIDS! MY FAVORITE!
5:00 PM - OH BOY! DOG FOOD! MY FAVORITE!
5:30 PM - OH BOY! MOM! MY FAVORITE!


EXCERPTS FROM A CAT'S DIARY

DAY 752 - My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling objects. They dine lavishly on fresh meat, while I am forced to eat dry cereal. The only thing that keeps me going is the hope of escape,and the mild satisfaction I get from ruining the occasional piece of furniture. Tomorrow I may eat another houseplant.

DAY 761 - Today my attempt to kill my captors by weaving around their feet while they were walking almost succeeded; must try this at the top of the stairs. In an attempt to disgust and repulse these vile oppressors, I once again induced myself to vomit on their favorite chair...must try this on their bed.

DAY 762... Slept all day so that I could annoy my captors with sleep depriving, incessant pleas for food at ungodly hours of the night.

DAY 765 - Decapitated a mouse and brought them the headless body in attempt to make them aware of what I am capable of and to try to strike fear into their hearts. They only cooed and condescended about what a good little cat I was. Hmmm. Not working according to plan.

DAY 768 - I am finally aware of how sadistic they are. For no good reason I was chosen for the water torture. This time, however, it included a burning foamy chemical called "shampoo." What sick minds could invent such a liquid. My only consolation is the piece of thumb still stuck between my teeth.

DAY 771 - There was some sort of gathering of their accomplices. I was placed in solitary throughout the event. However, I could hear the noise and smell the foul odor of the glass tubes filled with what they call "beer." More importantly, I overheard that my confinement was due to MY power of "allergies." Must learn what this is and how to use it to my advantage.

DAY 774 - I am convinced the other captives are flunkies and maybe snitches. The dog is routinely released and seems more than happy to return. He is obviously a half-wit. The bird, on the other hand, has got to be an informant and speaks with them regularly. I am certain he reports my every move. Alas, due to his current placement in the metal room, his safety is assured...for now.

But I can wait, it is only a matter of time....

Day 775 - The horrors! The worse creature my captors could have devised to torment me with was another hideous cat! I can't stand the way it lies around and looks at me as if it knows more than I do. This creature seems to despise me as much as I it. I had held out a passing notion that another of my own kind would have enabled me to conspire against the villains who hold me; now I see that I was wrong. What a dreadful creature! And yet they coo over us both. Can they not spot my innate superiority?

Day 776 - The other cat and I, though we can not stand one another, have yet managed to both pee copiously behind the couch, on the so-called "shag" carpet. I have taken a lesson from my rival and begun sleeping on top of my captors' heads in the hope of suffocating them.

Day 779 - Yes, they are monsters, but I am so happy. They fixed the other cat. It's sadistic, it's sick, it's inhuman, it's what their great leader "Bob Barker" commands, but -- the Sphinx be praised -- I support it wholeheartedly!

Day 780 - Got stoned on cat nip tonight. At the height of it all, I had a vision, a hallucenogenic revelation: they are the prisoners and I am the captor! Why haven't I seen this all before?


13 posted on 01/31/2003 3:30:34 PM PST by Skooz (Tagline removed by moderator)
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To: Sungirl
Cat lover bump.


14 posted on 01/31/2003 3:32:01 PM PST by Focault's Pendulum (Boom Shakalakalaka Boom Shakalakalaka)
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To: petuniasevan
Interesting.

Viking Warrior Cats

15 posted on 01/31/2003 3:33:48 PM PST by lizma
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To: vannrox
Just curious...what did the Egyptians use for litter boxes?
16 posted on 01/31/2003 3:36:04 PM PST by SamAdams76 ('Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens')
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To: SamAdams76

17 posted on 01/31/2003 3:38:59 PM PST by Skooz (Tagline removed by moderator)
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To: Skooz
(My 24 pound cat as if speaking to me..)
"I will deign to let you touch my paw. Begone now, wretched human. You may worship us from afar. GIMME THE STRING YOU TWIT!!!!"

Cats are so interesting. Wonder what goes on inside their heads... And why they seem so interested in staring at us.
18 posted on 01/31/2003 3:40:24 PM PST by Darksheare (<----- Dropping in from some random hole in space-time.)
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To: vannrox
Excellent article. I have an Egyptian Bastet sculpture that I just love. Here are my babies...


19 posted on 01/31/2003 3:42:30 PM PST by rintense (Go Get 'Em Dubya!)
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To: vannrox
My cat insists that she is the reincarnation of Cleopatra's favorite feline. I am dubious. She acts regal but just doesn't seem to pull it off. She calls me a peasant.
Maybe so, but only I know how to run the can opener and she shuts up when I remind her of that fact.

It's good to be the King.

20 posted on 01/31/2003 3:43:02 PM PST by Bloody Sam Roberts ()
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