Cats in Ancient Egypt
By Claudia Escobar
Cats played an important role in Ancient Egypt. From protectors of their grain, to pets, to deities, cats' influence on Egyptian life was unmistakable. The popularity of Egyptian cats is reflected in the many Ancient Egyptian paintings and artifacts in which they appear.
Indeed, just the mention of cats and Egypt evokes beauty, mystery and supernatural imagery. Surely, cats and Egypt share a long, interesting history. Many cat experts believe that Ancient Egyptians were the first to domesticate cats. At first, it was a practical matter. Cats were brought in to protect granaries and homes from small vermin. Eventually though, Ancient Egyptians - especially the wealthy - started to adopt cats as pets.
Paintings on tombs and other buildings show spotted, slender cats, which are believed to be the first domestic cats. It is believed that these early Egyptian cats were the ancestors of the Egyptian Mau. Even though this breed is not as known as other cat breeds, its popularity is increasing.
Over time, cats in Ancient Egypt became part of the family. Ancient Egyptians held cats in such a high regard that they went into mourning whenever any of the family cats died. They even had them mummified.
Animals in general - and felines in particular - were so revered in Ancient Egypt that they became deities. However, according to many experts, Egyptians did not worship animals per se. Rather, they thought that animals embodied certain divine qualities and used animals to depict such attributes.
Cats were believed to be direct representatives of Bastet, the cat goddess of protection, fertility and children. Bastet, also known as Bast, was depicted as a woman with the head of a cat or just as a desert cat. Priests would keep a cat in the temple in honor of the cat goddess.
The other feline goddesses were Sekhmet and Mafdet. Sekhmet was depicted as a woman with the head of a lioness. She represented destructive power. Mafdet, the cheetah goddess, represented swift justice and judgment. She was also known as the panther goddess.
Egyptian cats surely conjure up images of ancient magic and mystery. If you or your cat loving friends love both cats and Egypt, you will be glad to know that you may find Egyptian-cat inspired artwork, collectibles and statues, both online and off. These make great cat lover gifts.
There are also books about the role cats played in Ancient Egypt and about the feline goddesses mentioned here. These too make great cat gifts.