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Top curiosities about cats in Ancient Egypt

Top curiosities about cats in Ancient Egypt - Interesting facts

By Danish GPublished about a year ago 4 min read
Top curiosities about cats in Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egypt is one of the most fascinating cultures that ever populated the earth and despite all the research and studies done over the past decades, there is still a lot of mystery surrounding their lifestyle, traditions and beliefs.

All researchers agree that Egyptians had a fascination with animals, and many of them were used to explain incomprehensible phenomes or were associated with gods. It is not illogical when we consider how life was at the time and all of the dangers that humans were constantly facing. Usually, the animals with the most religious and spiritual significance were the closest to them and the easiest for them to see on a daily basis. In this case, Egyptians develop a special attachment to cats above all other animals. The reason why is still unknown, and it is one of Ancient Egypt's many mysteries.

What we know for sure is that Egyptians had a great admiration for felines as they were one of the most venerated species. The Egyptians were the first civilization to domesticate them and were treated like other members of the household.

Here is a list of 7 curiosities about cats in ancient Egypt you might not know…

1. The goddess Bastet was represented with the head of a cat

The goddess Bastet was usually represented with the head of a feline and a golden earring. It was believed that one of the ways people could offend the goddess was to harm one of her cats. When she was really angry, she could transform into a fearful lion thirsty for blood and the only way to calm her down was by offering beer. She represented beauty, joy, love, and happiness and was the protector of humans.

2. The Egyptian word for cat was an onomatopoeia that sounded like an actual cat

According to experts, the word cat in the ancient Egypt was pronounced like “miu” or “meow”. This refers to the sound cats make when they meow.

It is particularly curious that despite their great admiration they only had this one word to refer to cats. It was a general word, which means they didn’t differentiate between species or any other categorization. Moreover, in the Egyptian alphabet, there is a juror to represent exclusively the cats which is obviously the silhouette of a cat.

3. The death of the family cat was a tragedy

The cat was considered another member of the family, which is why they are treated the same as the rest of the family, especially after death. Richer families mummified their cats with jewellery after they died. Some owners buried themselves alongside their cat. When the family cat died, the entire family participated in the mourning process, which included shaving the brows as a symbol of the pain and sorrow. However, not all of the cats were treated. As it is today, only those from wealthy families would receive such treatment.

4. They had cat cemeteries

Cats, dogs, hippos, and falcons were among the many pets owned by the ancient Egyptians. As previously stated, household pets were mummified and buried alongside their owners. However, animals were also mummified on a large scale. This massive cemetery was discovered in Berenike, a port town on the Red Coast, and is thought to be nearly 2.000 years old. It dates from the pre-dynastic period, when the Roman Empire ruled the region. There were 100 complete animal skeletons discovered, including 86 cats, 9 dogs, and 2 monkeys. Though not the first discovery of mummified ancient pets, it highlights the great lengths Egyptians and Romans went to care for these creatures.

5. It was forbidden to smuggle cats out of the country

Exporting cats out of the country was strictly prohibited by law. There was a specific branch of the government whose task was to deal with this problem. Government agents were sent to other lands to find the cats that had been smuggled out and returned them back. Nonetheless, Phoenician and Greek merchants and later on the Roma legions exported cats illegally to Europe.

6. The Egyptian cats weren’t like our cats

Wild cats, like any other domesticated species, had a unique constitution that evolved and changed as they came into contact with humans. As previously stated, the Egyptians only had one word for cats because they did not distinguish between different species. Nonetheless, researchers have identified three distinct types of cats from mummies discovered in various locations. The first species is Felis lybica, also known as the African wildcat. This was the most common breed, and experts believe it was domesticated.

7. The Egyptians lost the Battle of Pelusium because of their fascination for the cats

In 525 BC during the Battle of Pelusium the Persian King Cambyses II, aware of Egyptian culture, had the image of Bastet painted on his soldier's shields and commanded his armies to attach cats and other adored animals like dogs, sheep and ibises in their shields. The Egyptian army seeing their beloved goddess on the enemie's shields and afraid that they might injure the sacred animals didn’t attack and surrendered their positions. Many were massacred on the field and those that weren’t killed fled to the city of Memphis. Memphis was besieged and fell shortly after. Pharaoh Psametik II was captured and executed. This ended the sovereignty of Egypt and the territory was annexed to Persia until the arrival of Alexander the Great, many years after.

It is said that the Persians would have won regardless of the tactic used because King Cambyses II had far more experience than the newly crowned Pharaoh Psametik II. Nonetheless, the battle was won by employing an unusual strategy of using animals as hostages.

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Danish G

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