Sacred Cats In Ancient Egypt

“You are the Great Cat, the avenger of the gods, and the judge of words, and the president of the sovereign chiefs and the governor of the holy Circle; you are indeed the Great Cat.”

an inscription found in the Valley of the Kings


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What made cats so special to ancient Egyptians?

The ancient Egyptian civilisation considered many animals important in their culture and often associated animals with deities. Human attributes were often applied to animals, with evidence of uncovered art and sculpture confirming the Ancient Egyptian’s respect for other beings.

No animal, however, was held in such high esteem as the cat, otherwise known as a Mau, during the ancient Egyptian period. Felines were often connected to both gods and goddesses and were even known as demi-gods across Egyptian culture.

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Ancient Egyptian society

The ancient Egyptian society was a predominantly agrarian society, meaning that the land was heavily relied on for agriculture. Mice, snakes and rats posed a particular threat to grain crops, which in turn impacted food supplies. Ancient Egyptians soon realised that cats preyed on these pests and began to put out fish left-overs to entice felines into protecting their crops. Cats soon became the saviour of crops and food production in ancient Egypt.

Cats began to benefit from this in a number of ways: being close to human settlements ensure a constant provision of food, whilst it also protected felines from larger predators. A symbiotic relationship soon began to develop and cats were ultimately domesticated, entering the home and raising their kittens under that roof.

Cat domestication in ancient Egypt

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As cats became domesticated their diets began to shift. As they were fed more they became stronger and consequently reproduced more often. Cats were known to hunt alongside humans, which saw cats become more collaborative rather than independent. Respect for these animals continued to grow amongst humans, and felines became valued family members, soon being regarded as protectors.

Worshipping cats

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Cats were sacred to ancient Egyptians and were seen as the embodiment of the goddess Bastet, who represented motherhood, protection and fertility. Noblemen considered felines as a symbol of wealth, prosperity, grace and status. Harming cats was considered a very serious offence in ancient Egyptian society and those found guilty could even be punished by death.

Mummification of cats

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Many ancient Egyptian cats were mummified just like humans and great care went into providing them with a grand burial. Cats were buried alongside expensive jewellery, ornate treasures and their mummified bodies were sometimes put on display in shrines across the country.

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