Why Did Egyptians Worship Cats?

Posted by Christy Caplan
Sphynx

Throughout human history, companion animals have been a constant. As proof of this, archaeologists unearthed evidence of some long-ago beloved pets in the form of a 2,000-year-old pet cemetery. Discovered in the ancient Egyptian coastal town of Berenike, the cemetery holds the remains of dogs, cats, and even monkeys!

According to archaeologists, some of the pets were discovered to have been wearing iron collars and other adornments when they were buried. In addition, some of the pets' graves contained beads, mats, and pottery, suggesting that the animals were buried deliberately rather than simply disposed of as trash.

Marta Osypińska of the Polish Academy of Sciences says that the manner in which the animals were buried indicates an "emotional (relationship) between men and pets as we know it today."

Pet ownership was common in ancient Egypt. However, according to Osypińska, the discovery of a pet-only cemetery is significant because pets were usually buried alongside their owners. This particular site contained the remains of two humans, but they were buried some three centuries after the pets.

Wikimedia Commons: Mary Harrsch

However, Osypińska reports that none of the cats at Berenike seem to have suffered broken necks, as their mummified counterparts--bred and sacrificed for ritual purposes--did. Furthermore, she adds, the deliberate manner of the Berenike burials suggests a human-animal relationship beyond the religious or ritualistic.

Researcher Steven Sidebotham of the University of Delaware noted that Berenike's remote location makes the discovery of this pet cemetery unique because in spite of "the very rough circumstances in which these people are living, they still manage to find the time and effort to have companion animals with them."

Why did Egyptians worship cats?

According to ScienceABC.com, ancient Egyptians valued their cats for two reasons. The first is because they protected agricultural sites from being overtaken by rodents and other varmints. Second, and most notably, was because cat were deeply ingrained in the faith and belief systems of the time.

The Egyptians worshipped cats! You'll find cats are everywhere in Egyptian history, Egyptian society, Egyptian mythology and there were even Egyptian gods (and Egyptian Goddess like Goddess Bastet and Sekhmet) that looked like cats.

Check out these facts from Science ABC:

  • Many laws were in place to protect cats during ancient times. For instance, if a person were to kill a cat, even by accident, the penalty would be death.
  • Cats were first domesticated in Egypt some 10,000 years ago after a few 'divine felines' strayed into agricultural farms.
  • Many Egyptians believed that if a cat appeared in their dreams, then good luck was on its way.
  • The goddess Mafdet, who resembled a cheetah, was one of Egypt's earliest deities.
  • Bastet was the most famous among all cat goddesses. Bastet, or Goddess Bastet who was half-feline and a half-woman, was known as the keeper of homes, a guardian against evil and disease.
  • Cat mummies (mummification wasn't just for humans!) were a symbol of the human-animal bond. Temple priests maintained large catteries and cemeteries where people buried their mummified cats.
  • The Egyptians were so reluctant to engage in battle, due to the fear of harming cats, that they surrendered to defeat and let the Egyptian kingdom be conquered by Persians.
  • Cats enjoyed living with humans because it meant they had access to surplus food (vermin, as well as food left for them by humans) and could avoid threats like large predators.
  • The Battle of Pelusium (525 BCE) is when Cambyses II from Persia conquered Egypt. It was said that Cambyses knew of Egypt's love for cats, which he used to his advantage during the war. He asked his men to gather as many cats as possible and even paint images of cats on their battle shields.

The domestic cat was once believed to be a Sun god. Now, how much do you love your neighbor's Sphinx? I have an entirely new appreciation for domestic cats and jungle cats alike.

Are you lucky enough to live with a cat? If you do, tell us what they're like below in the comments! 

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Why Did Egyptians Worship Cats?