We all love our cats and want them to be happy. They bring warmth and joy into our lives and in exchange, we shower them with gifts and treats. We buy our furry friends toys that they can play with, we set up scratching posts for them and we feed them yummy cat food.
It’s not uncommon for pet owners to spoil their beloved cats but the Ancient Egyptians took their affection to a whole new level. Known as “Mau” in Ancient Egypt, cats in Egyptian society were more than just pets, they were considered family members and received utmost care and reverence.
Here are 5 fascinating facts you should know about what life was like for cats in Ancient Egypt:
Cats were worshipped as gods
Cats were considered sacred in Ancient Egypt and were even worshipped as gods. Mafdet, the goddess of justice and execution, was depicted as a strong woman with the head of a lion. She was eventually replaced by Bast or Bastet the cat-headed goddess of protection, motherhood and fertility. A cat cult also began at the start of the New Kingdom and became a prominent religious movement when Shoshenq I built Bubastis, the capital place of worship for Bast. Cats were revered so much in Ancient Egyptian society that killing a cat (even through accidental means) was a considered a crime that was punishable by death.
Cats provided natural pest control
Although cats were domesticated much later than dogs they quickly earned their place in Egyptian society for their pest control capabilities. Egypt was an Agrarian society and so they considered pests a critical problem. Wildcats would roam and naturally kill mice, snakes and other vermin that terrorised the royal granaries. Townspeople revered the cats for keeping the town in order.
Cats were important figures in Egyptian iconography
Cats were immortalised in stone for generations through Egyptian iconography. Women’s chairs were often carved with icons of small cats which symbolised fertility and sexuality. Similarly, lions, although rare, were also considered extremely important in Egyptian iconography. Because of their nature and dominance, these big cats were used to symbolise royalty, power and authority.
Cats were mummified just like noble people
Mummification was an exhaustive and expensive process reserved only for pharaohs and other wealthy members of society. Because of they were revered and loved so much, some cats received the same remarkable burial rites as important members of society. Cat mummification was also performed as a votive offering to the goddess Bast. In 1888, an Egyptian farmer discovered a vast tomb that contained mummified cats and kittens.
Deceased cats had their own mourning ritual
Aside from mummification, cats were also given their own mourning rituals. In fact, when a cat died, the entire family would go into a deep mourning that involved shaving their eyebrows. The deceased cat would then be wrapped up in linen and preserved for a time using spices and cedar oil. When the cat was buried, a provision like milk and rats were included.