Cats in Ancient Egypt

Bastet - Ancient Egyptian Cat Goddess

Ancient Egypt fascinates me for many reasons including their idolisation of over 1,400 different Gods and Goddesses, their all-consuming obsession with life-after-death, the process of mummification, and most importantly their complete adoration for cats. I sometimes get the feeling I was born in the wrong era and due to my unwavering love of all felines I am now convinced I must have lived in Egypt in a previous life…

Mummified Cats
Mummified Cats

During our recent visit (as well as buying a ridiculous amount of cat statues) I loved learning about the history of ‘Miu’ translated as ‘he or she who mews’.

I have compiled some of my favourite facts about cats in Ancient Egypt which I thought might be of interest for fellow cat lovers –

  1. Cats were closely connected to a number of Gods and Goddesses and there is speculation that they were considered to be demi-Gods in their own right. The most famous cat deity is Bast but there are also a number of other Egyptian Gods associated with cats including Neith and Mut.
  2. As Egypt was an agricultural country there was a huge problem with rats, mice and snakes. It is thought that Ancient Egyptians realised that wild cats were excellent hunters and began to lure them to their homes with food so they would then kill the vermin. They also believed that cats brought the household good luck. Cats were domesticated in Egypt in around 2000 B.C. and most modern cats are descendants of the cats of ancient Egypt.
  3. As cats were thought of as being semi-divine they were all under the guardianship of the pharaoh and harming them was perceived to be treason. There was therefore severe penalties for harming cats and killing a cat, even by accident, was punishable by death.
  4. It was illegal to export cats, which lead to a thriving trade of cat smuggling!
  5. When a cat died, the family would go into mourning and shave off their eyebrows. The cat would then be mummified (wrapped in fine linen and embalmed) and buried with provisions such as milk and rats. In 1888, an Egyptian farmer in Beni Hasan uncovered a large tomb with over 80,000 mummified cats and kittens dated from around 1000 BC.

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