In Ancient Egypt, every household was home to numerous pets, including dogs, monkeys and baboons. You might be tempted to think that the dog was the most popular pet, since there was one in every household and it followed its owners everywhere. However, the most popular pet was the cat. It was not actually a pet, since Egyptians worshiped cats and considered them to be sacred.
Also known as mau, cats in Ancient Egypt were very important to the society. Moreover, it has been recently revealed that they were domesticated from the Middle Eastern subspecies of the Wildcat about 10,000 years ago.
In addition to the pyramids and the kohl-painted eyes, the worship of cats is one of the most fascinating and intriguing facts about Ancient Egypt. Their status as sacred animals rose as time went by and cats were soon considered to be esteemed deities. And for good reason.
Cats were among the only animals which were able to keep pests away. They had the ability to kill mice, rats, and even snakes such as cobras. This is why ancient Egyptians believed that cats had the power of protecting their homes and their children against danger.
They were not only kept for protection, though. Cats were symbols of respect, honor, grace and poise. The goddess Mafdet, depicted as a lion-headed deity, was the symbol of justice and execution. Mafdet was shortly replaced with Bast, the cat goddess, the deification of protection, motherhood, and fertility.
As cats were becoming more and more revered, they received the same mummification after death as humans. Upon mummification, they were offered to Bast. In 1888, an Egyptian farmer discovered a large tomb with about 80,000 mummified cats and kittens, allegedly dating back to 2000-1000 BC.
The rang of cats in Ancient Egypt was so high that those who killed one suffered severe punishments. Even if an Egyptian killed a cat accidentally, the death penalty was still incurred. When a cat died, the household mourned her as if it were a family member.
There are numerous myths and legends around cats in Ancient Egypt. Even if they were the most worshiped animals back then, they are now considered to be simply pets and modern Egyptians do not revere them anymore. However, there are some cults in which the cat has not lost all religious significance, especially in today’s modern Islamic population inhabiting Egypt.