The Worship of Cats
It’s well known that the ancient Egyptians loved their cats and that they were one of the first civilisations to have worshipped them as holy deities. Their love of cats spread globally and, as we see online everywhere today, feline admiration is alive and well in the 21st century. If you think the world is cat obsessed now, read on for examples of the rather more extreme demonstrations of feline devotion in ancient Egyptian times.
1. EGYPTIANS MOURNED A CAT BY SHAVING THEIR EYEBROWS
Herodotus is recorded as having written that members of a household would shave their eyebrows as a sign of mourning when their cat passed away. The mourning period was completed when the eyebrows had grown back (Joshua J. Mark).
2. THERE WAS A DOMESTIC CAT GODDESS
Originally depicted as a fierce lioness and later as a cat, the goddess Bastet was one of the most popular deities in ancient Egyptian mythology. She was goddess of the home, cosmetics, cats, love, joy, pleasure, motherhood, childbirth, protection, women, fertility and much more.
3. CATS WERE MUMMIFIED
A common practice in ancient Egypt, mummified cats have been found throughout Egypt but most predominantly in the area of Bubastis, the city of the cat goddess Bastet. Sometimes the cat mummies were placed in the tomb of their owner so they could stay together in the afterlife. (Source: Carnegie Museum)
4. DEATH PENALTY FOR KILLING CATS
In 450 BCE laws against cat killing were hardened and the death penalty was imposed for such murderous acts. The export of cats from Egypt was also prohibited and a branch of the government was formed solely to return any cats that had been taken from the country. (Joshua J. Mark)
5. CATS AS WEAPONS: THE BATTLE OF PELUSIUM (525 BCE)
When Persian forces tried to conquer the city of Pelusium in 525 BCE they used cats as a weapon to intimate the enemy. With images of the cat goddess Bastet on their shields and cats held in their arms, the Persians were able to simply walk through the gates of the city while the Egyptians’ fear of harming the animals resulted in their refusal to fight (Joshua J. Mark).
6. EGYPTIANS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE WORD ‘CAT‘
The word ‘Cat’ is derived from the African word ‘quattah’ which was widely adopted in many languages throughout Europe ‘cat, chat, kat, etc’ as Egypt was so closely associated with cats (Joshua J. Mark). While the Egyptians themselves opted for a phonetic name for their feline friends ‘Miu’ or ‘Mii’, meaning “One who meows” (King, 2017).
Ahmed King, 2017, “What were the penalties suffered for harming a cat in ancient Egypt?”, Quora, Dec 1 2017. www.quora.com/What-were-the-penalties-suffered-for-harming-a-cat-in-ancient-Egypt.
Carnegie Museum, Why were cats mummified in Ancient Egypt?, https://carnegiemnh.org/why-were-cats-mummified-in-ancient-egypt/
Joshua J. Mark, “Cats in the Ancient World”, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 17 Nov 2012, https://www.ancient.eu/article/466/cats-in-the-ancient-world/
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