Cats in Ancient Egypt

If you’ve ever traveled to Egypt, you’ve probably noticed hundreds, if not thousands of cats roaming the streets without a home. As sad as it is to see in the present, cats once held great significance in ancient Egypt.

While only esteemed Egyptians were able to have cats as pets, it was illegal for anyone, including royalty, to injure, harm, or kill a cat. In fact, whenever a cat died of natural causes, a family, and sometimes entire cities, would observe a period of mourning over the loss. This was primarily due to their role as “cleaners” in Egyptian cities, killing rats, mice, and other vermin and pests. Cats were so revered that many images of our feline friends were found in hieroglyphics, adorning the walls of temples and pyramids. Some women even wore jewelry that featured images of cats, or would place statues of them in their homes as symbols of fertility and maternity.

There was one cat in particular that was actually a goddess, worshiped daily by ancient Egyptians. This goddess, Bastet, had the head of a cat, with the body of a woman. The Temple of Bastet, described as elaborate and grand in every way, was located in the ancient city of Bubastis. Archeologists were able to uncover a multitude of objects within the temple. These objects included offering made by citizens for prayer, as well as thousands of miniature cat sculptures.

Every year, a large festival would be held in the city to honor the goddess. In fact, the Roman writer Herodotus claimed that the festival itself was one of the biggest and most monumental he had ever seen. In his writings, he also noted that when a cat died, it was mummified in the same fashion that royalty was, and placed inside the Temple of Bastet.

Many books have been written about the significance of cats in ancient Egypt, and even though they don’t have the same respect and love they did in the old days, we still cherish them every day here in America.

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