The holy cats of ancient Egypt

Bastet Goddess of Egypt - Flicker.com CC BY-SA 2.0

There was a time, when mankind began growing grain and settled near big rivers, building cities. It was the dawn of civilization. Dogs had been companions of man already, guarding the house, family and livestock. But they were inefficient guarding the grain against rats and mice. But another animal came into the life of the Egyptians to fill the gap. The cat.

By Rui Filipe Gutschmidt

It was a paradise on earth – at least for the ruling class – that the early Egyptians build at the margins of the Nil. The hole civilization was based upon the capacity to grow grain twice a year and so they needed to store their harvest the best they could. Many times they had huge losses, due to plagues. Rats, mice or birds were particularly efficient in destroying the hard work of month. As fast breeding animals they could become a worst fret then any Assyrian or Hetithian army. When they attacked, many people were do die, starving, getting ill, contracting diseases carried by the rodents.

No doubt, they needed help. So they asked the Gods for help and as it seems, there was a Goddess that was willing to do something. Bastet (also known as Bast), the lion-headed Goddess, sent her children to hunt down the grain-thieves and help the people of Egypt. You can imagine the feeling of gratitude, once the cats started their “work” and so they were invited to enter the house and stay inside to raise there caps in security.

Scientists think, that it is due to the intense social behavior, that the first kittens to be born inside a human habitat, started to play with the children of their hosts. But we can only speculate what made the early cats to become domesticated, while their relatives are untamable and will stay always wildcats. Even our domestic cats will stay wild, if they don't have contact to humans in the first 6 – 8 weeks of their lives. The breed that matches the first domestic cats, is the Egyptian Mau. Many breeds evolved in the millennia since the very first cat became a family member and the cat followed the traveller around the world.

But before the cat became a “global player”, it was forbidden to bring a cat over the Egyptian border. The death penalty awaited those, who tried to take a cat into another country. Eventually it was done and cats became quickly a part of many ancient societies. But only in Egypt they had a Godlike status. To harm or the gods beware, kill a cat, even if not on purpose, could mean your death, torture and other severe penalties. The Greek writer, Herodot, described the extreme adoration of cats by the Egyptian people. We don't have to treat our cats as they were treated in ancient Egypt, but we should at least treat them with the respect every animal should be treated with and give them the love they deserve.

Titelbildquelle: jacinta lluch valero