Cats feature in ancient Egyptian art. It reflects the cat's unique status among people who lived along the Nile River.

Cats were first seen as beneficial predators but later became symbols of divinity and protection. While ancient Egyptians did not worship animals, they did see them as representations of divine aspects of their gods.

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How Cats Became Divine Symbols in Ancient Egypt

history.com

The function of cats

Most of what we know about the function of cats comes from scenes depicted in paintings on the wall of tombs.

  • In the scenes, cats are shown laying or sitting below chairs, playing or chasing after birds. 
  • In some mortuary texts, they are also shown with a dagger, cutting through the snake deity Apopis, who threatens the sun god Ra.
  • In the Tomb of Nebamun, one painting shows a cat accompanying Nebamun while fishing and fowling.

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Characteristics of cats

Ancient Egyptians held cats in high regard, not just because of the preferences of their gods, but also because the pharaohs kept giant cats.

Egyptians considered cats smart, quick and powerful. The lioness goddess, Sekhmet, was a warrior and protector deity that kept away illness and sickness and also kept the enemies of the sun god Ra at bay.

Cats were also viewed as possessing the power of fertility. They were shown sitting under women's chairs, implying a connection to women and perhaps fertility.

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The ancient Egyptians believed their gods could assume different forms. The gods could appear with the head of a cat and also inhabit the bodies of cats.

For this reason, cats were mummified, creating a whole economy around breeding and mummifying cats.

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