If you thought that Egyptians owned only cats as pets, you’re half right! Well, sort of.
In this post, we’ll discover the different types of animals that Egyptians owned as pets. To kick start, let’s look at their most common pet, cats. Cats were kept around to scare off pests at homes, such as mice or snakes. Egyptians also brought their cats for hunting and trained them to retrieve fish and birds. I know, what can they not do? While cats were often seen as companions, the Egyptians brought their relationship to a whole new level; providing jewelry for their cats to wear - not just collars, need I add - some cats wore earrings and even nose rings. Just look at that, precious!
Even so, no matter how much Egyptians loved their cats, it was the dogs that they felt closer to. Yet, they were not seen as pets but more of hunting companions or watch dogs. They also guarded and hunted, much similar to other cultures around the world.
Egyptians had a variety of exotic animals as their pets too.
There were gazelles, which were admired for their speed and elegance. These animals were known to be kept in the pharaoh's private gardens for his family to play with, for trading with other countries, or to be sent to foreign rulers as gifts. Left behind were mummified remains, as well as paintings, suggesting that they were just as loved by their masters.
There were also hippos, which Egyptians viewed as an impressive and dangerous animal. With its human breasts standing on its back legs, the hippos represented a protective figure as well.
Perhaps one of the reasons why the ancient Egyptians loved their pets so dearly was because these animals played an important role in their religions. Contrary to popular belief, the animals per se were not worshipped; however, they were mostly regarded as sacred because they possessed attributes that were thought to be present in the gods. For example, Horus was portrayed as a falcon because he was thought to possess attributes similar to that of a falcon. Now, the Egyptians really mean business when it comes to animals. Anyone found guilty of killing a sacred animal would be put to death! Look around Egypt and you’ll see plenty of animal statues around too – this just goes to show how significant and valued the animals are to the Egyptians.
Pets were also regarded as a symbol of wealth and status. Some of the wealthier Egyptians owned an array of exotic animals such as baboons, hippos, crocodiles and elephants. These animals displayed powerful characteristics that the Egyptians aspired to have and hoped to emulate by owning them. For example, the elephant was regarded as gigantic and strong, and these characteristics were often thought to correspond to its owner. As the saying goes…. like pet, like owner!
The Egyptians loved their pets so much that they would even mummify them the same way they did for humans. Yep, mummy cats and mummy dogs (and other mummies). If you remember, we also learnt in class that they would shave their eyebrows to mourn the death of a family cat. Not surprisingly (or maybe quite), they did the same for domesticated dogs but instead of their eyebrows, they shaved their whole body and head. This goes to show, again, how much they respected and dignified their pets. It went to the extent of owners mummifying their pets, possibly hoping that they could join them in the next life. Other mummy pets were rested in tombs so they can be a food source for the deceased in the next life. Some animals that are strongly linked to deities were mummified as an offering and placed at religious places.
For example, the Egyptians greatly associated cats with the goddess Bastet whom symbolized childbirth and childcare. Thus, Egyptians would offer a mummified cat at the temple of Bastet, hoping that she will protect a child or ensure a smooth childbirth. Many of the animals were mummified due to religious beliefs and the common view of them as the incarnations of gods. It is no wonder that the Egyptians had buried millions of mummified animals at temples as an act of honoring their deities. Just three months ago, an archaeological team had found - wait for it - a whooping number of 8 million animal mummies (mostly dogs) in a catacomb of Anubis. 8 million?! That’s almost twice the population of Singapore (I think)! But I guess that’s how much animals really meant to the Egyptians.
So guys, what do you think? Is it cool or weird how big of a role the animals had in ancient Egypt?