Yasser Metwally

My life…and the world

Pets of pharaohs

The author: Professor Yasser Metwally


The ancient Egyptians had numerous different types of pets – monkeys, ducks, geese, pigeons, hoopoes, falcons, cats, dogs and even ferrets (to keep the granaries free of vermin).

Cats seem to have been domesticated during the Middle Kingdom from the wild cats in the Delta or the Western Desert. There were two main species indigenous to Egypt – the jungle cat and the African wild cat. Cats were both pets and symbols of cat deities, such as Bast. The earliest evidence of cats kept as pets was in a Predynatic tomb at Mostagedda. The Egyptian word for ‘cat’ was the sound that the cats made – myw  – meow! Often, the cat accompanied the master to help with the hunting and fowling in the marshes. It was during the Late Period that sacred cats were mummified in large numbers, and placed in underground galleries such as at Per-Bast (Bubastis). The cat was also a personification of Ra, where the sun god, as a cat, battles the water serpent Apep.

Video 1. Animal Mummies: Pets of the Pharaohs

Dogs, while often depicted as hunting with the master or as watch dogs, but they were never shown as an animal to be petted. Known to the Egyptians as the sound-word iw , the sound for barking, or as tsm , hound, they were given individual names and were often buried with their masters. Some of their names were "Brave One", "Reliable" and "Good Herdsman" as well as naming them for their colour, just as some people do today. The types of dogs the Egyptians had were related to the basenji, the saluki, the greyhound and maybe even the mastiff and dachshunds. Unlike the cat, which was aloof and mysterious, the Egyptians thought of the dog as being subservient, and the dog was used as an insult – prisoners were sometimes known as "the pharaoh’s dogs". But the dog, and the jackal, were regarded as sacred to Anubis, where they were buried as sacred animals to the god of embalming at the catacombs at Anubieion.

The Nile goose had often the run of the house and the garden in spite of its vile temper. The goose was the sacred animal of Geb, who was also known as ‘The Great Cackler’ when he was in goose form. There were sacred lakes around Egypt that were home to the sacred geese, where they were well looked after.

There were even some wild beasts that were used as pets – Ramses II had a tame lion, and the Sudanese cheetahs sometimes took the place of the house cat!


November 27, 2009 - Posted by | Ancient Egyptian panorama

1 Comment »

  1. […] See  also: Pets of pharaohs [Full text] […]

    Pingback by The Animals of Ancient Egyptian « Yasser Metwally | November 27, 2009 | Reply

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