After the pyramids and the kohl painted eyes, almost nothing evokes more awe and mystery than the fascination ancient Egyptians had with cats.
They were not only the most popular pet in the house, but their status rose to that of the sacred animals and then on to the most esteemed deities like no other creature before them.
Cats domesticate the ancient Egyptians
Although no one can pinpoint the time exactly, we know that the cat was domesticated in Egypt, probably around 2000 B.C., and that most modern cats are descendants of the cats of ancient Egypt. One reason it is difficult to say precisely when domestication occurred is that the ancient Egyptians did not distinguish between wild and tame cats in their descriptions of them. There was one word for cat-and that was miu or mii, meaning “he or she who mews.”
So then how did domestication of the cat come about? Dogs, associated with hunting, had actually been domesticated thousands of years before, according to archeologists. But cats, being the aloof, aristocratic creatures they are admired for, apparently took their time in fully befriending the ancient Egyptians.
There is a cat known as the African wild cat (Felis silvestris libyca)-one of the closest wild relatives of the modern cat. It is larger than the average domesticated cat of today. The feline’s tawny, yellow-gray fur, long tapering tail and striped markings, affording it ideal camouflage among the rocks and sand of the desert. This cat is known as a predator-a hunter of small game-rather than a scavenger. The other cat native to Egypt is the swamp or jungle cat-(Felis chaus), but it is the wild cat which is believed to have been the cat to “domesticate the Egyptians.”
In the villages, the greatest danger to Egyptian households were the numerous poisonous snakes, rats and mice which attacked food supplies in the home and the village granaries. The wild cat, it is assumed, strayed into the villages and hunted down the vermin, keeping them at bay. It’s easy to imagine the grateful Egyptians leaving out scraps of food to encourage the wild cats on their vigils. A symbiotic relationship occurred between animal and human. Next, the felines found their way into the Egyptian homes, spent some time there, allowed themselves to be tamed and raised their kittens in a human environment. As soon as the Egyptians began supplying the cats with food, thereby significantly changing their diet, and breeding them for certain characteristics, the cats were domesticated. They were perfect pets-playful, intelligent, affectionate and helpful to the farmers who sustained life in ancient Egypt.