Statue of Bast Berlin Museum, cat in ancient Egyptian art

Statue of Bast
Berlin Museum

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The ancient Egyptians worshipped the cat goddess Bast at four main sites.  Bast, the cat goddess, was a very important deity to the ancient Egyptians confirmed by their unfailing devotion to her not only in one part of the kingdom, but also at various locations in both Upper and Lower Egypt.   Saqqara, Thebes, Beni Hassan and finally Bubastis are sites that provide us with ample evidence of the worship of Bast and the cult of the cat.

Saqqara (Memphis)

Saqqara, located not far from the pyramids of Giza, is famous as the home of the great step pyramid of Zozer, and it is at Saqqara that one of the earliest tomb paintings of a domesticated cat with a collar around its neck dates to the 5th dynasty (2500-2350BC).  Though Pre-Dynastic Saqqara was originally a burial place for royalty, it slowly became a burial site for high officials of the royal court when the kings and queens abandoned it for Thebes and Fayoum during the Middle Kingdom.  Later, however, Saqqara again served as a burial site for royalty equaled to that of the Valley of the Kings at Thebes (Zivie, 2008).


Sakkara Animal Necropolis, cat goddess bast

Saqqara Animal Necropolis


The Saqqara plateau is not only the last resting place of important officials and viziers of the royal court, but it is also home to two main animal burial grounds. The first site, located north of the step pyramid has burial evidence of cows and ibises as well as falcons and baboons nearby.  The second site, east of the pyramids of Teti and Weserkaf, (Bard, 1999) has cats, dogs and jackals dating back to the 5th dynasty (2750-2625BC).  The entrance to the necropolis of cats is called the Bubasteion (Door of Cats), in Egyptian Arabic Bab el Quttat, or the Greek name for this area, temenos, meaning an area dedicated to a God or a place of worship.  These cat burials are among the tombs of officials from other dynasties.  Some New Kingdom  tombs were even reused for cats; an example is that Vizier Aper-El’s tomb contained remains of cats dating back to 730-160BC (Zivie, 2008).  Remarking on his finds, in 1815, Giovanni Belzoni wrote, “I must not omit that among these tombs we saw some which contained the mummies of animals intermixed with human bodies….and one tomb was filled with nothing but cats, carefully folded in red and white linen, the head covered by a mask representing the cat, and made of the same linen.” (Belzoni, 1890, p.168) 


Giovanni Battista Belzoni from his publication Narrative of the Operations and Recent Discoveries Within the Pyramids, Temples, Tombs and Excavations in Egypt and Nubia, London, 1820. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Want to know more about the cat in literature, art and history? Then Revered and Reviled is the book for  you. Now available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. 

Revered and Reviled: A Complete History of the Domestic Cat, cat history, cats


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