A variety of animals played a significant role in the lives of ancient Egyptians. In fact, some of the domesticated animals that we know today have their origins in ancient Egypt. The most well-known of these is the pet cat. Lions and cheetahs were exotic pets and symbols of royalty. Animals that were much feared like the crocodiles and hippos were revered and worshiped to save oneself from the wrath of these animals. The venomous cobra was believed to protect the King from evil while the ibis was thought to patronise the wise scribes living in Egypt. In the article below, we take a look at the most sacred animals of ancient Egyptian times.
Cats are perhaps the most sacred of all Ancient Egyptian animals. Ancient Egyptians revered felines, and it was common for most households to have a pet cat. It was believed that cats were descendants of Bast, the goddess of moonlight and fertility. Cats were often depicted in paintings, sitting on the laps of their owners or below the chair where their owner was sitting. Cats also helped keep stored grains safe from rodents and snakes. Notably, the punishment for killing a cat in ancient Egypt was very severe.
The cobra was highly feared and revered by the ancient Egyptians. It was used as a symbol of royalty and representations of this deadly snake would adorn the brows of various kings. The cobra was believed to be the protector of the king and was referred to as the Uraeus.
The Egyptians associated the ibis bird to Thoth, the Egyptian God of wisdom and writing. Thoth has a human body and an ibis’s head. He was believed to patronise the wise scribes who handled the administration of Egypt.
Cattle were very important in the daily lives of the ancient Egyptians. Milk, meat, horns, and hide were obtained from cattle and they were a prized possession of the people in the region. Leather obtained from cattle was used to make shoes, shields, chair seats, etc. Their dung served as a source of biofuel.
Sheep served a large number of purposes in ancient Egypt. They were used to extract meat, milk, wool, and skin. Rams also played an important role in the religion of ancient Egypt. Rams were associated with the two Egyptian Gods, Amun and Khnum and also regarded as symbols of fertility. Bodies of rams were often mummified and decorated and ram-headed sphinxes flanked the entrance to Amun’s temple at Thebes.
Dogs were man’s best friend even in ancient Egypt. Many families kept dogs as pets and gave them loving names. Dogs were also used for hunting and as guard dogs. The mummified remains of dogs have also been discovered by Egyptologists. These dogs were probably pets of the royal household.
Egyptians worshipped the jackal as the jackal God Anubis, the Egyptian God associated with afterlife and mummification. In ancient Egypt, jackals would wander in the deserts and approach towns and villages for opportunistic feeding. These creatures were also sighted in the cemeteries from where they came to be associated with the dead.
6. Scarab Beetle
Among the ancient Egyptian animals, the scarab beetle occupies a special position. The scarab beetle exhibits a unique habit of collecting animal dung, rolling it into a ball, and laying its eggs on the ball so that when the larvae hatch, they can immediately access food. The Egyptians associated this nature of the beetle with the sun in the sky. As per the ancient Egyptians, the scarab beetle or Khepri would renew the sun each day and then roll it above the horizon, carrying it through the other world to renew it again the next day.
5. The Big Cats
The big cats like the lion and the cheetah were also animals in ancient Egypt that served as symbols of power and royalty. They were often kept as pets in royal households. The skin of these beasts were also highly prized and they were hunted for the same.
4. Beasts Of Burden
Ancient Egyptians used donkeys as the primary beasts of burden. Donkeys were also used for plowing fields and trampling over seeds to bury them in the soil. Camels and horses were used as beasts of burden from the Late Period. Elephants were used for a brief period of time but lack of sufficient grazing land discouraged this practice.
Horses were introduced into Egypt relatively late at about 1500 BC. In the beginning, horses were rare and due to their novelty were regarded as status symbols. Horses were utilised for pulling chariots and in war. They were also used for ceremonies and for hunting purposes. The wealthy and influential kept horses in grand stables and fed high quality fodder and were also given individual names.
The hippopotamus was a much feared as well as a revered beast in ancient Egypt and thus is mentioned in this list of animals of ancient Egypt. They frequently damaged boats on the Nile River and also attacked people near the banks of the river. Thus, to save themselves from the wrath of the hippopotamus, the Egyptians worshipped the animal in the form of an Egyptian Goddess, Tauret. The name meaning “she who is great” is represented in the form of a female pregnant hippopotamus with female human breasts and the back of a Nile crocodile. Tauret is also regarded as the Goddess of fertility.
Crocodiles were highly revered by the ancient Egyptians. The Nile crocodiles were giant and aggressive animals and would claim the lives of many people in ancient Egypt. Hence, the crocodile was given a divine status by these people in the hope that worshipping the crocodile God would keep them safe and secure from crocodile attacks. The Egyptian deity associated with the Nile crocodile was Sobek, represented either in the form of a crocodile or as a human with a crocodile head.