Cats of Cleopatra: Domestic Pets of Ancient Egypt

Cleopatra is famous for her beauty, intelligence, and political talent. At the youthful age of 18, Cleopatra was crowned as pharaoh and took on the role of governing over Egypt.

Cats of Cleopatra: Domestic Pets of Ancient Egypt
Cleopatra, one of the most famous women in history, had a close affinity for pets

Cleopatra's rule and relationship with various men have already received enough attention, so we are not going any further on this path. We will examine rather some unknown aspects of Cleopatra's life, such as her relationship with pets.

The pets of Cleopatra

Cleopatra liked cats. She liked them for their beauty and graceful nature, and most importantly for keeping pests out of homes and granaries. Cleopatra's palace in Alexandria housed many cats.

Cleopatra also owned various dogs, including Salukis, which were favored by her brothers, and Egyptian nobles for hunting. But the dogs never held a special place in her heart; instead, they were always on the periphery of her interests. At Cleopatra's court, the cats were favored.

Egyptian cat breeds are renowned for their elegance and sophistication
Egyptian cats are renowned for their elegance and sophistication

With all of the pressure she was under, Cleopatra turned to her cats for company. Cats walked with her in the palace gardens, sat by her during important meetings, and slept in her bedroom as devoted night protectors.

The cherished pets of Ancient Egypt 

The Ancient Egyptians highly valued cats, not only as animal friends, but also linked them with the fertility and protection goddess Bastet. Thus, Cleopatra's love for cats only increased her popularity and status.

The Cat temple in Bubastis

Temple of Bastet: Domestic Pets of Ancient Egypt
Cleopatra ruled Egypt alone for 21 years and built many temples

Ancient Egypt was the home of the famous temple dedicated to cats; the Tempel of Bastet, located in Bubastis. Elaborate carvings and paintings of cats filled the vast Bubastis temple complex. In the temple, priests performed ceremonies in honor of Bastet, and devotees offered sacrifices to gain her favor. Temple priests and worshippers cared for the freely roaming cats on the temple grounds, believing it would grant them protection from Bastet

Cats in the Palace of Pharaoh: Domestic Cats of Ancient Egypt's Royalty
Cats were often the subject of Egyptian art because they were beloved pets of the ancient Egyptians

The city's Feast of Bubastis honored Bastet with music, dance, feasting, and attendees from all over Egypt. Cats played a major role in the festivities, with cat imagery appearing everywhere.

Ancient Egypt's cat breeds 

In ancient Egypt, both purebred and street cats of all colors and patterns were common in homes and on the streets.

Sphynx cats: The Domestic Cats of Ancient Egyptian Nobility
In popular imagination, people often link the Egyptian Mau and Sphynx cat breeds to ancient Egypt

The household cats of ancient Egypt were characterized for their spotted coats, almond-shaped eyes, and graceful nature. 
The Egyptian Mau is the most similar to cats depicted in ancient Egyptian art. However, it's important to note that the Egyptian Mau breed we know today has evolved only significantly later and another feline breed often linked to ancient Egypt, the Sphynx, comes from Canada. Their iconic hairlessness isn't because of adapting to Egypt's hot climate, but rather a genetic anomaly.

Another cat breed often associated with ancient Egypt is the Abyssinian cat, but it did not originate in Egypt either. The ticking pattern of the Abyssinian breed resembles that of wildcats in certain areas of Africa.

Abyssinian cats: Domestic Cats in the Time of Cleopatra
The Abyssinian cat is a charming breed often associated with ancient Egypt


People often associate these breeds with ancient Egypt, but their true origins are complex.

Hieroglyphic representations of cats

The ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs include images of cats. A cat hieroglyph called The Sitting Cat shows a sat cat with its tail coiled around its body. It signifies 'home' or 'domestic life' and is associated with the goddess Bastet.

Decoding Domestic Cats in the Time of Cleopatra through Hieroglyphs
                     Ancient Egyptians also depicted cats on ancient hieroglyphs

The hieroglyph of the strolling cat depicts a cat walking with its head held high. It represents the grace and independence commonly linked with cats in ancient Egypt. Another hieroglyph depicting a mother cat and her kittens is a symbol of caring and maternal care. It symbolizes the importance of family.

The Cat Mummies of Ancient Egypt 

Mummification of cats developed due to belief in their magical powers and connection to the goddess Bastet. The placement of cat mummies alongside buried pharaohs  in the tombs shows that cats were cherished companions in both life and the afterlife.

Cats in the Time of Cleopatra Decoded through Cat Mummies
Ancient Egyptians were the first to desire their pets' company in the afterlife

The catacombs of Bubastis held the most mummies, from kittens to adults, all in fancy sarcophagi. Cats were mummified like humans, wrapped in linen bandages and adorned with amulets and jewels before burial. Cat mummies found in faraway places like Saqqara, Thebes, and Beni Hasan reveal how widespread the respect of ancient Egyptians for their domestic cats was.

Cleopatra's legacy 

Cleopatra, as Egypt's last pharaoh, fiercely defended Egypt's independence. From youth, Cleopatra's intelligence and charisma set her apart, making her a skilled leader and diplomat. Fluent in multiple languages and adept in politics, she gained respect from her subjects and foreign dignitaries. 

Cleopatra began ruling with her father, Ptolemy XII, then ruled alone, skillfully navigating Egypt's politics. Her reign saw alliances and conflicts with Rome as she safeguarded Egypt's sovereignty.

One of Cleopatra's most famous alliances was with Julius Caesar, the powerful Roman general and statesman. Their relationship led to the birth of a son, Caesarion, whom she hoped would inherit Egypt's throne.

After Caesar's assassination, Cleopatra joined forces with Mark Antony against Octavian in the Roman Civil Wars. Their partnership, both politically and romantically, is legendary. Cleopatra's defeat at Actium in 31 BCE ended Egypt's era of pharaohs and led to its annexation by Rome.

Cleopatra's cats weren't just pets; they were part of her court.  Even as Cleopatra faced Roman conquest, her cats stayed by her side, providing comfort in uncertain times.

Cleopatra's legacy lives on as a symbol of female power, intelligence, and the allure of ancient Egypt. Her story continues to inspire art, literature, and study worldwide.


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