The era of civilization can be dated back to the civilization of Mesopotamia. It is believed that this region was first to undergo civilization with Egypt coming in second. Egypt is a country located in the northeastern part of the African continent. Egyptian civilization is said to have been triggered by the unification of the lower Nile valley region under one ruler and taken place between 3000 BC and 1000 BC CITATION Tim15 \l 1033 (Maps, 2015). This is a period that saw the growth of Egypt socially through the various social classes and culture adapted, politically by introduction of administration, economically through trade as well as farming and religiously through various practices including animism.
Animism is a belief embedded in various religions or cultures in which the people practicing it believe that souls do not only exist in human beings but in other animals and objects of nature like mountains, rivers, stones and rocks. Examples of religions that encompass animism include Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and Neopaganism. Ancient Egyptians believed that animals like crocodiles, hawks and cows were seen as representatives of gods but the animal revered the most in ancient Egypt was the cat. The Egyptians worshipped several gods and goddesses and cats were encompassed as demigods in the Egyptian culture just like other societies that revered animals like the Native Americans who revered eagles and snakes and Hindus who respect cows.
This paper is going to highlight important parts of the Egyptian civilization including factors that promoted civilization of Egypt as well as the significance and roles played by the cat in enhancing this civilization.
Egypt is located along the north of Africa, a region located toward the north of the Sahara characterized by desert climate. However Egypt was recognized for its agricultural success and this can be attributed to the Nile River. River Nile has its source in the While and Blue Nile in the eastern part of Africa while its mouth is located in the Mediterranean Sea. It is the longest river in Africa and the valleys located along its banks produce land suitable for agriculture CITATION Tim15 \l 1033 (Maps, 2015).
Agriculture became the backbone of the ancient Egyptian economy. The challenge faced by farmers was that water was only readily available at the banks of the Nile river therefore they had to find means of accessing and drawing the water further into their farms located away from the banks. This led to further innovation of irrigation techniques.
Other than different farming techniques and irrigation, the Egyptians also recorded civilization achievements in writing and literature, art, architecture, administration, quarrying and surveying. Use of these techniques led to the erection of the Great Pyramids in Egypt CITATION Ian03 \l 1033 (Shaw, 2003). Some of the key events that stand out during the civilization process include:
- 5000 BC: introduction of farming to the Nile Valley
- 3500 BC -3000 BC: the Pre-dynastic period which lead to the unification of Egypt
- 3000 BC: building of the first 75 foot- long Egyptian ship
- 2575- 2465: Great Pyramids of Giza built.
- 500 BC: introduction of Demotic writing, a progression from hieroglyphics style CITATION Lop04 \l 1033 (Loprieno, 2004).
Cats are important because of they are linked to the civilizations religious, social and economic activities. Before highlighting the significance of the cats it is important to note the history of the Egyptians and cats.
There were two breeds of cats in Egypt namely the jungle cat and the African wild cat. After interbreeding a third breed came up known as the Egyptian Mau, commonly known as the Egyptian cat. It is believed that majority of cats trace their roots from the Egyptian cat. The cats were generally seen as wild animals but on discovery of how significant they were in keeping pests off stores the Egyptians started attracting them towards their homes close to the stores. The main pests that attacked stores included mice, rats and snakes and the cats preyed on this pests. This arrangement was suitable for the cats as they got free food from the humans and got drawn further away from larger predators. This led to the beginning of revering of cats as superior animals in the ancient Egyptian civilization.
This is the biggest role that cats played in the ancient Egypt culture and civilization. Studying a societys religion is also important in understanding their way of life, morals and rules that govern their behavior. A number of their gods were directly represented by cats. These include:
Madfet: this was the goddess of protection, justice and execution.
Bastet: this was the goddess of protection, fertility and motherhood.
In addition to this cats were linked to other gods for example Isis who was the goddess of motherhood due to the perception that cats were great mothers. The cat was also a sacred symbol for example Miuty who was a protector that watched over enemies of the Ra god. Neith was a god that also took form as a cat from time to time. Their feline nature also made cats symbols of poise and grace in the Egyptian community CITATION JHi15 \l 1033 (Hill, 2015).
As Egypts main economic activity was farming, the farmers strived to produce quality food in large quantities. Large scale production needed efficient storing methods. Pests like mice, rats and snakes greatly inconvenienced famers and spoilt produce. Being good predators, cats quickly gained popularity and respect due to their abilities to ward off the pests. This meant that their produce and harvest had a higher chance of avoiding destruction. Farmers were more confident about farming because they had eliminated the pest problem via cats.
Due to their nature cats were generally playful and easy to keep. This increased their popularity among the Egyptians. Some of the people carried their cats with them while hunting and others while farming. They were also significant in interpretation of dreams for example if a cat appeared in a dream it signifies prediction of a good harvest. Good fortunes in dreams were associated to the presence of the cats in the dreams.
Status of cats in society
Mistreating a cat was considered as treason and punishable by law. Anyone responsible for killing a cat whether by accident or intentional faced the death penalty. Due to their highly respected nature the Pharaoh was the only person allowed to claim ownership of cats. All cats in the kingdom were under his guardianship and the other Egyptians merely tending to the cats by requirement of law CITATION Dod04 \l 1033 (Aidan & Dyan, 2004).
Historians claim that cats were so significant that armies would be dispatched to rescue kidnapped cats and bring them back. There is also belief that the Persian army used cats to confuse the Egyptians during war by releasing them into the fields and instead of fighting the Egyptian soldiers ran after the cats to take them to safety. Upon death the cats would be wrapped in linen and treated with cedar oil and spices for preservation then mummified and buried with milk and mice CITATION JHi15 \l 1033 (Hill, 2015).
Most ancient societies treated religious matters with utmost respect. Any form of success or failure was attributed to the presence, satisfaction, absence or scorn of a higher deity as represented by the certain object for example a river running dry was a sign of anger from the gods and this meant no water or incoming famine that would affect the society negatively.
Looking at how the cats were respected portrays basic human foundation of their belief system of structure. A good question that should be asked is what if there was an alternative to keeping off pests does it mean the animal would be worshipped and respected as the cat was and would it mean the cat would have been therefore insignificant? How different then would history have been in regard to the influence cats had on the Egyptian society and animism?
This indicates that the society even from way back places value on things that can benefit their lives. It becomes a society that is easy to please or deceive as they are trusting of and respectful only to those who come bearing gift or form of reward. In comparison to the modern day society the cat has been replaced by power, status and money. This is why people are considered influential when they have the three cats mentioned.
BIBLIOGRAPHY Aidan, D., & Dyan, H. (2004). The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt. London: Thames& Hudson Publishers.
Hill, J. (2015, May). Cats in Ancient Egpyt. Retrieved from Ancient Egypt Online: http://www.ancientegyptonline.co.uk/cat.html
Loprieno, A. (2004). Ancient Egyptian and Coptic. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World's Ancient Lnaguages, 160-192.
Maps, T. (2015, May). Civilization in Ancient Egypt. Retrieved from Time Maps: http://www.timemaps.com/civilization/Ancient-Egypt
Shaw, I. (2003). The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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