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Did Cleopatra Have a Cat?

Did Cleopatra Have a Cat?

Several ancient Egyptian deities, such as Sekhmet, Bastet, and Mafdet (representing power, fertility, and justice, respectively), were sculptured and depicted with cat-like heads.

Archeologists used to believe cats were domesticated in ancient Egypt in the eras of pharaohs. However, a 9,500 years old joint burial of a human and cat was found on the island of Cyprus in 2004 [1], suggesting that Egyptians domesticated cats way earlier than we thought.

So, it’s possible that Cleopatra had a cat as a pet. However, there is no such mention in contemporary accounts.

It’s important to note that her life has been heavily romanticized and mythologized, and it’s likely that some of the stories about her aren’t based on facts.

Did She Have Any Pets?

It is unclear if Cleopatra, the last active Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt, had any pets. There are no historical records that mention her keeping pets, and it was not common for people in ancient Egypt to have pets in the same way that people do today.

However, Cleopatra may have kept pets as companions or for their beauty or symbolism. Some legends claim that she had a pet leopard named Arrow; however, there is no evidence supporting this in ancient records.

Painting of Cleopatra.
Cleopatra
John William Waterhouse, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Cleopatra – The Embodiment of the Cat

Cleopatra was born around 70/69 BC [2] in Egypt. She wasn’t ethnically Egyptian and became the first of the Ptolemaic rulers to fully embrace Egyptian culture. 

She learned the Egyptian language and the practices and ways of local people from her servants. She seemed to fully commit herself to the country and legitimized her claim to the throne as “pharaoh.”

Unfortunately, she was the last pharaoh Egypt would ever have [3]

However, during her reign, it was clear that she held a strong influence over her kingdom. She was like a mother cat, bringing her children close to her for protection while fiercely defending herself and her kingdom against those who threatened her.

Her people worshiped her for her intelligence, beauty, ambitious leadership, and charm, much like how a cat is revered for its grace and strength.

She had the desire to expand her kingdom to encompass the world, with the help of Caesar and Mark Antony, and saw herself as fulfilling the role of the goddess Isis as the ideal mother and wife, as well as the patroness of nature and magic. She was a beloved leader and queen to her people and her land.

Cats in Ancient Egypt

The ancient Egyptians worshiped cats and other animals for thousands of years, each revered for different reasons. 

They valued dogs for their ability to hunt and protect, but cats were considered the most special. They were believed to be magical creatures and the symbol of protection and divinity [4]. Wealthy families would dress them in jewels and feed them luxurious treats.

When the cats died, their owners would mummify them and shave off their eyebrows to mourn [5]. They would continue to mourn until their eyebrows grew back.

Cats were depicted in art, including paintings and statues. They were highly regarded in the ancient world of Egyptians, and the punishment for killing a cat was death. [6].

Bastet Deity

Some gods in Egyptian mythology had the power to transform into different animals, but only the goddess Bastet could become a cat [7]. A beautiful temple dedicated to her was built in the city of Per-Bast, and people came from far and wide to experience its grandeur.

The Goddess Bastet, artwork.
The Goddess Bastet
Ossama Boshra, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The goddess Bastet was worshiped in ancient Egypt at least as far back as the Second Dynasty and was depicted as the head of a lion.

Mafdet Deity

In ancient Egypt, Mafdet was a cat-headed deity who was recognized as the protector of the pharaoh’s chambers against evil forces, such as scorpions and snakes.

Two fragments that form a depiction of Mafdet as Mistress of the Hut Ankh.
Two fragments that form a depiction of Mafdet as Mistress of the Hut Ankh
Cnyll, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

She was often depicted as the head of a leopard or cheetah and was especially venerated during the reign of Den. Mafdet was the first known cat-headed deity in Egypt and was worshiped during the First Dynasty.

Mummification of Cats

During the Late Period of ancient Egypt, from 672 BC onwards, the mummification of animals became more common [8]. These mummies were often used as votive offerings to deities, especially during festivals or by pilgrims.

Mummified cat from Egypt.
Mummified cat from Egypt
Louvre Museum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

From 323 to 30 BC, during the Hellenistic period, the goddess Isis became associated with cats and Bastet [9]. During this time, cats were systematically bred and sacrificed to the gods as mummies.

Cats Losing their Value

After Egypt became a Roman province in 30 BC, the relationship between cats and religion began to shift. 

In the 4th and 5th centuries AD, a series of decrees and edicts issued by Roman Emperors gradually suppressed the practice of paganism and its associated rituals.

By 380 AD, pagan temples and cat cemeteries had been seized, and sacrifices were prohibited. By 415, all property formerly dedicated to paganism was given to the Christian church, and pagans were exiled by 423 [10].

Mummified cats in the Natural History Museum, London.
Mummified cats in the Natural History Museum, London
Internet Archive Book Images, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

As a result of these changes, the respect and value of cats in Egypt declined. However, in the 15th century, mamluk warriors in Egypt still treated cats with honor and compassion, which is also part of Islamic tradition [11].

Final Words

It is not specifically mentioned in recorded history whether or not Cleopatra had a cat. However, cats were highly valued in ancient Egypt.

They were revered as sacred animals and associated with several deities, including Bastet, the cat-headed goddess of fertility. They were also believed to possess special powers and were often depicted in art and literature.

In Ancient Egyptian society, cats were held in high esteem and treated with great care and respect. 

While the specific role of cats in Cleopatra’s life is not well-documented, it is clear that they were an important part of society and held a special place in the culture and religion of that era.