Ancient Egyptian Animals
Sacred & Domestic
Ancient Egyptian animals can be divided into many categories: the sacred animals that were seen as representative of the gods, and the domesticated animals used in farming and labor, animals used for food, pets and of course the horses that were ridden or used for chariots.
These categories sometimes crossed over, as you will see with the cow, because some of the animals used for daily life were also considered sacred.
The more dangerous animals, like lions and leopards, were sometimes tamed and sometimes hunted for sport. In some cases, they were pre-hunted and put into a closed area so the pharaoh could hunt them himself without danger.
Sacred Ancient Egyptian Animals
Sobek the Crocodile – The Nile crocodile was one of the biggest problems for ancient Egyptians as they depended greatly on the Nile for life. Many ancient Egyptians died violent deaths at the jaws of these creatures. Doing laundry was one of the riskiest jobs back then. Sobek was a Nile deity.
Horus the Falcon – As god of the sky, Horus was represented as a falcon. Horus is the son of Isis and Osiris and avenged his father’s murder by defeating the God Seth. The pharaoh was thought to be a reincarnation of Horus on earth. Ra was also sometimes associated with the falcon, and Isis with the Kite Hawk.
Taweret the Hippo – Another Nile aggressor is the hippopotamus. The hippo is actually one of the most dangerous animals in Africa, killing more people than lions. The Goddess Taweret was represented as a hippo, sometimes with dazzling blue statues. As a goddess, she was quite benevolent and protected fertility and childbirth.
Bastet the Cat– This is one of the more famous sacred animals of ancient Egypt, represented by the Goddess Bastet. Cats were used as pets that also protect you from snakes and keep rodents away from food supplies.
Khepri the Scarab – The beetle in ancient Egypt was a mystical representation of the sun’s course in the sky. It was used temple walls, inscriptions, and amulets.
Thoth the Baboon & Ibis – The god of knowledge, Thoth, was sometimes represented as a baboon and sometimes as the Ibis bird. Both animals were thus sacred in ancient Egypt. Baboons are aggressive, which is unlike Thoth who was mostly gentle and kind. He did get mad in certain occasions though.
Anubis the Jackal – He’s one of the guardians of the dead and part of the mummification ceremonies. The reason he took the form of a jackal is because these animals were often seen in cemeteries (possibly scavenging). This is one of the more important gods of ancient Egypt and you can read about him here.
Wadjet the Cobra – The rearing cobra was highly revered in ancient Egypt. The ancient Egyptians saw it as a wonderful protectress and thus they were used on headdresses and amulets for pharaohs in the form of the Uraeus. Wadjet was a symbol of Lower Egypt.
Other types of snakes that are associated with ancient Egypt are Apep, the enemy of Ra, and the asp snake which was thought to be what Queen Cleopatra used to commit suicide.
Nekhbet the Vulture – Closely associated with Wadjet is the vulture-goddess Nekhbet. Vultures were another animal that was seen as protective by nature and the ancient Egyptians deified it in the form of Nekhbet, a symbol of Upper Egypt. Together, Wadjet and Nekhbet were called The Two Ladies.
Sekhmet the Lionness – One of the fiercest deities was the goddess Sekhmet. She was depicted with a lion’s head and was one of the scarier protagonists in the myth of The Eye of Ra and the Destruction of Mankind. Other ancient Egyptian deities were associated with lions, but she is the more well-known.
Hathor the Cow – Definitely one of the most important goddesses of ancient Egypt is Hathor. Seeing cows so affectionate with their calves, and providing milk for both their own young as well as for the people too, the ancient Egyptians dubbed Hathor “The Great Mother.” Other goddesses also took the form of a cow, including Nut and Bat.
Apis the Bull – One of the most revered ancient Egyptian animals, the Bull represented the got Ptah and was an important symbol for the pharaohs. They would associate themselves with the bull to draw on its strength and virility. But the bulls were sacrificed, along with other animals, in temples to honor the gods. The meat wasn’t wasted though as it was eaten afterwards by the priests.
There are a few other sacred ancient Egyptian animals, but those are the most prominent.
Domestic Ancient Egyptian Animals
Just because some ancient Egyptian animals were sacred does not mean the Egyptians didn’t use them for food, farming or sacrifice. And though pets were loved and cared for, they also stood the risk of being buried along with their master, sometimes alive…
Farm animals were used for different things like milk, meat, hide, wool, horns and for helping in the farming processes too. They include sheep, bulls, cows, oxen, geese, and ducks. Horses were used to pull chariots and to ride on during wars and hunting.
Cheetahs and other big cats were sometimes hunted and their furs were used by high-priests and pharaohs are symbolic garments during ceremonies.
Dogs, monkeys, cats and even donkeys were some of the favorite pets – and they were usually mummified and buried in family cemeteries. Guard animals were also sometimes used.
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