Ancient Egyptian Dogs – Friends & Guards
Ancient Egyptian dogs were a big part of society. The ancient Egyptian word for “dog” was iwiw – representing the sound of a dog’s bark. Though dogs were trained for functional roles such as hunting, guarding, and working with the police and military.
They were also kept as pets and taken care of.
Most of us picture cats when we think of ancient Egypt – the goddess Bastet immortalized the image of the seated, jeweled cat. Cats were mummified and deified, and of course kept as pets.
But the fact is, the ancient Egyptians loved their pet dogs so much that they sometimes mummified and buried them with their owners.
At Abydos, part of the cemetery was set aside for dogs, though other cemeteries with many mummies of ancient Egyptian dogs can be found across the country.
At the Giza necropolis the dog Abuwtiyuw was given a beautiful and ceremonial funeral and burial, more so than the average ancient Egyptian person. He was apparently a guard dog, as the inscription calls him, and goes on to describe the offerings that were buries with him:
The dog which was the guard of His Majesty. Abuwtiyuw is his name. His Majesty ordered that he be buried, that he be given a coffin from the royal treasury, fine linen in great quantity, incense. His Majesty gave perfumed ointment and [ordered] that a tomb be built for him by the gang of masons. His Majesty did this for him in order that he might be honored.
He apparently lived sometime during the Sixth Dynasty, thought we don’t know which pharaoh he served. The way he is described gives the idea that he was a Tesem-like dog, similar to a greyhound, with pointed ears and a curly tail.
Tesem was the name of hunting dogs in ancient Egypt. These are the curly-tailed dogs that looked like sighthounds.
Though the god Anubis is usually depicted as a jackal-headed god, he had many associations with dogs.
Cynopolis, which means “City of the Dog” in Greek, was the cult center of the God Anubis in Upper Egypt, which also had a dog cemetery.
A very strange story appears in the book Isis and Osiris by the historian Plutarch about the people Cynopolis and their rivals in Oxyrhynchus:
“And in my day the people of Oxyrhynchus caught a dog and sacrificed it and ate it up as if it had been sacrificial meat, because the people of Cynopolis were eating fish known as the oxyrhynchus or pike. As a result of this they became involved in war and inflicted much harm upon each other; and later they were both brought to order through chastisement by the Romans.”
Another interesting example of the Dog-Anubis relation is in Plato’s The Republic, where he uses the phrase “by the dog of Egypt” as an oath of Truth. The dog of Egypt refers to the God Anubis.
“And so, by the dog of Egypt, we have been unconsciously purging the State, which not long ago we termed luxurious”
Another canine deity was Wepwawet, his name meaning “Opener of Ways”.
He would go forward to make a path for the army, and he also protected the deceased and showed them the way into the underworld. In the latter capacity, he was also involved in the Osirian Mysteries, where he lead the procession of the dead Osiris towards his grave.
He is closely associated with the God Anubis, and his image is very similar to that of a jackal. Still, there has been some confusion and he was sometimes identified as a wolf, hence the ancient Greeks naming the city of his cult center Lycopolis (city of the wolf). Lycopolis is now modern day Asyut.
The god Set was sometimes shown as a fantastical animal called Sha, also called the Set Animal. This Sha resembled a type of canine with erect ears and a pointed tail.
Types of Ancient Egyptian Dogs
With the exception of the Sha, different types of jackals, wolves and dogs were found across Egypt. So far, other than the Tesem we mentioned earlier, the dog breeds most closely associated with the images of ancient Egyptian dogs that we have are:
The Saluki, a sighthound and one of the oldest known breeds of domesticated dogs. It is also called The Royal Dog of Egypt, or The Persian Greyhound.
And the Sloughi, another sighthound originating from the North Africa region.
Though it is still quite vague to trace back the exact types of ancient Egyptian dog breeds, we do get the idea that, just like today, different types dogs trended at different times.
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