Ancient Egypt Online

Ancient Egyptian Animals

In modern times, the role of animals is mostly as companionship, food, and occasionally entertainment. Animals in ancient Egypt were not seen as simple as we may see them now. Their belief system often deified various animals, or at the very least connected them to the gods and goddesses that they worshipped.

Birds of all sorts were special to the Egyptians, and very commonly associated with gods and goddesses:

  • Falcons and hawks were representative of the god Horus, and are often believed to be the guardians of the pharaoh.
  • The ibis was a common bird in Egypt and was considered a sacred bird of Thoth. Many ibises were mummified and buried in many tombs and catacombs across Egypt.
  • Vultures were also figures of protection often seen on the ceilings of temples and were associated with the deities Nekhbet and Mut.

Fish in ancient Egypt were both sacred and, on occasion, considered relatively worthless to anyone but the poorest of the poor.

  • The rilapia and abdju fish were believed to swim alongside the sun god Ra's barge as it sailed through the underworld. They were on the lookout for Apep, the water snake, who was Ra's enemy.
  • Priests and pharaohs were not allowed to eat fish, as a fish consumed part of Osiris when Set chopped him to pieces and scattered him across the world.

Cattle were special to the Egyptians: cows were often raised and slaughtered in the name of sacrificial offerings. Other ancient Egyptian animals such as pigs, goats, and sheep were used for food and clothing.

Horses were not a common fixture in Egyptian life until the New Kingdom , despite the belief that they were introduced to Egyptians with the invasion of the Hyksos. Donkeys however were much more common and were used in processions, hunting and even pulled chariots during war. Horses were rare and much more expensive and were therefore a status symbol and where often used as gifts from a pharaoh to another ruler.

Ancient Egyptians also had pets, much like we do now:

  • The role of cats in ancient Egypt was mostly a domesticated one, as well as a symbol of the goddess Bast. They were also considered a symbol of Ra, as he would battle his enemy, Apep.
  • Dogs were not domesticated in the way some are now, but were kept mostly for hunting purposes. Their utter loyalty -- as opposed to the mystery and aloofness of a feline -- made them much lower in the eyes of Egyptians and calling someone a dog was a severe insult. But, as they were sacred creatures to the god Anubis, they were mummified in a similar fashion to many other sacred animals.

Due to geographical conditions in ancient Egypt , the wildlife surrounding the area was immense, and often dangerous. The Nile was full of crocodiles, the sand contained scorpions, and it was common to see lions and jackals running about.