Object: Figurine

Egyptian: Bronze Cat
Egypt (possibly Saitic)
ca 664 to 525 BCE
Materials:  Bronze, wood

This object is an Egyptian bronze cat seated on a modern wooden base.  The wooden base is rectangular with the sides angling toward the interior.  The top platform is smaller than the base.  The wood has been painted black.  The top surface has been excised in order for the bronze cat to be set in.  The seated cat faces forward.  Its long tail wraps around the bottom right side and around the front legs.  The entire cat figure is very slender.  Two eyes, a nose, and a horizontal line for the mouth are visible.  Ears are on top of the head and pointed.  This figure  is believed to be of possible Saitic origination. The term “Saitic” comes from the city name “Sais,” which served as the center of power in the Delta region during the 26th Dynasty. The rule of the 26th dynasty is often referred to as the Saite period in Egyptian history. Psammetikhos I was the first ruler of the dynasty, and is traditionally thought to have ruled from about 664 to 610 BCE.

Cat figures such as this one are representations of deity Bastet, the“Devouring Lady,” the protector of women, especially pregnant women. Bastet (also known as Bast, Bastis, Bubastis, or Ubast) was believed to be responsible for joy, music, dancing, as well as health and healing.  Her cult can be traced back to 3200 BCE.  Around 950 BCE, she became a national deity when Bubastis became the capital of Egypt. Bubastis, a city in the eastern Nile Delta, is believed to have been the birthplace of Bastet.  The city itself has origins dating back to the 4th Dynasty and was populated into the Roman Period.

Sometimes, Bastet is associated with the lion-goddess Sekhmet. She is sometimes depicted as a cat holding a mask of a lioness in her hand.  Symbolically, she was represented as a woman with a cat’s head, or simply as a seated cat, like in the object pictured above. Cats were viewed by the ancient Egyptians as manifestations of diety, and as such were considered sacred.  The cat protected the grain from mice and rats and thus indirectly protected the people.  Killing a cat was punishable by death.  Many mummified Bastet cats have been found from various time periods throughout Egypt.  Amulets and figurines depicting the goddess were common among all Egyptian social classes. 

[Debra Taylor]

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Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.


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