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Animals of Ancient Egypt: Cattle

During ancient Egyptian days, a wide range of animals was domesticated, including cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, and geese. In later times, the domestication of horses followed. However, since cattle served such an important function, they were seen as one of the most important creatures in the country. In this article, you will learn more about the significance of cattle in ancient Egypt.

The ancient Egyptians learned how to make the most out of the animals they domesticated. They received a supply of milk, meat, eggs, wool, horns, fat, leather, and manual labor from the creatures. Many goddesses in the Egyptian culture had a connection to the cow. This included Hathor (goddess of love, beauty, music, motherhood and joy), Bat (depicted as a human face with cow ears and horn), Isis (seen as the ideal mother and wife), and Nut (goddess of the sky).

Because of their link to solar imagery, the bull was a sacred animal to Ra. In the sweeping estates belonging to the pharaohs, wealthy landowners, and various temples, red-hot irons were used to brand the bulls of the land.

Interestingly, the cattle of ancient Egypt were also different than the species seen today. During the Predynastic Period, the cattle had longer horns. As years passed, a thinner variety of cattle started to emerge during the Old Kingdom and later, which possessed shorter horns. The cattle were used in sacrifices, as well as served as draft animals.

Herdsmen looked after the cattle and took them to the Nile valley during the winter months to graze. When the weather turned hotter, they brought the cattle to the Delta. The animals were also given names, which would coincide with various goddesses , mostly Hathor. Sometimes, the animals were named “Golden One”, “Shining One” and “Beautiful”.

The ancient Egyptians relied on special farms for the purpose of fattening up the oxen for slaughter. The breed of oxen that was fattened had long horns. They were then decorated with ostrich feathers and put on display in processions accompanied by their owners. This practice was followed before the animal was sacrificed to the gods in rituals. Under the rule of Ramses III, 16,000 cattle were sacrificed every year to a single god named Amen.

The raising of cattle did not mean that there was an abundance of meat for the locals to feast upon. Beef was considered a luxury item because the majority of meat of the animal was saved religious ceremonies and offerings to the gods and goddesses. Pork was a different story and was eaten on a regular basis. This type of meat was not used in Egyptian religious practices.