When first you hear the phrase “pharaoh cat”, you might picture to yourself a cat with the honor and importance of a king. The ancient Egyptians certainly worshiped cats in this way, and this so called “pharaoh cat” breed is actually the Egyptian Mau.
These elegant, graceful, spotted cats have many unique features that set them apart from other breeds.
Let’s learn about this fascinating ancient cat, starting with how they may have come about.
Where Domestication May Have Begun
There is evidence that domestication of cats may have started in ancient Egypt as early as 4000 B.C., where we have evidence of relationships between cats and humans.
The earliest cat to be domesticated may have been the North African Wild Cat. Ancient Egyptians may have started keeping cats to exterminate vermin.
It is clear from archaeological evidence and ancient documents that cats were important to ancient Egyptian religion since 2000 B.C. The word “mau” in Egyptian means both “cat” and “sun,” and cats were revered as gods and treasures.
The Egyptian sun god, Ra, was said to manifest himself a great tomcat. An important Egyptian goddess, Bast, had the appearance of a woman with the head of a cat.
When a cat in a household died, its owners would shave their eyebrows in mourning and their deceased companion would be mummified.
Although is difficult to find information about the Egyptian Mau’s breeding and ancestry before World War II, they did exist before then. It is possible they are the modern Egyptian Mau is the descendant of the ancient sacred cats.
Mummified cats have been unwrapped to reveal spotted coats very similar to the modern Mau, dating back to at least 1550 B.C.
If these ancient spotted cats are the modern Mau’s ancestors, that makes the Egyptian Mau one of the oldest breeds in history.
Of course, the modern Maus are not identical to the ancient Maus. In the 1970s Egyptian Maus were suffering from the effects of inbreeding so some out-breeding was necessary to diversify their gene pool.
Their modern history started in 1956 when Russian Princess Nathalie Troubetskov imported three Egyptian Maus from Italy.
She was responsible for the breed being brought to championship status with the Cat Fanciers’ Association.
Egyptian Maus are unique in many ways. Their appearance is often described as “regal,” and this is because of several distinctive physical features.
With hind legs that are proportionally longer than their front legs, they have a posture as if they were walking on tiptoe. They have large gooseberry green eyes with a black ring around the rim like the appearance of mascara, like the pharaohs would wear.
The Egyptian Mau’s spotted coat is another unique feature, since it is the only naturally spotted breed, and its coat can be silver, bronze, or smoke.
Yet its most distinctive feature is its build—it has a unique flap of skin extending from the abdomen to the hind leg. This, combined with its longer legs, allow the Egyptian Mau exceptional running and jumping ability.
It can run up to thirty miles per hour, making it the fastest known domestic cat.
The personality of the Egyptian Mau is also distinctive. Although cautious around strangers, an Egyptian Mau will form a close bond with their chosen “special person.”