Ancient Egyptian Doggos!

Tomb of Tutankhamun, 18th Dynasty Egypt (ca. 1325BCE). Photograph taken in the Cairo Museum, 2007, by Jon Bodsworth] Public domain

So, this post might seem a bit out of the blue, but I’m hoping in the long run it will just be the start of something I do semi-frequently. Also, this blog has randomness built into it, so you’ll just have to run with it.

Long story short, while doing research for a work in progress (hopefully finished this month!), I fell down an Ancient Egyptian research hole (of which I’ve fallen down many) and discovered a lost city . . . rarely looked upon by modern eyes . . . and it was filled with doggos!

Ok. I didn’t really discover anything except the wikipedia page for Cynopolis, but even this simple thing, started me on a much longer journey (I’d say at least 3 more articles) to try and discover:

Just what exactly is going on with dogs in Ancient Egypt anyway?

It turns out, much like modern times, a lot of things.

Most people are probably familiar with Anubis, the Ancient Egyptian god of the dead. Much like the Greek god Cerberus, Anubis “was considered the watchdog of the dead”. He:

“. . . was associated with funeral rites, he supervised the mummification of the deceased . . . Undoubtedly, though, his most important function was guiding the souls of the deceased to Osiris and a council of thirty-seven lesser gods/judges who determined the fate of the soul, based on its earthly behavior. Anubis, then, is also associated with resurrection, as well as death.” – pg 126.

“‘Hail Anubis: The Dog in Religion and Myth.’” Our Debt to the Dog: How the Domestic Dog Helped Shape Human Societies, by Bryan David Cummins, Carolina Academic Press, 2013, pp. 123–150.

No pressure there right?

But how did this come to be? The author of the previous quote, Bryan David Cummins, thinks that:

“it might be related to a primordial fear of the wolf and, more specifically, to the wolf as competitor and apex predator. With the dog as companion to the afterlife and as guardian of the un­derworld, it might be that we have, in our imaginations, melded on the one hand the dog as wolf/predator and, conversely, the dog as a friend and servant to humankind as we make our way from this world to the next. Whatever the case might be, there is a near universal religio-mythical association of the dog with death the afterlife, and the passage between the two.”

“‘Hail Anubis: The Dog in Religion and Myth.’” Our Debt to the Dog: How the Domestic Dog Helped Shape Human Societies, by Bryan David Cummins, Carolina Academic Press, 2013, pp. 123–150.

So all cultures love their doggos, or at the very least have them around.

What does that mean for our furry friends in Ancient Egypt?

Well, it seems similar to today, in that dogs probably occupied various places in society depending on where they lived, who their owners were (if they were owned), and what was available to them. Much like humans, some probably lived in luxury, while others had to fight to survive (a dog eat dog world so to speak). Cummins writes:

“The domestic dog, being a product of culture, in its various guises and roles reflected these social realities. Ancient Egyptian dogs, Thurston writes, were classified in a manner similar to their owners: there was a minute minority that enjoyed luxury; others functioned as hunters, soldiers, and guards attached to the ruling class; there were temple dogs for ceremonial and ritual purposes; and, at the bottom, the feral dogs that scavenged for a living”

“‘Hail Anubis: The Dog in Religion and Myth.’” Our Debt to the Dog: How the Domestic Dog Helped Shape Human Societies, by Bryan David Cummins, Carolina Academic Press, 2013, pp. 123–150.

But you said ‘city filled with doggos’ . . .

Yes. Yes I did. Apparently, in the city of Cynopolis (also called Hardai), pupper worship reached the pinnacle of its form. Cummins says:

What has been dubbed “the cult of Anubis” reached its greatest development in Cynopolis, “the City of Dogs.” Cynopolis was also known as Hardai by the Greeks. The city was a religious and commercial center that became, in the words of anthropologist Mary Elizabeth Thurston (1996:33), “a kind of mecca for Anubis worshippers, attracting thousands of pilgrims who came to beseech this deity for special favors on their behalf. Dogs thrived on the city streets, seeking food from visitors, and in its temples, where both dogs and priests were supported by the generosity of the city’s residents.

“‘Hail Anubis: The Dog in Religion and Myth.’” Our Debt to the Dog: How the Domestic Dog Helped Shape Human Societies, by Bryan David Cummins, Carolina Academic Press, 2013, pp. 123–150.

I mean . . . who doesn’t want to live there? Right?

Lastly, in something that I think today we would consider ‘meta’, Egyptians would also mummify their dogs once they passed. In essence, they were offered back to Anubis, who would look after his canine brethren in the afterlife. Again, Cummins, quoting Hall:

The predictable elaboration of this practice was the offering of a mummified form of the animal itself which the god was sure to recognize. It was perhaps inevitable that Cynopolis was not only “the city of dogs” but a “funerary city of dogs,” where the mum­mification of the beloved companion dogs that were brought here were ensured an existence in the afterlife (Hall, 2003:148).”

“‘Hail Anubis: The Dog in Religion and Myth.’” Our Debt to the Dog: How the Domestic Dog Helped Shape Human Societies, by Bryan David Cummins, Carolina Academic Press, 2013, pp. 123–150.

Conclusion?

Not much of one, except to paint a picture. A whole city devoted to man’s best friend. Imagine walking to work and meeting your god in the street . . . telling him he’s a good boy and maybe giving him a pat or a scritch behind the ears.

I’m sure there was much more to life in ancient Cynopolis than just being around dogs all the time. I’m sure at points there was unrest, and crime like any city (I’m also wondering who did all the scooping). The wikipedia page says there was even a war between the city and a neighboring one that worshipped fish.

But I like to think that the simple scene I described above must have happened at some point. That it was an idyllic moment, and that it perhaps was the sort of thing that happened often. I like to imagine a life in which it was normal to be so devoted to something that is clearly devoted to you, and wonder how it would feel to express that reverence with the kind of formality that religion allows (and often demands).

Annnnddd that’s all I have for now. Love your dogs if you got em . . .

Further reading?

So I came across this article while writing this post. It looks more at dogs in literature, but I thought it was ‘on-topic’ so to speak. Enjoy!

The Curious Symbolism of Dogs In Literature and Myth – Interesting Literature


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