Bastet or Bast was a goddess of ancient Egyptian religion, worshiped
as early as the Second Dynasty (2890 BCE). As Bast, she was the
goddess of warfare in Lower Egypt, the Nile River delta region, before
the unification of the cultures of ancient Egypt. Her name is also
translated as B'sst, Baast, Ubaste, and Baset. In Greek mythology,
she is also known as Ailuros (Greek for "cat", αἴλουρος).
The uniting Egyptian cultures had deities that shared similar roles
and usually the same imagery. In Upper Egypt,
Sekhmet was the parallel
warrior lioness deity. Often similar deities merged into one with the
unification, but that did not occur with these deities having such
strong roots in their cultures. Instead, these goddesses began to
diverge. During the Twenty-second Dynasty (c. 945–715 BC), Bast
had transformed from a lioness warrior deity into a major protector
deity represented as a cat. Bastet, the name associated with this
later identity, is the name commonly used by scholars today to refer
to this deity.
Bastet is also the protector of cats.
2 Role in ancient Egypt
2.1 Religious Sect Center
4 Greek influences
5 In popular culture
6 See also
8 Further reading
9 External links
Bastet, the form of the name that is most commonly adopted by
Egyptologists today because of its use in later dynasties, is a modern
convention offering one possible reconstruction. In early Egyptian,
her name appears to have been bꜣstt. In Egyptian writing, the second
t marks a feminine ending, but was not usually pronounced, and the
aleph ꜣ () may have moved to a position before the accented
syllable, ꜣbst. By the first millennium, then, bꜣstt would have
been something like *Ubaste (< *Ubastat) in Egyptian speech, later
becoming Coptic Oubaste.
During later dynasties, the deity remained, but was assigned a lesser
role in the pantheon by bearing the name Bastet. This happened after
Thebes became the capital of ancient Egypt, during the Eighteenth
Dynasty. As they rose to great power the priests of the temple of
Amun, dedicated to the primary local deity, advanced the stature of
their titular deity to national prominence (Amun-Ra) and shifted the
relative stature of others in the Egyptian pantheon. Diminishing her
status, they began referring to the deity with the added suffix, as
Bastet, and their use of the new name was well-documented (thereby
becoming very familiar to modern researchers). By the Twenty-second
Dynasty the transition had occurred in all regions.
What the name of the goddess means, remains uncertain. One recent
Stephen Quirke (Ancient Egyptian Religion) explains it
as meaning, "She of the ointment jar". This ties in with the
observation that her name was written with the hieroglyph for ointment
jar (bꜣs) and that she was associated with protective ointments,
among other things. The name of the material known as alabaster
might, through Greek, come from the name of the goddess. This
association would have come about much later than when the goddess was
a protective lioness goddess, however, and is useful only in
deciphering the origin of the term, alabaster.
Role in ancient Egypt
Bast was originally a fierce lioness warrior goddess of the sun
throughout most of ancient Egyptian history, but later she was changed
into the cat goddess that is familiar today, becoming Bastet. Even
later, Greeks occupying ancient Egypt toward the end of its
civilization changed her into a goddess of the moon.
As protector of Lower Egypt, Bast, she was seen as defender of the
pharaoh, and consequently of the later chief male deity, Ra. Along
with the other lioness goddesses, she would occasionally be depicted
as the embodiment of the Eye of Ra. She has been depicted as fighting
the evil snake named Apep, an enemy of Ra.
Photograph of an alabaster cosmetic jar topped with a lioness,
representing Bast, an Eighteenth Dynasty burial artifact from the tomb
Tutankhamun (c. 1323 BC—Cairo Museum)
Bastet were often created from alabaster. The goddess was
sometimes depicted holding a ceremonial sistrum in one hand and an
aegis in the other—the aegis usually resembling a collar or gorget
embellished with a lioness head.
Her name became associated with the lavish jars in which Egyptians
stored their ointment used as perfume.
Bastet thus gradually became
regarded as the goddess of perfumes, earning the title of perfumed
protector. In connection with this, when
Anubis became the god of
Bastet came to be regarded as his wife for a short period
of time.
Bastet was also depicted as the goddess of
protection against contagious diseases and evil spirits.
Religious Sect Center
Main article: Bubastis
Bast was a local deity whose religious sect was centered in the city
of Bubastis, which lay in the
Nile Delta near what is known as Zagazig
today. The town, known in Egyptian as pr-bꜣstt (also
transliterated as Per-Bast), carries her name, literally meaning House
of Bast. It was known in Greek as Boubastis (Βούβαστις) and
translated into Hebrew as Pî-beset, spelled without the initial t
sound of the last syllable. In the biblical
Book of Ezekiel
Book of Ezekiel 30:17,
the town appears in the Hebrew form Pibeseth.
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Wadjet-Bast, with a lioness head, the solar disk, and the cobra that
Bast first appears in the third millennium BC, where she is depicted
as either a fierce lioness or a woman with the head of a lioness.
The lioness was considered the fiercest hunter among the animals in
Africa, hunting in co-operative groups of related females, and became
the representation of the war goddess and protector in both Egypts
that would unite throughout the history of ancient Egypt, with Sekhmet
being a similar lioness war deity of Upper Egypt.
The fierce lion god
Maahes was said to be the son of Bast.
Egyptian pantheon was evolving constantly. During the
eighteenth dynasty, Thebes became the capital of ancient Egypt, and
thus their patron deity, Amun, became paramount. The priests of the
Amun shifted the relative stature of other deities in the
Egyptian pantheon as
Amun-Ra rose to national importance in the New
Kingdom. With the unification, many similar deities were often merged
into one. However, the significance of Bast and
Sekhmet to the
regional cultures that merged resulted in a retention of both,
necessitating a divergence in traits between the two. During this
period, Bast's role as warrior goddess in the
Egyptian pantheon became
Sekhmet became more dominant and the deliberate change
of her name to
Scribes of the New Kingdom and later eras began referring to her with
an additional feminine suffix, as Bastet. The name change is thought
to have been added to emphasize pronunciation of the ending t sound,
which was often left silent. Use of the new name became very familiar
Ancient Egyptian statue of
Bastet after becoming represented as a
Cats in ancient Egypt
Cats in ancient Egypt were revered highly, partly due to their ability
to combat vermin such as mice, rats (which threatened key food
supplies), and snakes—especially cobras. Cats of royalty were, in
some instances, known to be dressed in golden jewelry and were allowed
to eat from their owners' plates. Turner and Bateson estimate that
during the Twenty-second Dynasty (c. 945–715 BC),
changed from being a lioness deity into being predominantly a major
cat deity. Because domestic cats tend to be tender and protective
of their offspring,
Bastet was also regarded as a good mother, and she
was sometimes depicted with numerous kittens. Consequently, a woman
who wanted children sometimes wore an amulet showing the goddess with
kittens, the number of which indicated her own desired number of
The Gayer-Anderson cat, believed to be a representation of Bastet
The native Egyptian rulers were replaced by Greeks during an
occupation of Egypt in the
Ptolemaic Dynasty that lasted almost 300
years. The Ptolemies adopted many Egyptian beliefs and customs, but
always "interpreted" them in relation to their own Greek culture.
These associations sought to link the antiquity of Egyptian culture to
the newer Greek culture, thereby lending parallel roots and a sense of
continuity. Indeed, much confusion occurred with subsequent
generations; the identity of
Bastet slowly merged among the Greeks
during their occupation of Egypt, who sometimes named her Ailuros
(Greek for cat), thinking of
Bastet as a version of Artemis, their own
Herodotus, a Greek historian who traveled in Egypt in the fifth
century BCE, describes Bastet's temple at some length:
Save for the entrance, it stands on an island; two separate channels
approach it from the Nile, and after coming up to the entry of the
temple, they run round it on opposite sides; each of them a hundred
feet wide, and overshadowed by trees. The temple is in the midst of
the city, the whole circuit of which commands a view down into it; for
the city's level has been raised, but that of the temple has been left
as it was from the first, so that it can be seen into from without. A
stone wall, carven with figures, runs round it; within is a grove of
very tall trees growing round a great shrine, wherein is the image of
the goddess; the temple is a square, each side measuring a furlong. A
road, paved with stone, of about three furlongs' length leads to the
entrance, running eastward through the market place, towards the
temple of Hermes; this road is about 400 feet wide, and bordered by
trees reaching to heaven.
The description offered by
Herodotus and several Egyptian texts
suggest that water surrounded the temple on three (out of four) sides,
forming a type of lake known as isheru, not too dissimilar from that
surrounding the temple of the mother goddess
Thebes. These lakes were typical of temples devoted to a number of
lioness goddesses who are said to represent one original goddess,
daughter of the Sun-God Ra / Eye of Ra: Bast, Mut, Tefnut, Hathor, and
Sakhmet. Each of them had to be appeased by a specific set of
rituals. One myth relates that a lioness, fiery and wrathful, was
once cooled down by the water of the lake, transformed into a gentle
cat, and settled in the temple.
In the temple, some cats were found to have been mummified and buried,
many next to their owners. More than 300,000 mummified cats were
discovered when Bastet's temple was excavated. The main source of
information about the
Bastet cult comes from
Herodotus who visited
Bubastis around 450 BCE after the changes in the religious sect. He
Bastet with the Greek Goddess Artemis. He wrote extensively
about the religious sect. Turner and Bateson suggest that the status
of the cat was roughly equivalent to that of the cow in modern India.
The death of a cat might leave a family in great mourning and those
who could would have them embalmed or buried in cat
cemeteries—pointing to the great prevalence of the cult of Bastet.
Extensive burials of cat remains were found not only at Bubastis, but
Beni Hasan and Saqqara. In 1888, a farmer uncovered a plot of
many hundreds of thousands of cats in Beni Hasan.
Herodotus also relates that of the many solemn festivals held in
Egypt, the most important and most popular one was that celebrated in
Bubastis in honor of the goddess. Each year on the day of her
festival, the town was said to have attracted some 700,000 visitors,
both men and women (but not children), who arrived in numerous crowded
ships. The women engaged in music, song, and dance on their way to the
place. Great sacrifices were made and prodigious amounts of wine were
drunk—more than was the case throughout the year. This accords
well with Egyptian sources which prescribe that lioness goddesses are
to be appeased with the "feasts of drunkenness". However, a
Bastet was known to be celebrated already in the New
Kingdom at Bubastis. The block statue from the eighteenth dynasty
(c. 1380 BC) of Nefer-ka, the wab-priest of Sekhmet, provides
written evidence for this. The inscription suggests that the king
(Amenhotep III) was personally present at the event and had great
offerings made to the deity.
In popular culture
Ancient Egyptian deities
Ancient Egyptian deities in popular culture
Other (non-Iranian) variants of Lion and Sun
Feline – Domestic cat
Cats in ancient Egypt
Herodotus, ed. H. Stein (et al.) and tr. AD Godley (1920), Herodotus
1. Books 1 and 2. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, Mass.
E. Bernhauer, "Block Statue of Nefer-ka", in: M. I. Bakr, H. Brandl,
Faye Kalloniatis (eds.): Egyptian Antiquities from Kufur Nigm and
Bubastis. Berlin 2010, pp. 176–179 ISBN 978-3-00-033509-9.
Velde, Herman te (1999). "Bastet". In Karel van der Toorn; Bob
Becking; Pieter W. van der Horst. Dictionary of Demons and Deities in
the Bible (2nd ed.). Leiden: Brill Academic. pp. 164–5.
Serpell, James A. "Domestication and History of the Cat". In Dennis C.
Turner; Paul Patrick Gordon Bateson. The Domestic Cat: the Biology of
its Behaviour. pp. 177–192.
^ Badawi, Cherine. Footprint Egypt. Footprint Travel Guides, 2004.
^ a b c Serpell, "Domestication and History of the Cat", p. 184.
^ a b c d e f Te Velde, "Bastet", p. 165.
^ a b Shira. "The Goddesses of Ancient Egypt". Retrieved
^ a b c d e f g Te Velde, "Bastet", p. 164.
Bastet Archived July 3, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. Egyptian
Book 2, chapter 138.
Book 2, chapter 59.
Book 2, chapter 137.
Book 2, chapter 60.
^ "restoration". project-min.de. Retrieved 2018-03-19.
Malek, Jaromir (1993). The
Cat in Ancient Egypt. London: British
Otto, Eberhard (1972–1992). "Bastet". In W. Helck; et al. Lexicon
der Ägyptologie. 1. Wiesbaden. pp. 628–30.
Quaegebeur, J. (1991). "Le culte de Boubastis -
Bastet en Egypte
gréco-romaine". In L. Delvaux and E. Warmenbol. Les divins chat
d'Egypte. Leuven. pp. 117–27. CS1 maint: Uses editors
Quirke, Stephen (1992). Ancient Egyptian Religion. London: British
Bakr, Mohamed I. & Brandl, Helmut (2010). "
Bubastis and the Temple
of Bastet". In M. I. Bakr; H. Brandl & F. Kalloniatis. Egyptian
Antiquities from Kufur Nigm and Bubastis. Cairo/Berlin.
pp. 27–36. ISBN 978-3-00-033509-9
Bernhauer, Edith (2014). "Stela Fragment (of Bastet)". In M. I. Bakr;
H. Brandl; F. Kalloniatis. Egyptian Antiquities from the Eastern Nile
Delta. Cairo/Berlin. pp. 156–157.
"All About Bast" — Comprehensive essay by S.D. Cass on per-Bast.org
"Temple to cat god found in Egypt", BBC News
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