The Egyptian Word for Cat and Its History: The Egyptian Mau
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The Egyptian Word for Cat and Its History: The Egyptian Mau

Est. read time: 4 min.

On this day in 1922, archaeologists discovered the tomb of King Tut; now November 4th is known as King Tut Day. So, we’re highlighting one of the world’s first domestic cats: the regal Egyptian Mau! This distinctive cat breed can be seen throughout ancient Egyptian artwork—not to mention roaming the streets of Cairo and Giza today.

History of the Egyptian Mau

The Egyptian Mau is an ancient cat, worshipped and revered by pharaohs and kings. There is little doubt that domestic cats originated in the Fertile Crescent, of which Egypt is part. “Mau” is literally the ancient Egyptian word for “cat.” (So, calling one of this breed an “Egyptian Mau cat” is a bit redundant!)

fresco fowling scene from the tomb of Nebamun in Thebes, Egypt
A Mau devouring fowl in this fresco from the tomb of Nebamun

Frescoes and papyrus scrolls dating back as far as 1550 BC depict the ancestors of these spotted cats. For example, the fresco scene from the tomb of Nebamun in Thebes, Egypt, includes a Mau devouring fowl. Today this fresco resides in the British Museum in London.

Cats were an integral part of ancient Egyptian culture and religion. As far back as 3200 BC, an entire Egyptian city was founded just to worship the feline deity Bastet. Another Egyptian cat god, Mafdet, was often depicted with the head of a lion, house-cat, or cheetah. The sun god Ra took the shape of the “Great Tomcat” or Mau during his visits to the underworld.

Ta-Miu’s sarcophagus
Ta-Miu’s sarcophagus © Larazoni / CC-BY-SA-2.0

Felines were also royal companions to the Egyptians. Ta-Miu was the personal pet of Crown Prince Thutmose, the eldest son of Pharaoh Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye of the 18th dynasty of Egypt. After her death, Ta-Miu was mummified and buried in a decorated sarcophagus. And she wasn’t the only one: Some 80,000 feline burials were discovered in 1888 in a tomb in Middle Egypt. 

Modern history

The Egyptian Mau also has an exciting modern history. The breed almost went extinct around the time of World War II. Then exiled Russian Princess Nathalie Troubetskoy, who was living in Italy at the time, emigrated to the U.S. and imported her three Egyptian Mau cats. Here she established the Fatima Egyptian Mau cattery, which produced many of the ancestors of today’s Egyptian Mau cats in the U.S.

A striking, statuesque appearance

silver Egyptian Mau cat standing
© Achet Aton / CC-BY-SA-4.0

The Egyptian Mau is the only naturally spotted breed of domestic cat. This exotic look has made her a fan favorite of cat fanciers around the world—particularly when shown in her naturally occurring colors of silver, bronze, and smoke.

According to, there are several unique physical features of the Egyptian Mau breed besides the telltale spots and mascara markings:

  • The brow line and characteristic eye set that gives the breed a naturally worried look 
  • The gooseberry green eye color 
  • The flap of skin extending from the posterior end of the ribcage to the hind leg (similar to her characteristic primordial pouch
  • The "tiptoe" stance given by the hind legs being proportionally longer than the front legs

With her spotted tabby markings, the Egyptian Mau also typically bears the “M” shape on the forehead. Ancient Egyptians believed the “M” was a reference to Mau, or that the mark represented the sacred scarab beetle.

Egyptian Mau personality

bronze Egyptian Mau cat sitting
© Liz West / CC-BY-SA-2.0

Although the Egyptian Mau is aloof and wary around strangers, you cannot find a more loving family cat! This breed is known for being fiercely devoted to family, especially a selected “special person.” explains that, in her own territory, the Egyptian Mau tends to be “extremely outgoing with absolutely no fear and a ton of curiosity. They make wonderful companions.” No wonder the ancient Egyptians wanted to be buried with their feline friends!

Fastest cat around

The Egyptian Mau may be the fastest domestic cat in the world. With her characteristic flap of skin extending from the posterior end of the ribcage to the hind leg, she has an uncanny leaping ability and is capable of great bursts of speed—up to 30 miles per hour, in fact!

Another interesting fact about the Egyptian Mau? She tends to have a longer gestational period than other cat breeds. Most felines are pregnant for 63 to 67 days. The Mau gives birth, on average, after 73 days.

From playing sacred roles in ancient history to being loving companions to modern families, the Egyptian Mau sure is a storied cat breed! 


silver Egyptian Mau standing


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