The Egyptian Mau
by Bonnie Wydro and Melanie Morgan
From 1999 CFA Yearbook
WHO IS THIS CAT?
‘This male cat is Ra himself, and he was called ‘Mau’ because the speech of the god Sa, who said concerning him: ‘He is like (Mau) unto that which he hath made’; therefore did the name of Ra become ‘Mau’.
(The Book of the Dead) 240BC The Papyrus of Ani translated by E.A. Wallis Budge
Ancient History, Ancient Myth...
Legends and mystery surround the origins of this ancient and royal breed. Time itself has obscured the true ancestry of the modern day Egyptian Mau, yet today, in 1997, when a truly exceptional example of a Mau poses regally on a judging table and gazes out at the world at large with its haunting imperious eyes, one can truly envision these fabulous creatures gracing the halls of ancient Egyptian temples.
And grace them they did... The Egyptian Mau, the only naturally spotted breed of domestic cat, was worshiped by its original owners, the ancient pharaohs and kings. The word Mau meant cat or sun in Ancient Egypt and there is no question that the Egyptians revered the cat both as a god and as a treasure. Papyri and frescoes dating back to as far as 1550 B.C., depict spotted cats that look extraordinarily like the Mau of today and have been found in abundance. The many documents found from the dawn of the New Kingdom on make it very obvious that the cat was an integral part of daily life as well as a worshiped deity in Ancient Egypt.
The actual domestication of the feline in Egypt probably coincided with the advent of the silo in Egypt. With the benefits of came pests, which attracted predators. Rats and mice flourished and attracted such fierce predators as the cobras and what was, at that point, probably the African Wildcat (Felis Silvestris Lybica). The process of domestication undoubtedly took thousands of years, but the beginnings of the bond between man and cat were forged as the Egyptians welcomed the superb hunting cats into their lives. The strength of that relationship continued to build as the Egyptians enticed the cats to join their households.
It is hypothesized that most, if not all domestic cats, including the Mau, originated from a sub-species of Felis Silvestris Lybica, Felis Libica Ocreata, and evolved through domestication and adaptation into the individual and distinct breeds that we see today. Morrison's study of the many cat mummies from the 200-600 B.C. period which were found in the Egyptian Tombs confirm that the cats of ancient Egypt undoubtedly can trace their origins to the Felis Libica Ocreata, the subspecies of African Wildcat that found its way to Egypt through Ethiopia.
The Maus in their rightful place: Worshipped Deities
The religious significance of the cat in Egypt predates recorded history. In the XIIth
Dynasty (2800B.C.) the Egyptian Book of the Dead portrays the benevolent sun god, Ra,
in the form of a spotted cat slaying the evil serpent of darkness.
The worship of the dual natured goddess, Bast, started out as a local cult and reached its zenith around 950B.C. when Bubastis, home of the cult of Bastet, became the capital of Egypt. The goddess Bast was depicted as a cat, representative of both the sun and the moon, which reflects the light of the sun. Although she primarily represented the moon, which reflects the life giving light and warmth of the sun in the darkness of night. She is also depicted as holding the serpent of darkness at bay with bloody tooth and claw and as such was referred to as the 'Tearer' or 'Renderer'.
Through the cult of Bast, the cat came to represent fertility, strength, and agility. It is most often depicted under the woman's chair in frescos and papyri. Paintings on the walls of the Pharaoh's tombs often showed the spotted Maus on the laps and shoulders of their owners (much the same places you find them today). It is reported that family members showed their grief in losing a cat by shaving their eyebrows and the cats were prepared for burial in linens and fine jewels so that all could be rejoined in the afterlife. Tomb paintings depict the role of the family pet in ancient times. They are shown, bejeweled and pampered, on the laps and shoulders of their owners in domestic scenes. They are also shown as fishing and fowling companions in the papyrus marshes.
Legend has it that the Egyptians' reverence for their Maus went so far as to cause them to lose a major battle with Cambyses II of Persia. According to legend, the Persians quickly realized that the Egyptians' Achilles heel was their fanatical dedication to their cat; thus, the Persians took many cats hostage. They then rode into battle holding the cats before them on their shields. Rather than risk killing or wounding the precious felines, the Egyptians surrendered the city of Pelusium (The Readers Digest Book of Cats page 30). The Mau was still held in reverence by the Egyptian people as late as Roman Times. In 1 B.C. the Sicilian historian Diodorus chronicles an incident where a Roman soldier stationed at Alexandra killed a cat. Although the Egyptians were in a delicate situation and would really have preferred not to antagonize the Romans at that point, there was no controlling the fury of the people. The soldier was seized by an angry mob and executed.
Further evidence of the high esteem given to the cat in Egyptian culture are the ornate and elaborate sarcophagi that were used for cats in tombs. Mummies of cats complete with mummified mice included in their tomb for food, have been found in the hundreds of thousands. Many have been found with fur intact. That fur was generally yellow (bronze in color) and exhibited spots, or in some cases, stripes and spots. Despite the spotted fur found on mummified cats, there do seem to be two types of cats depicted in the ancient art work - spotted felines and a sandy colored cat. Both seem to have the moderate body type that we see today in the Egyptian Mau. There is some speculation that the little known and rather shy Jungle cat, Felis Chaus, may have also been an ancestor of the Mau and/or the Aby. Although the theory is not widely accepted, there is significant evidence that suggests that both the Jungle Cat and the African Wild Cat were held in captivity simultaneously, and it is likely that there was some inter-breeding between these two. (Felines and Pharaohs). Regardless of the actual origin, the cats that we find in the tombs do indeed bear a striking resemblance to our modern-day Maus, lending credence to the theory that the Egyptian Mau is indeed one of the oldest, if not the oldest, breed of domestic cat today.
The 'Modern Mau'
Prior to World War II, The Egyptian Mau enjoyed some popularity in Europe - especially Italy and Germany. The ravages of war wreaked significant damage on the cat fancy as a whole and the rare Egyptian Mau in particular. By the end of the war, the Egyptian Mau was in serious danger of complete extinction. Fortunately, several breeders in Italy took measures to preserve some breeding stock and it was there that the next stage in modern Mau history was initiated.
The American Beginning: The Traditionals
Much as it had been in the middle ages of ancient Egypt, the arrival of the Egyptian Mau in the United States was also as a companion of royalty. The real history of the modern Egyptian Mau begins in the early 50's in Italy. While in Rome, exiled White Russian princess, Natalie Troubetsky, discovered the Egyptian Mau and became fascinated with them. The War had decimated the cat fancy in Europe, and despite her efforts, the princess was only able to secure two whole Maus from the stock in Italy. Gregorio was an eleven year old black male; his mate was Lulu, a silver female. Sometime later, using all of her extensive contacts in diplomatic circles, the princess located another male in Syria. Geppa, who was reportedly a smoke, was imported to Italy from Syria.
The original litter of post-war Maus was born in Italy in 1953 with a second in 1954. In December of 1956, Princess Troubetsky immigrated to the United States with three cats of her breeding, Jojo, Liza and Baba, which were used for the foundation of her cattery, Fatima. Baba, a silver female, was out of Lulu and by Geppa. Jojo, bronze male was out of Baba and by Gregario (which means that we know that his genotype was Aaii). Liza was the third Mau to come over with the Princess and she was out of Baba by Jojo. In 1958, she registered her cattery name, Fatima, and 10 cats with CFF.
Three distinct colors, homozygous for spots, appeared from the Princess's stock. Silver, bronze and smoke were accepted for show purposes. Occasionally, self blacks were also seen in litters and were used for breeding purposes only. Many breeders have reported the existence of "blue" Maus over the years, and there is quite an extensive movement in Germany to promote the colors associated with the dilute gene. In June of 1997, CFA accepted the blue on AOV status.
These rare and majestic cats from the Princess's line quickly developed an ardent following who felt that their distinct qualities should be preserved and protected and passed on as a legacy from the Egyptian Pharaohs to future generations. Some of the early catteries instrumental in promoting the breed were: Aswan, Bastis, Far East, Phiset, Polka Dots, Trillium, and of course, Fatima.
The cats that come primarily from the Princess's lines have come to be called "traditionals". Known mostly for their uncanny intelligence and exquisite head type, the traditionals have recently been mixed with what have come to be called the "Indian" lines to produce cats with gorgeous traditional heads and refined bodies with exceptional contrast and pattern.
Imports: The "Indian Line"
In 1980, Jean Mill imported two cats, Toby and his sister, Tasha. They were born in Egypt and adopted by a zoo keeper in New Delhi, India. Both were rufous bronze kittens with random spotting and exhibited distinct Mau characteristics. In 1982, they were registered with ACA. TICA accepted Toby's line shortly thereafter and in the early '80's, CFA finally accepted the new bloodlines for the first time. Subsequently they retracted the acceptance, but in the late 80's they reinstated the cats, which have been dubbed "Indian" lines. The introduction of new blood effectively doubled the gene pool. The expansion was much needed as the severely limited gene pool of the traditional Mau was starting to impact on litter size and viability and the health of the cats themselves. The expansion of the gene pool has had several benefits which indicate that this minority breed is revitalized and ready to expand into a new era. Over the past decade we have seen litter sizes increase, kitten viability improve significantly, and a decrease in the genetic problems that were beginning to plague the breed when the gene pool was self-limiting.