Popular Science Monthly/Volume 39/October 1891/The Dogs of Ancient Egypt




THE Egyptians domesticated the dog from the most remote antiquity. The names which they gave it—ouhorou, ouaouou and tosmou—belong to the fundamental dialect of their language; and one at least of them is a characteristic onomatopœia, such as our children instinctively use in their earliest age for the designation of the animal. It is hard now to determine what was the most ancient species they tamed; the most ancient monuments show us dogs of every size and every color, and the cemeteries have given us greyhounds, terriers, and twenty varieties more or less closely related to the jackal or to the modern fellah's dog. At the opening of Egyptian history, more than four thousand years before the Christian era, we might have met in the towns and in the country the same mixture of types and confusion of forms and colors that we observe now. The dog was in Egypt, as he is with us, a friend and a faithful servant at the same time. He lived in the house with his master, followed him in his walks, attended the public ceremonies with him, sometimes free, at others held in leash by a slave or child, or in princely families by a favorite dwarf. At meals he had his place marked under the benches of the guests; as in Greece and Rome, he was there to dispose of the bones, the fragments of meat, and the pieces of bread that were thrown down, and in a general way to keep the dining-room clean. These were certainly not very refined fashions, and if our house-dogs had to satisfy themselves in this way they would be likely to die of hunger. The ancients did not feel the delicate tastes and disgusts in such matters that we experience; their life presented excessive refinements and rude features of which we have no idea side by side. The house-dog in Egypt was a domestic, working at his trade, only his trade was one of those in which we have ceased to employ him; it may not have been a great thing that he has lost, but it is in the kitchen or his kennel that he finishes up his master's dessert.

The house-dog was shaved, combed, and washed; he was sometimes tinted with henna as if he were a woman; he wore fine collars on his neck, furnished sometimes with an earthenware clasp in the shape of a bell or a flower. Children played with him, became attached to him, and the hero of one story to whom his fates had predicted at his birth that he would die of the bite of a dog, willingly confronted the threatened danger rather than be separated from the dog which he had raised. He, of course, had a name, to which he answered: Si-togai, the son of the bat; Akeni, the ferreter; Khaoabsou, the lamp or star; Soubou, the

PSM V39 D830 Dogs from the egyptian monument.jpg

Figs. 1, 2, and 3.—Dogs from the Egyptian Monuments.

Fig. 1, one of the favorite dogs of King Antef, from his funereal stele. Fig. 2, bitch depicted in a Theban tomb of the twentieth dynasty. Fig. 3, hound from the tomb of Anna at Thebes (eighteenth dynasty ), from a drawing by M. Boussac.

strong; and Nahsi, the black. He is seen with kings as well as with common persons. Rameses II, during the earlier years of his reign, was always escorted by a female dog which was called Anaïtiennaktou, or brave as the goddess Anaïtis. A petty king of the eleventh dynasty, about 3,300 b. c., had five dogs which he loved so much that he carved their names and engraved their portraits on his tomb They were, indeed, blooded animals whose names revealed their foreign origin. The finest one of them (Fig. 1) was called Abaikarou, a faithful transcription of the word abaikour, by which the hunting-dog is designated in many of the Berber dialects. A servant is holding them behind the king, who is looking at them, and prevents their disturbing the sacrificial ceremony at which they are present.

The shepherds had dogs of medium size with pointed ears, like those which still guard the flocks of Upper Egypt. Hunters sought out two or three kinds of hounds (Fig. 3), some having straight ears and short tails, and some drooping ears and a long tail, like the slouguis of the modern Berbers. They are to be seen in many of the tombs, springing in pursuit of gazelles and antelopes, or running down the hare and the ostrich. A few pugs, heavy and grotesque like ours (Fig. 2), are represented occasionally, rather as house-dogs than as hunters. These animals were in considerable number, and made the ancient Egyptian villages as dangerous at night as modern villages are. An officer relegated to one of the Delta burgs a few years after the death of Rameses II complained bitterly of their boldness in a letter addressed to one of his chiefs: "When, sometimes," he says, "the people of the country meet to drink Cilician beer and go out to open the bottles—there are two hundred large mastiffs and three hundred wolf-dogs waiting all day at the door of my house—every time I go out at nightfall to take part in the feast, I am kept out if I have not with me the little wolf-dog of Nahihou, the royal scribe, who lodges with me. He saves me from the other dogs. At whatever time I go, he goes with me on the street; and when he barks I run, swinging my club and whips. It is, in fact, only a pack of the mangy, high-tailed wolf-dogs prowling around the cattle pens. When they have made their round, the largest ones in front, in a compact mass, as if in a bunch, one would say that it was the enchantment of some god, a flame which had fixed itself and would not let go." Roving dogs are less numerous and less ferocious now, but they become at times terrible to strangers. It has oftened happened to me, when casually passing through a village of Upper Egypt about midnight, to be reminded when I met them of the bull-dog in one of Dickens's novels, "a biter of man and killer of children for sport, which usually lived on the right side of the street, but also hid itself on the left side, so as to be ready to jump upon the first passer-by." As it is under Tewfik Pasha, so it was in the time of Rameses II, and the experience of the present day enables us to understand exactly what our scribe meant in the passage I have just quoted.

The dog was a god; he was at the same time several gods, of which the best known, the barking Anubis of the Latin poets, was also a jackal. As there were cemeteries for cats, there were also for dogs, where their mummies are to be found by the thousand. I am cognizant of them at Siout, Sheik Fadl, Feshn, Sakkarah, and even Thebes, and most of the Egyptian museums possess more or less well preserved specimens of them. One of these mummies was recently opened and drawn by Herr Beckmann, a German (Fig. 4). It was a small harrier, about eighteen months old. There is hardly anything left of it but the bones and the skin, and a few bits of muscular tissue between the teeth, reduced to dust. It had been wrapped in a wide band of coarse cloth glued PSM V39 D832 Egyptian mummy of a dog front and profile views.jpgFig. 4.—Egyptian Mummy of a Dog with Pasteboard Mask, recently discovered by M. Beckmann. Front and Profile Views. to the skin by a thick layer of bitumen. Over this envelope they had applied a thin mat of dried reed-stems like those which are found on many human mummies of the twentieth dynasty and later, fastened by a long cord of braided grass. The animal, thus bundled up, presented the appearance of a cylindrical mass, or of a veritable basket of game, with both ends left open. A decent shape had to be given to this queer-looking package. A network of fine cloth was thrown over the part which answered to the body, so arranged as to design parallel rows of superposed squares along its length; a kind of ornament which is found on many mummies of small animals, as of the cat, ichneumons, the ibis, and the hawk. According to usage, the head was covered with a pasteboard mask, in which the physiognomy of the animal was reproduced as far as possible. It was painted a dark brown, except around the eyes, the lips, and the nostrils, which were white. The half-opened mouth showed the points of the teeth, and the ears rose above the head.

It is to be regretted that objects of this kind have been hitherto so little studied. A small number of species of dogs have been identified from the ancient paintings, but the different naturalists who have occupied themselves with researches of this sort have not always reached the same results. The mummies would furnish them sure data, and would permit them to supplement the often deceitful evidence of the monuments. But there must not now be much delay in going into the study. European companies have been mining in the necropolises of Egyptian animals for more than twenty years. Last year a great exodus of mummified cats took place to England; and not a month passes that vessels loaded with bones and mummies of cattle, jackals, gazelles, and dogs do not sail for Trieste and other ports on the Mediterranean. When European naturalists shall at last have decided to study the mummified animals, there may not be one left in Egypt.—Translated for the Popular Science Monthly from La Nature.