Why are cats so important in Ancient Egypt?
Their association with Bastet coupled with their general usefulness in day to day life is the reason they were treated as they were
Bastet was the goddess of more than just cats, she was also the goddess of fire and pregnant women (an odd combination).
Bastet was originally called Mafdet and was the lion headed goddess of judgement, justice, and execution. But as feelings towards cats changed, she became a much softer and beloved cat headed goddess.
The cat, while a beloved household pet, was also a status symbol and in general an incredibly useful creature to have around :
Praised for controlling vermin and its ability to kill snakes such as cobras, the domesticated cat became a symbol of grace and poise.
They were employed to protect royal granaries and food stores from rodents and snakes. If a cat was present anywhere, it was a certain sign of cleanliness and wealth.
Interestingly, they were so beloved that :
The export of cats from Egypt was so strictly prohibited that a branch of the government was formed solely to deal with this issue. Government agents were dispatched to other lands to find and return cats which had been smuggled out. It is clearly established that, by 450 BCE, the penalty in Egypt for killing a cat was death
And of course, some were so revered they were eventually mummified.