Medicine in Pharonic Chimie



Code of Hammrubai 

 The First Medical Papers (Papyrus)



 A moment in the life of an Egyptian physician of the Eighteenth Dynasty (1500-1400 B.C.) is captured in this painting. The physician is confronted with a patient having symptoms paralleling those cited in the third diagnosis of the seventh case history recorded in the Edwin Smith papyrus. Most of the elements of ancient Egyptian medicine are here: The physician, clothed in clean white linen and a wig, as becomes the dignity of his status. The patient, likely a member of a noble household, supported by a “brick chair.” Treatment is proceeding under the sure, sympathetic hands of the physician in accordance with the course prescribed in the scroll held in the hands of an assistant. Magico-religious rites are being observed by priests trained in this adjunctive specialty. The best care that the science and knowledge of the day can provide is focused on the patient.













































































































Medicine in Pharonic Chimie

Egypt first became an organized nation about 3000 B.C. Medical interest centers upon a period in the Third Dynasty (2980-2900 B.C.) When Egypt had an ambitious Pharaoh named Zoser; and Zoser, in turn, had for his chief counsellor and minister a brilliant noble named Imhotep (whose name means “he who cometh in peace”). Imhotep is said to have constructed the famous step pyramid of Sakkarah, near Memphis, for Pharaoh Zoser. A versatile man, Imhotep seems to have been a priest, a magician, and a poet. But in the Egyptian writings of the Greco-Roman period (third century, B.C.) Imhotep is represented as a physician, is assigned the role of god of medicine in Egypt. The Greeks identified him with their Asclepios, to whom was attributed a similar regard. In this later period, temples were erected to Imhotep in which patients looked for and supposedly found relief in their sleep.

Along with their strong faith in their gods, the Ancient Egyptians used their knowledge of the human anatomy and the natural world around them to treat a number of ailments and disorders effectively. Their knowledge and research is impressive still today, and their work paved the way for the study of modern medicine.

It is from the process of embalming, or mummification, that Ancient Egyptian physicians gained their greatest knowledge of the human anatomy. During the mummification process, which prepared the dead body for its journey into the after life, most of the organs were removed (brain, intestines, lungs, liver, etc.). This provided opportunities for examination and observation of many specimens through the years in the pursuit of medical knowledge. In fact, the Egyptians were so impressive in their knowledge of healing and anatomy that they impressed the Greeks, who were quite knowledgeable of the field in their own right.

The Egyptians were famously clean and fearful of illness and disease. Perhaps it is for this reason that medicine became such an important pursuit. They did what they could to prevent illness, by bathing and purifying their bodies habitually, shaving off their head and body hair (women included), and staying with a diet that excluded many “unclean” animals (including fish). However, disease still could not escape them, and the nature of the Egyptian civilization, one of learning and constant advancement, led them to study the human body and experiment with treatments and remedies.

The Egyptians held the belief that illness was often caused by an angry god or an evil spirit. For this reason, the Egyptian doctor was also part shaman, who performed rituals and recited prayers on the sick. But, the Egyptian physician was not limited to faith healing as part of his or her practice. Egyptian medicine became a far-reaching discipline, encompassing a great many fields.

The practices of Egyptian medical practitioners ranged from embalming to faith healing to surgery and autopsy. The use of autopsy came through the extensive embalming practices of the Egyptians, as it was not unlikely for an embalmer to examine the body for a cause of the illness which caused death. The use of surgery also evolved from a knowledge of the basic anatomy and embalming practices of the Egyptians. From such careful observations made by the early medical practitioners of Egypt, healing practices began to center upon both the religious rituals and the lives of the ancient Egyptians.

Doctors in Egypt, like today, were specialists in their particular fields. These fields included pharmacology, dentistry, gynecology, crude surgical procedures, general healing, autopsy, and embalming.

Physicians of ancient Egypt were probably trained in the temples, as were the priest- magicians and sorcerers. However, they formed a distinct profession, organized in a rigid hierarchy with court physicians at the top. Egyptian medicine was subdivided into many specialities. A proctologist had the poetic name of “shepherd of the anus,” and was much in demand in view of prevalent pathogenic theories. Egyptian specialization seems to have been hangover of primitive conditions rather than a precursor of modern specialization.

As avid record-keepers, the Ancient Egyptians chronicled a great deal of their knowledge on papyrus scrolls. Some of these papyri still exist today, and we have been able to translate them somewhat accurately, and learn a great deal about the study and practice of medicine in Ancient Egypt. Some of the papyri are quite famous, including the Edwin Smith Papyrus, though of as one the principal record on Ancient Egyptian medicine. The Ebers Papyrus (dating back to approximately 3000 B.C.) is another papyrus containing a wealth of general information, including faith healing, information on skin diseases, stomach ailments, medicines, the head, dentistry, gynecology, and diseases of the extremities.

Another medical papyrus that proved very interesting was the Kahun Gynecological Papyrus (dating back to 1825 B.C.). This document provides information on the Egyptians' limited (and sometimes inaccurate) knowledge of the female reproductive system, pregnancy and childbirth, contraception, and treatments of illnesses during pregnancy.

It is clear that the Egyptians did not possess the range of knowledge about the health and disease that we have today. But their efforts in the field of medicine are very impressive (especially in the field of anatomy), and the documents left behind by them (as well as the Greeks) helped to advance the pursuit and study of the field throughout history.

Sources consulted:

"Medicine in Ancient Egypt." Retrieved from on 4 May 2007.

"Ancient Egyptian Medicine." Retrieved from on 4 May 2007.

"Medicine." Retrieved from on 4 May 2007.