Ancient Egyptian Medicine Ancient Egyptians were an advanced culture especially in medical technology which includes; the books of medicine, treatments of disease and illness and the study of the body and its functions. Archeologists and Historians have learned about these people through papyri found mostly in tombs of great pharaohs and viziers. Unfortunately, there are not many completed texts so we lack information on many things including how they diagnosed illnesses. Our understanding on many of the aspects of Ancient Egyptian medicine comes from these incomplete but thorough papyri.
The most famous book of medicine discovered is the Ebers Papyrus. The “medical papyri” as it is also known as is the oldest book ever discovered. It is 110 pages long and contains about 900 prescriptions recipes all dating back to 1500 B. C. E. Archeologists can only suspect that the Ebers Papyrus came from the tomb of a swnw (physician) at Thebes because tomb robbers never recorded where they took them from. The Edwin Smith Papyrus, named after their owner, contained information on healing bruises, cuts, and bones.
Hearst Papyrus was found containing much of the same information as the Ebers but in Upper Egypt with a later date. This shows that the information was widespread and that teachings of one physician would travel. There was even more specific books like the Kahun papyrus from 1850 B. C. E. that seems to be a textbook of gynecology. Physicians used the books to find a remedy, dosage and quantity or medicine, disease which it should be used for and appropriate spell. Treatments for disease begun in the earlier times as exorcism like rituals.
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The disease was thought of as a demon that needed to be cleaned from the soul. The sick would wear amulets with gods on them to protect them and make them better and also say prayers. But there was some herbal treatment. Hartshorn was said to be a “demon expeller” but also a pain reliever. Common foods we would never think of as medicine hard great effect on healing. With advancements in tools and metals came more successful surgeries. Sharp stone was used at first but as copper came around it became a lot easier. Physicians would remove tumors and cysts near the skin easily.
After surgery the wound would be wrapped in linen with honey holding it together. Honey prevented infection by killing bacteria, and this made many surgeries turn out successful! If there is illness there will be speculation on where it came from. The Egyptians had an idea that blocked channels caused illness. They got this idea because when the Nile did not flood, there was starvation which caused mass death. Treatments were developed to unblocked channels like castor oil to cause vomiting. Blood was also commonly drained out of veins.
It was very common for some to not eat or force themselves to throw up for about three days a month to ensure clean channels. They believed another cause of illness to be evil spirits. To protect themselves they would wear jewelry with prayers and gods on it to watch and protect them. The most vulnerable times to spirits were thought to be while sleeping and during childbirth. At the times there would be many statues to protect and keep the person well. Egyptians had many ideas on how the body worked. One was that the respiratory system was the breath of life going into the right ear and death leaving the left ear.
This was obviously very wrong but it’s interesting to see their interests in the mechanics of the human body. Pulse was detected and was linked to the heart, which was considered the most vital organ. The brain was really not thought of, and during embalming it would be broken and thrown away. The papyrus tells us that physicians had names for some of the major organs but not all. They did not dissect bodies to learn from them because that was against their religion. The only people to ever see inside the body were embalmers, but because they were considered unclean they were cut off from the community.
It is a possibility that embalming is how they learned of the hearts importance but there is a bigger chance they learned this through warriors that had been injured. With so much care into health and wellness many people lived long lives. In ancient times 10% of Egyptian people lived past 50 which was very old for the time. Most fatalities happened before the age of five. Other dangerous times were teen years for women. Many girls were having children by the age of 14 or earlier and died in childbirth. This is the reason why many Egyptian men had a longer life p on average.
When Romans and Greeks came into power, Egyptians still led in medicine. When Alexandria with built in northern Egypt it became the learning center for Greek medicine. The Romans visited Memphis in 200 B. C. E to copy down books from 1000 years after Ebers Papyrus was written! And the English used Egyptian treatments up until the 1900s when discoveries on disease and bacteria started being made. These practices that seem crazy to modern technology lasted for 3000 years and helped the world thrive to wear it is today! Without Egyptian medicine history and the world would be a very different place.
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