No one was able to ease the pain of the ill and the wounded better than the ancient Egyptian doctors who understood the mysterious connection between the complexity of the human body, the supernatural world and the hidden power of nature. In ancient times, the Egyptians declared medicine as a necessary art and the Egyptian doctors were the absolute elite and renowned all over the ancient world for their exceptional skill in this art form.
The medical practice in Egypt was highly advance as it was the main reason for the rise of any medical practice in Greece and Rome. But also their explanations of these afflictions was based on the belief they were the work of the gods, caused by the presence of the evil spirits and the only cure was to rid the body of their influence by praying to the gods and accompanied by various medications and a possible surgical operation.
Facts About Ancient Egyptian Medicine
The level of their advanced practices and traits was mind-blowing as they understood that any illness or a wound can be tread by using Pharmaceutical more than 3000 years ago, recognized the potential healing abilities in massage and aromas, had male and female doctors who specialized in different areas of medicine and more importantly understood the importance of cleanliness while treating the patients which indicated their early understanding for the concept of germs which was later confirmed in the 19th century CE, all these factors and medical procedures led the mortality rate in ancient Egypt to be less than any European hospital in the Christian era until the mid 20th century.
The art of medicine of the ancient Egyptian is extensively documented from the 33rd century BC until 525 BC.
One of the documents was a passage of the Odyssey in 800 BC where he states “the Egyptian men are more skilled in medicine than any of humankind” and “the Egyptians were skilled in medicine more than any of other art forms”.
In 440 BC, the Greek historian Herodotus wrote extensively of the advance medicinal practices of the Egyptians and also Pliny the Elder wrote in favor the Egyptian doctors.
Many great greek names studied medicine in ancient Egypt at the temple of Amenhotep such as Galen and Hippocrates, Herophilos and many others who acknowledged the contribution of ancient Egyptian civilization to Greek medicine and were able to study the Egyptian symbols, texts, beliefs and pass it.
Doctors in Ancient Egypt
During ancient Egypt, the medical profession had its own hierarchy as the profession was in third place after the chief medical officer and the inspector of physicians.
The doctors had many ranks and specialized in every possible field like ophthalmology, gastroenterology, proctology, and dentistry.
The doctors were referred to as “Wabau” which means ritually pure and were treated as priests who know every form of magic. Physicians in ancient Egypt could be male or female as the earliest recorded physician in the world is Hesy-Ra who was the “Chief of Dentists and Physicians” to pharaoh Djoser of the 27th century BC while The lady Peseshet (2400 BC) is the first recorded female doctor who could be the mother of Akhethohep, she is known as Imy-R Swnwt according to her tomb which translates to “Lady overseer of the lady Physicians”.
In the 1st dynasty, there were institutions known as houses of life (Per Ankh) that had medical functions and was in inscriptions with physicians and the record shows that in the 19th dynasty (1292-1189 BC) the employees of the house of life enjoyed medical insurance, pensions, and sick leave. The profession of nurses was also highly respected and honored, nurses could be male or female and there was no evidence for any kind of school or professional training for nursing.
Magic and Religion in Ancient Egyptian Medicine
Magic and religion walked hand in hand during the ancient Egyptian civilization and had a profound effect on the Egyptian medical order. The Egyptian believed that the cause of any disease are evil gods, demons, curses or even an angry ghost and was treated as a by certain incantations, aromas, offerings, tattoos, amulets like the Eye of Horus, the knot of others and many others and praying to a deity such as Sekhmet the goddess of healing, threats and curses or Heka the god of magic who carried a staff entwined with two serpents.
Diseases in Ancient Egypt
The ancient Egyptian society suffered from numerous diseases we have today which include bilharziasis which is’ a disease contracted and spread through contaminated water’, trachoma which is ‘an infection of the eye’, heart disease, malaria, liver disease, dysentery, cancer, smallpox, pneumonia, typhoid, arthritis, high blood pressure, the common cold, bronchitis, tuberculosis, appendicitis, dementia, kidney stones, curvature of the spine, and ovarian cysts.
In the early days of the Egyptian civilization, the doctors were considered to be magician who treated their patients with a recitation of magical spells and certain remedies which ingredients was derived from the substance or animal that had characteristic in a way similar to the symptoms of the patient, this method is called Simila Similibus (similar with similar) which can be tracked throughout history until the discovery of Homeopathy in the mother era, was written on papyrus scrolls.
In 1822 AD, the translation of the rosette stone allowed the interpretation of the ancient hieroglyphics texts which led to the discovery of several medical documents dating back to 3000 BC like:
The ever papyrus, the Edwin Smith Papyrus, the berlin & London medical Papyrus, the Hearst Papyrus and countless others which were able to shed some light on the medical advances of the ancient Egyptians.
Out of all the Papyrus, these two documents were able to showcase and inform a great deal about the medical aspect of the ancient Egyptian civilization:
The Edwin Smith Papyrus
was written in 1600 BC as a textbook on surgery, trauma and details anatomical observations and notes on the examination, diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis of numerous diseases.
It is viewed as a copy of several earlier texts which holds Medical information dating as early as 3000 BC. The papyrus contains the first-ever known descriptions of the cranial sutures, the cerebrospinal fluid, the external surface of the brain, and the intracranial pulsations.
Imhotep in the 3rd dynasty of the old kingdom is credited as the original author of the papyrus text and founder of ancient Egyptian medicine. It also showcases the earliest known form of surgery was performed in Egypt around 2750 BC.
The Ebers Papyrus
was created in 1550 BC and is full of 700 magical incantations and remedies meant to cast away the evil spirits causing the diseases.
The Papyrus explains that the heart is the center of the blood supply with countless vessels attached to every organ in the body and a bit of information about the kidneys.
It holds the earliest documented awareness of tumors if the poorly understood ancient medical terminology has been correctly interpreted. Many information comes from the images and drawings on the walls of the Egyptian tombs and the translation of the accompanying inscriptions.
The London Medical Papyrus
The London Medical Papyrus (c. 1782-1570 BCE) was related to issues of the eyes, skin, burns, and pregnancy.
The Berlin Medical Papyrus
It also known as the Brugsch Papyrus, dates to Egypt new kingdom between 1570 and 1069 BC and deals with contraception, fertility, and includes the earliest known form of pregnancy tests.
The Kahun Gynaecological Papyrus
The Kahun Gynaecological Papyrus of 1800 BC which dealt with mainly women’s health, pregnancy, fertility, contraception and many more.
Ancient Egyptian Food
The ancient Egyptians understood the concept of “you are what you eat”, the ancient Egyptians were aware of the importance of the diet and based it on the principles of moderation and balance.
The Egyptian lands were highly fertile which led to mass production of many crops.
The main crops of Egypt were wheat and barley which were consumed in the form of loaves that were produced in a variety of types through fermentation and baking and by adding yeast was able to enrich the nutritional value of the product.
It is estimated that back then, one farmer’s crop could support twenty adults.
Barley was also used for creating a bear, various kinds of vegetables and fruits were widely grown.
There used oil in cocking which they extracted from the linseed plant plus they had a limited selection of spiced and herbs. The main source of protein was fish which was widely consumed while meat like sheep, goats, and various wild animals was regularly available in the upper classes only, the ancient Egyptian enforced prohibitions against certain animal-like pigs who the ancient Egyptians believed was ‘unclean’.
Practices in Ancient Egypt
The ancient Egyptians had an incredible knowledge in the field of human anatomy as the mummification process explains.
They were aware of the existence of a pulse which was connected to the heart, they were able to develop a theory known as channels that carried air, water, and blood to the body just like how if the river Nile was blocked the crops would be ruined, they would often use laxatives to unblock these channels if the person is unwell, this indicates their understanding of the concept of blood vessels, nerves, and tendons. The ancient Egyptian doctors were required to stay healthy and to wash and shave daily to prevent the spread of any infections as written the Edwin Smith papyrus.
Healing in Ancient Egypt
Herbal in Ancient Egyptian Medicine
Herbs played a vital role in the healing of many diseases and infection in ancient times.
They would mix many combinations of herbs in a specific manner and some of the most used were garlic and onions which were seen as a source of endurance and were consumed in large quantities, plus they used other herbs like:
- Aloe vera was used to destroy worms, relieves headaches, soothes chest pains, burns, ulcers and for skin disease and allergies.
- Basil was considered excellent for the heart.
- Balsam Apple or Apple of Jerusalem was used as a laxative and treated skin allergies, headaches, gums and teeth infections, for asthma, liver stimulant, and weak digestion.
- Bayberry cleared diarrhea, soothes ulcers, shrinks hemorrhoids, and repels flies.
- Belladonna was considered a pain reliever as it reduces fevers, cured gums, and epilepsy.
- Caraway cured flatulence, digestive, and used as a breath freshener.
- Cardamom was used as a spice in foods, as it cured digestive and flatulence.
- Colchicum a.k.a “Meadow Saffron” cured rheumatism and reduces swelling.
- Common Juniper tree cured digestive, chest pains, and stomach cramps.
- Cubeb pepper treated urinary tract infections, larynx, throat infections, gum ulcers and infections, and headaches.
- Dill was used as a laxative and cured flatulence relieves dyspepsia and diuretic properties.
- Fenugreek treated respiratory disorders, cleanse the stomach, calms the liver, ease pancreas, and reduces swelling.
- Frankincense cleared the throat, cured larynx infections, stops bleeding, cuts phlegm, asthma, and stops vomiting.
- Garlic provides vitality, clears flatulence, removes digestion, used as a laxative, shrinks hemorrhoids, was believed rids the body of “spirits” and during the building of the Pyramids, the workers were given garlic on a daily basis to give them the strength needed to perform well.
- Henna treated astringent, stops diarrhea, and close open wounds.
- Honey was widely used in ancient Egypt as a natural antibiotic and to dress wounds and as a base for healing unguents.
- Licorice was used as a mild laxative, it expels phlegm, clams the liver, pancreas and chest and any kind of respiratory problems.
- Mustard plant treated vomiting and relieves chest pains.
- Myrrh was used to stops diarrhea, removes headaches, and soothes gums, toothaches, and backaches.
- Onion prevents colds, soothes sciatica, end pains, relive perspiration and other cardiovascular problems.
- Parsley is a diuretic substance.
- Mint is used to treat soothes flatulence, relive digestion, stops vomiting and used a breath freshener.
- Sandalwood aids digestion stops diarrhea, soothes headaches and gout
- Sesame was used to soothe asthma.
- Tamarind is a laxative.
- Thyme is a pain reliever.
- Tumeric was used to close open wounds.
- Poppy is used to relieving insomnia, headaches, and anesthetic, treat respiratory problems and deadens the pain.
Surgery in Ancient Egypt
The act of surgery was a common practice among physicians, they understood that there were three categories of injuries, treatable, contestable and untreatable.
The surgical approach was made in minor ailments; they used knives, drills, hooks, scales, saws, pincers, and bandages of linen, scissors and a vase with burning incense.
They also were the first to used opium as a form of pain killer and as a drugging substance during any surgery.
Circumcision of males was highly common as it was performed on adult males form the ages of 10 to 14 as a custom to indicate his passage from boyhood to manhood.
These surgeries were often successful as seen on the mummies and the remains found on amputations and brain surgeries.
The ancient Egyptian doctors also used prosthesis such as artificial toes, eyeballs and created cosmetics like lotions, salves for skincare.
Dentistry in Ancient Egypt
The field of dentistry was an important field of study in ancient Egypt since the third millennium, a dental disease could be fatal as in the case of queen Hatshepsut who is died of an abscessed tooth because the Egyptian diet was based on coarse bread and filled with sand which made their teeth quality very poor. They had a role which states “There is no tooth that rots yet stays in place” that’s the way some replacement teeth were found and signs of restorative dentistry were discovered in mummies.