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Egyptian Medical Treatments

Egyptian Medical Treatments

The ancient Egyptians experienced the same wide array of disease that people do in the present day, but unlike most people in the modern era, they attributed the experience to supernatural causes. The common cold, for example, was prevalent, but one's symptoms would not have been treated with medicine and bed rest, or not these alone, but with magical spells and incantations. The Ebers Papyrus (dated to c. 1550 BCE), the longest and most complete medical text extant, clearly expresses the Egyptian view of medical treatment: "Magic is effective together with medicine. Medicine is effective together with magic." The magic referred to took the form of spells, incantations, and rituals, which called on higher supernatural powers to cure the patient or treat symptoms.

Heka was the god of magic and also of medicine, but there were a number of deities called upon for different diseases. Serket (Selket) was invoked for the bite of the scorpion. Sekhmet was called upon for a variety of medical problems. Nefertum would be appealed to in administering aroma therapy. Bes and Tawreret protected pregnant women and children. Sobek would intervene in surgeries. One could call upon any god for help, however, and Isis and Hathor were also invoked, as was the demon-god Pazuzu. Even Set, a god associated with chaos and discord, sometimes appears in magic spells because of his protective qualities and great strength. All of these deities, however, no matter how powerful, had to be called by an experienced practitioner and this was the doctor of ancient Egypt; part magician, part priest, and part physician.

Injury & Disease

Physical injury was common in a culture which not only engaged in monumental building projects but had to contend with wild animal attacks from lions, hippos, jackals, and others. Injuries were easily recognized and treated in much the same way they would be today: bandages, splints, and casts. Since the Egyptians had no concept of bacteria or the germ theory, however, the cause of the disease was less clear. The gods were thought to mean only the best for the people of the land, and so the cause of a disease like cancer was as mysterious to the ancient Egyptians as the origin of evil and suffering is for religiously-minded people in the present.

Although their understanding of physiology was limited, Egyptian physicians seem to have been quite successful in treating their patients & were highly regarded by other cultures.

The most common reasons for disease were thought to be sin, evil spirits, an angry ghost, or the will of the gods to teach someone an important lesson. Although the embalmers who dissected the bodies at death were aware of the internal organs and their relationship with each other spatially in the body's cavity, they did not share this information with doctors, and doctors did not consult with embalmers; the two professions were considered distinctly different with nothing of note to contribute to each other.

Doctors were aware that the heart was a pump and that veins and arteries supplied blood to the body, but they did not know how. They were aware of liver disease but not the function of the liver. The brain was considered a useless organ; all thought, feeling, one's character, was believed to come from the heart. A woman's uterus was believed to be a free-floating organ which could affect every other part of the body. Still, although their understanding of physiology was limited, Egyptian physicians seem to have been quite successful in treating their patients and were highly regarded by other cultures.

Medical Texts

The medical texts of ancient Egypt were considered as effective and reliable in their time as any modern day equivalent. They were written by physicians for physicians and presented practical and magical cures and treatments. They were written on papyrus scrolls which were kept in the part of the temple known as the Per-Ankh ('House of Life'), but copies must have been carried by individual doctors who frequently made house calls.

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These texts today are all known by the names of the individuals who discovered, purchased, or donated them to the museums where they are housed. The primary texts are:

The Kahun Gynaecological Papyrus (c. 1800 BCE) deals with conception and pregnancy issues as well as contraception.

The London Medical Papyrus (c. 1782-1570 BCE) offers prescriptions for issues related to the eyes, skin, burns, and pregnancy.

The Edwin Smith Papyrus (c. 1600 BCE) is the oldest work on surgical techniques.

The Ebers Papyrus (c. 1550 BCE) treats cancer, heart disease, diabetes, birth control, and depression.

The Berlin Medical Papyrus (also known as the Brugsch Papyrus, dated to the New Kingdom, c. 1570 - c. 1069 BCE) deals with contraception, fertility, and includes the earliest known pregnancy tests.

The Hearst Medical Papyrus (dated to the New Kingdom) treats urinary tract infections and digestive problems.

The Chester Beatty Medical Papyrus, dated c. 1200 BCE, prescribes treatment for anorectal diseases (problems associated with the anus and rectum) and prescribes cannabis for cancer patients (predating the mention of cannabis in Herodotus, long thought to be the earliest mention of the drug).

The Demotic Magical Papyrus of London and Leiden (c. 3rd century CE) is devoted entirely to magical spells and divination.

Each doctor had his or her own area of specialization and would consult the text corresponding to their field.

Medical Treatment

Doctors began their diagnosis and treatment of a patient by examining the person and coming to one of three conclusions:

1. I can treat this condition.

2. I can contend with this condition.

3. I can do nothing for this condition.

Cancer, for example, had no more a cure then than it does today. Heart disease could be contended with through spells, medicine, and a change in one's diet. Skin and eye problems could be treated through salves, spells, and incantations. Once the doctor had determined whether anything could be done, the next step was to understand the nature of the problem. It was a given that the root cause was some supernatural entity, but the physician had to understand how that entity was attacking the body and why. The patient would be asked a series of questions to determine what they were experiencing as well as what they might have done to deserve the affliction.

One example of this procedure, from the Ebers Papyrus, addresses the problem of a patient who presents with what appears to be a "mortal illness". The physician is instructed to examine the patient carefully, and if the body seems free of disease except for "the surface of the ribs," the doctor should then recite a spell against the disease and prescribe a mixture of bloodstone, red grain, and carob, cooked in oil and taken over the next four mornings with honey. The spell to be recited is not specified in this case but in many others is given.

Medicines were usually mixed with beer, wine, or honey, and each of these had their own medicinal properties. Beer was the most popular drink in ancient Egypt, frequently serving as one's wages, and was considered a gift from the gods for the people's health and enjoyment. Tenenet was the goddess of beer, but the drink was most frequently associated with Hathor (one of whose epithets was 'The Lady of Drunkenness'). Spells invoking Hathor appear in the medical texts, but an especially interesting one calls upon Set.

Although Set originally seems to have been a protective god, throughout most of Egypt's history, he was the arch-villain who murdered his brother Osiris and plunged the land into chaos. He does appear in certain eras, though, as a protector and champion, and his name is even taken by some kings (Seti I, for example) who especially honored him. In one spell, recited to cure an unnamed illness, Set is invoked to lend his power to the medicine prescribed: beer. Egyptologist Alison Roberts notes that "Set's influence in the beer drunk by the sick person is so great that tormenting demons become confused and are borne away, leaving the person restored to health" (98). The spell reads, in part:

There is no restraining Set. Let him carry out his desire to capture a heart in that name 'beer' of his - To confuse a heart, and to capture the heart of an enemy. (Roberts, 98)

Beer was thought to "gladden the heart" in general, but when one was ill, medicines mixed with beer - and combined with spells - were thought particularly effective. Beer and wine were also prescribed for children and nursing mothers. A prescription from the Ebers Papyrus for childhood incontinence calls for the mother to drink a cup of beer mixed with grass seeds and cyperus grass for four days while breastfeeding the child.

The Kahun Gynaecological Papyrus focuses primarily on the uterus as the source of a woman's ailments and frequently prescribes "fumigation of the womb" as a cure. This would be accomplished by directing incense smoke or inserting incense into the woman's vagina. Prescriptions frequently mention "discharges of the womb" as the primary cause for problems, as in this passage:

Examination of a woman aching in her rear, her front, and the calves of her thighs
You should say of it 'it is discharges of the womb'.
You should treat it with a measure of carob fruit, a measure of pellets, 1 hin of cow milk
Boil, cool, mix together, drink on 4 mornings. (Column I.8-12)

A test for fertility suggests placing an onion in a woman's vagina; if the scent of the onion was on her breath the next morning, she was considered fertile. Pregnancy tests are also addressed in which vegetation (specifically emmer and barley) is doused with a woman's urine; if the plants flourish, she is pregnant. It was also thought one could determine the sex of the child in this same way. If emmer seeds sprouted first, the child would be female; if the barley responded first, the child would be male. Contraceptives are also described in the text with one method cited as the insertion of a plug of crocodile dung into the vagina. Spells accompanying these procedures are also given to make them more effective.

The Demotic Magical Papyrus is completely devoted to spells, rituals, and incantations for summoning the gods and spirits for assistance, and some of these are thought to instruct the physician-magician on how to raise the dead. While this may be so, it seems the purpose of those spells was primarily to gain insight into the cause of death by summoning the spirit of the deceased. Spells are given to summon a drowned man or a murdered man, for example. To summon the spirit of the drowned man, the doctor should put a sea-carob stone (an object not yet identified) on the brazier and call out his name, while for the murdered man, one places the dung of an ass and an amulet of Nephthys on the brazier. To disperse spirits, the dung of an ape was placed on the fire.

Not all of the medical texts involved magical spells in the treatments, however. The Edwin Smith Papyrus, for the most part, gives straightforward procedures in treating injuries. Beginning with the head, the text goes down the body giving the type of injury sustained and suggesting how best to deal with the problem. Although eight magic spells appear on the back of the papyrus, the majority of the work is concerned entirely with medical procedures addressing injuries directly without an appeal for supernatural intervention.

Conclusion

The ancient Egyptians were acquainted with the concept that disease could be naturally occurring as early as the beginning of the Old Kingdom (c. 2613-2181 BCE). The architect Imhotep (c. 2667-2600 BCE), best known for his work on the king Djoser's Step Pyramid at Saqqara, had written medical treatises emphasizing this possibility and claiming that disease was not necessarily a punishment from the gods or the work of evil spirits. His ideas were not ignored either as he was highly respected for his work and was later deified as a god of medicine and healing.

Even so, lacking any other probable cause for sickness, the Egyptians continued to believe in supernatural elements influencing one's health. Although the title of swnw (general practitioner) and sau (magical practitioner) appear in inscriptions relating to doctors, magic was important for both. This is not surprising as human beings will always seek out a reason for any given experience. When faced with some seemingly inexplicable phenomenon, one will find a cause for it in that which seems most reasonable to one's belief system.

The earliest myths were told to explain the rising of the sun, the change of seasons, the reason for suffering; and these all had a supernatural element to them. The gods were present in every aspect of the ancient Egyptians' lives. When it came to determining the root cause of disease, therefore, they looked to that same source and implemented spells and rituals to call upon their gods for health and well-being with the same confidence people in the present day submit to any treatment prescribed by the modern medical profession.


Ancient Egyptian Medicine

a section of the Edwin Smith Papyrus, one of the most complete Egyptian medical texts available (this copy c. 1600 BC, original likely around 3000 BC)

Ancient Egyptian medicine is a term that refers to healthcare practices and beliefs in ancient Egyptian culture. Healthcare in ancient Egypt appears to have had a primary focus on herbology and mysticism, though certain practices were arguably more advanced than those in comparable societies from the same period. Ancient papyrus scripts provide insight on the types of treatments physicians used, including crude surgeries, medicinal prescriptions, and magical incantations. In addition, several of these manuscripts reveal elementary knowledge of human anatomy, likely discovered through dissections and mummification processes. However, while many of these practices demonstrate a surprising amount of medical knowledge, a lot of Egyptian medicine and healthcare was rooted in supernaturalism.

The abundance of papyrus texts that detail magical incantations and prayers suggests that supernatural explanations and treatment may have been more common than the natural. The majority of Egyptian medical texts available today host a large number of magical incantations for specific medical treatments. Even so, their advances in natural causation and treatment were effective enough for Greek figures such as Hippocrates (460–370 BC) and Galen (129–216 AD) to study Egyptian medicine, contributing to the development of Greek healthcare.

As ancient Egyptian medicine involved both natural and supernatural diagnoses and treatments, physicians were a sort of combination between doctors and priests (not unlike medicine men in Native American healthcare). Additionally, Egyptian physicians could fill roles in specialized fields such as gastroenterology, ophthalmology, and dentistry. It seems, however, that the average physician was versed in wound care, medicinal prescriptions, and magic.


Injury and Disease

Physical injury was common in a culture which not only engaged in monumental building projects but had to contend with wild animal attacks from lions, hippos, jackals, and others. Injuries were easily recognized and treated in much the same way they would be today: bandages, splints, and casts. Since the Egyptians had no concept of bacteria or the germ theory, however, the cause of the disease was less clear. The gods were thought to mean only the best for the people of the land, and so the cause of a disease like cancer was as mysterious to the ancient Egyptians as the origin of evil and suffering is for religiously-minded people in the present.

The most common reasons for disease were thought to be sin, evil spirits, an angry ghost, or the will of the gods to teach someone an important lesson. Although the embalmers who dissected the bodies at death were aware of the internal organs and their relationship with each other spatially in the body’s cavity, they did not share this information with doctors, and doctors did not consult with embalmers the two professions were considered distinctly different with nothing of note to contribute to each other.

Doctors were aware that the heart was a pump and that veins and arteries supplied blood to the body, but they did not know how. They were aware of liver disease but not the function of the liver. The brain was considered a useless organ all thought, feeling, one’s character, was believed to come from the heart. A woman’s uterus was believed to be a free-floating organ which could affect every other part of the body. Still, although their understanding of physiology was limited, Egyptian physicians seem to have been quite successful in treating their patients and were highly regarded by other cultures.


Egyptian Medical Treatments - History

Lauded alike by ancient civilizations and modern society, pharaonic Egyptian medicine remains an object of fascination today. This article discusses its surprisingly sophisticated understanding of a cardiovascular system. The term “cardiovascular system,” however, carries assumptions and meanings to a modern audience, especially readers of this journal, which simply do not apply when considering ancient conceptions of the heart and vessels. For lack of better language, this article will use “cardiovascular” and similar terms while recognizing the anachronistic inaccuracy. After briefly summarizing ancient Egyptian medicine generally, it will review the anatomy, pathology, and treatment of the vasculature. The practice of mummification in ancient Egypt provides a unique opportunity for paleopathology, and the conclusion will explore evidence of arterial disease from a modern scientific perspective.

Author conflict of interest: none.

The editors and reviewers of this article have no relevant financial relationships to disclose per the JVS policy that requires reviewers to decline review of any manuscript for which they may have a conflict of interest.


Ancient Egyptian medicine was highly advanced for its time

Egyptian doctors were sought after by kings and queens from faraway lands because they were considered as the best in the world.

Archeologists have found Papyri (thick paper-like material produced from the pith of the papyrus plant) where Egyptians had documented a vast amount of medical knowledge. They found that they had fairly good knowledge about bone structure, and were aware of some of the functions of the brain and liver.


Corpse medicine is exactly what you think it is

One thing historical doctors loved is what's now called "corpse medicine." No, it's not cough syrup for your Halloween skeletons. It is, in fact, medicine made from corpses. And "medicine" may be a stretch, because like many old-fashioned treatments, the efficacy of these was mixed, at best. One particularly popular one across several centuries was called, among many other names, armsünderfett, which is German for "poor sinner's fat." That's not a clever euphemism. It was literally human fat harvested from dead criminals, according to Defiled Trades and Social Outcasts. In fact, human remains were very valuable, so executioners in the Middle Ages would often gather fat, organs, hair, and various other parts of the body to sell to anyone who wanted them. It was completely normal at the time. Poor sinner's fat could be melted down into a salve, which was supposed to help with joint and bone problems.

Then there was a cure-all called mummia. While it initially referred to the kind of bitumen used in mummification, over time the name got confused to the point where people assumed that mummia was made of the mummies themselves, and soon the bitumen was replaced by containers of powdered mummies, mostly from Egypt. Eventually, this caused a shortage of mummies (a big reason why they're fairly rare now) so people mummified fresh corpses and then ground those up instead, according to Egyptology: The Missing Millennium.


Marijuana Hints in Historical Egyptian Records

While the exact timeline is less than crystal clear, cannabis was likely used in ancient Egypt as many as 5,000 years ago. Some speculate that depictions of the Egyptian Goddess of writing, Sheshat, are brimming with cannabis-inspired themes. In many paintings, she’s shown with a star-shaped leaf atop her head and a fibrous rope in her hand. Was Sheshat’s creative ability courtesy of some help from hemp? It’s a fun theory, but let’s move on to more evidence-based examples.

First, it’s important to understand the context in which Egyptian medicine found itself. The culture’s understanding of the human body was far ahead of its time, and, relatively speaking, extraordinarily advanced. Although the ancient Egyptians preceded Pasteur’s germ theory by thousands of years, they nonetheless placed a great value on cleanliness and sanitation. And customs like embalming added to the Egyptian’s understanding of how the human body worked.

This same medical knowledge lent itself to the extensive use of medicinal plants. At first, this usage blurred the lines — merged them, even — between science and religion. As Egyptologist Barbara Watterson notes, “the earliest ‘doctor’ was a magician, for the Egyptians believed that disease and sickness were caused by an evil force entering the body.” Thankfully, plant-based incantations seemed to be a perfect cure.

Soon enough, cannabis was discovered as among the best and most powerful of these plant-based preparations. Its dual psychotropic and healing properties likely made cannabis popular among the dual doctor-magicians of ancient times. And while it’s unclear exactly when cannabis use became mainstream, the plant’s residue has been found in Egyptian artifacts dating back to more than 4,000 years ago.

Around 2,000 BCE, cannabis salves were used to treat eye sores and glaucoma. Today science has proven what the ancient Egyptians learned through centuries of experience: that cannabis is a potent anti-inflammatory which reduces intraocular pressure. Another Egyptologist, Lise Manniche, notes in her book An Ancient Egyptian Herbal that several texts dating back to the 18th century BCE encouraged readers to “plant medicinal cannabis.”


Ancient Egyptian Medicine (3000 BC to 400 BC)

Unlike in the prehistoric period, the Ancient Egyptians were settled and agricultural, especially since they were based along the River Nile which helped to make the land fertile. With the fertile lands, there was a surplus of food and so more people could do other things such as being doctors. Doctors were more carefully trained but still continued to use supernatural as well as natural treatments. They were the first to have doctors and the doctors underwent diagnosis to observe the symptoms of the patient. New tools were also developed and were used for surgery.

The people were also very hygienic. They often washed and regularly changed clothes. They even developed toilets.

Trade developed and so people from different countries traded things such as herbs but could also spread information and medical ideas.

However the most important thing is that they had a form of writing, using papyrus to write on. They recorded their ideas and historians are able to use this nowadays to help find out more about life in these times. they used hieroglyphics to write.

Supernatural Treatments and beliefs were continued by them such as:


Surgical Instruments

Cairo museum has a collection of surgical instruments, including scalpels, scissors, copper needles, forceps, spoons, lancets, hooks, probes, and pincers. A collection of 37 instruments is engraved on a wall in the temple of Kom-Ombo (2nd century BC), which was one of the houses of life.

Bone Egyptian Surgery was particularly well developed, researching the proportions of scientific research. The Papyrus of Edwin Smith deals extensively with bruises of the vertebra, dislocation of the jaws, various fractures (of the clavicle, humerus, ribs, nose, and cranium. Egyptians physicians also recognized diseases which could not be treated: “An affliction for which nothing can be done”

Egyptians had a reasonable understanding of the functions of major organs. They knew that vessels carried blood around the body. Surgical practices were written down and taught to physicians. Surgery was often conducted in conjunction with healing methods derived from religious beliefs.


Ancient Egyptian Medicine

Ancient Egyptians have helped a lot in providing a great deal of knowledge and evidence about ancient medicine to modern historians. This knowledge has been discovered on the many papyrus scrolls which have been found in archeological excavations in Egypt. In ancient Egypt illnesses were not just cured by magicians and the medicine man but also by doctors and physicians. Excavations have revealed plates showing physicians and an illustration about Imenhotep who was the physician to King Zozer shows how he was worshipped as the god of the healing after his death due to the medicinal knowledge he possessed.

People in ancient Egypt were aware of pharmaceuticals as well, even though they still firmly believed that wellness and sickness was an unceasing battle between the good and the evil. People in ancient Egypt knew how to prepare drugs from plants and herbs like fennel, cumin, caraway, aloe, safflower, glue, pomegranates botanical, mineral substances and linseed oil. Also other substances which were used for making drugs included copper salts, plain salt, lead, eggs, liver, hairs, milk, animal horns and fat, honey and wax.

Ancient Egyptian Prescriptions

In the period of the new kingdom medical prescriptions were very varied and dozens of them were available for some diseases. The physician chose the most effective medicines based on the prescribed criteria. Some medicines then were fast acting while others showed their effect slowly. Also, there were drugs which were very specific to certain seasons. An example is an eye medication which could be used only at the onset of winters for the first two months and there was another one which was used two months after this while a third was applicable all the year round.

Different Medicines For Different People

The age of the patients was strongly considered when deciding a medicine. For example, when treating patients suffering from retention of urine, an adult was given a mixture of water, ale sediments, green dates and some other vegetables, but on the other hand a child with the same ailment was given an old piece of papyrus soaked in oil applied as a hot band around his stomach. Chemists had to very carefully consider the age of the patients while preparing the drugs. If the young patient was mature enough he could take tablets, but if he was still in an infant, tablets would be dissolved into a wet nurse's milk. Some drugs derived their popularity from the fact that they were used for curing a reputed figure of the time. For example, a specific eye ointment was highly popular with ancient Egyptians, simply because it cured one of the pharaohs. It&rsquos interesting to note that chemists during ancient Egyptian period invented some other drugs, which were commonly known as household drugs, meant to eliminate domestic pests.


Watch the video: A day in the life of an ancient Egyptian doctor - Elizabeth Cox (January 2022).