• Ancient Egypt (3300BC to 525BC) is where we
first see the dawn of what, today, we call "medical
care". The Egyptian civilization was the first great civilization on
this planet. Egyptians thought gods, demons and spirits played a key
role in causing diseases. Many doctors at the time believed that spirits
blocked channels in the body, and affected the way the body
Their research involved trying to find ways to unblock the
"Channels". Gradually, through a process of trial and error and some
basic science, the profession of a "doctor of medicine" emerged. Ancient
Egyptian doctors used a combination of natural remedies, combined with
Unlike prehistoric peoples, ancient Egyptians were able to document their
research and knowledge, they were could read and write; they also had a
system of mathematics which helped scientists make calculations. Documented
ancient Egyptian medical literature is among the oldest in existence today.
Until the 19th century, the main sources of information about ancient Egyptian
medicine were writings from later in antiquity. Homer c. 800 BC remarked in
the Odyssey: "In Egypt, the men are more skilled in medicine than
any of human kind" and "the Egyptians were skilled in medicine
more than any other art"
The earliest physician whose name has been
recorded, Imhotep," was the wazir of Zoser,
founder of the Third Dynasty, in the thirtieth
century was a personal doctor to the Pharaoh c.
2600 BC. Imhotep was a learned man,
astronomer, physician, architect (he may have
been the builder of the first pyramid, the step
pyramid of Saqqara). In later times he was
worshiped as a hero, as a blameless physician,
and later still as the god of medicine, the
prototype of Asclepios (even as the learned God
Thoth was the prototype of Hermes and Mercury.
He was made a god and worshipped as the
founder of Egyptian medicine. People believed
that leaving gifts before his statue in temples
would ensure a cure for their illness.
The channel theory and how the
gods impacted on human health
The Channel Theory - thiscameby observing farmerswho dug out
irrigationschannelsfor their crops. They believed that asin
irrigation, channelsprovided thebody with routesfor good health. If
thechannelsbecameblocked, they would uselaxativesto unblock
They thought theheart wasthecenter of 46 channels- typesof tubes.
To acertain extent, they wereright, our veins, arteries, and even our
intestinesaretypesof tubes. However, they never cameto realize
that thesechannelshad different functions.
TheGodswerethecreatorsand controllersof life, theEgyptiansthought. They
believed conception wasdoneby thegod Thoth, whileBes, another god, decided
whether childbirth went smoothly. Blockagesin thehuman "channels" werethought to
betheresult of theevil doingsof Wehedu, an evil spirit.
Thechannel theory allowed medicineto movefrom entirely
spiritual curesfor diseasesand disorders, towardspractical ones.
Many medical historianssay thischangewasamajor turning point,
abreakthrough in thehistory of medicine.
Ancient medicine was highly
• Egyptian doctorsweresought after by kingsand queensfrom
faraway landsbecausethey wereconsidered asthebest in the
Archeologistshavefound Papyri (thick paper-likematerial
produced from thepith of thepapyrusplant) whereEgyptians
had documented avast amount of medical knowledge. They
found that they had fairly good knowledgeabout bone
structure, and wereawareof someof thefunctionsof thebrain
The medical knoweledge
• A few papyri havesurvived, from which wecan learn about Egyptian
medicine:The Edwin Smith Papyrus describing surgical diagnosisand
• the Ebers Papyrus on ophthalmology, diseasesof thedigestivesystem, the
head, theskin and specific maladieslike aAa, which somethink may have
been aprecursor of aidsand others, perhapsmorereasonably, consider to
havebeen adiseaseof theurinary tract, acompilation of earlier worksthat
containsalargenumber of prescriptionsand recipes,
• the Kahun Gynaeco lo gicalPapyrus,
• the Berlin MedicalPapyrus,
• the Lo ndo n MedicalPapyrus.
• the Hearst medicalpapyrus repeatsmany of therecipesfound in theEbers
• the Demo tic MagicalPapyrus o f Lo ndo n and Leiden containsanumber of
spellsfor treating physical ailments.
Edwin Smith Papyrus
The treatments in these texts are often
organized into groups. The Edwin Smith
Papyrus for instance opens with eight texts
concerning head wounds, followed by nineteen
treatments of wounds to the face (forehead,
eyebrows, nose, cheeks, temples, mouth, chin),
six descriptions of how to deal with injuries to
throat and neck, five dealing with collar-bones
and arms, and seven with chest complaints. It
appears that all this knowledge dates to the
third millennium BCE, even though the
papyrus itself is of a much later date. Some
important notions concerning the nervous
system originated with the Egyptians, a word
.. the membrane enveloping his brain, so that it breaks
open his fluid in the interior of his head.
The Edwin Smith papyrus, case 6
Acting conservatively, they knew how to treat injuries
to the brain without killing the patient, but on the
whole their understanding of the brain and its
functions was superficial: they considered thinking to
be a function of the heart.
Their dissection of bodies during mummification
seems not to have added greatly to their knowledge of
the inner workings of the human body, possibly because
mummifiers and physicians did not move in the same
circles, but also because of the way the organs were
removed: ripped out through a small incision in the
corpse's flank or, in the case of the brain, scooped out in
small portions through a nostril. They had some
anatomical knowledge though, had made the
connection between pulse and heart, but did not have
Everyday complaintslike stomach upsets, bowel trouble and headaches went
probably mostly untreated, even if thephysicianscould offer remedies:
For the evacuation of the belly:
Cow's milk, 1; .grains, 1; honey 1; mash, sift, cook; take in four portions.
To remedy the bowels:
Melilot (?), 1; dates, 1; cook in oil; anoint sick part.
To refresh an aching head:
Flour, 1; incense, 1; wood of wa, 1; waneb plant, 1; mint (?), 1; horn of a stag, 1;
sycamore (?) seeds, 1; seeds of [ (?)], 1; mason's plaster (?), 1; seeds of zart, 1;
water, 1; mash, apply to the head.
To renew bowel movements in a constipated child:
An old book, boil in oil, apply half on the belly to reestablish evacuation.
Cure for Cataract
Mix brain-of-tortoisewith honey. Placeon theeye
Thereisashouting in thesouthern sky in darkness,
Thereisan uproar in thenorthern sky, TheHall of
Pillarsfallsinto thewaters. Thecrew of thesun god
bent their oarsso that theheadsat hissidefall into the
water, Who leadshither what hefinds?I lead forth
what I find. I lead forth your heads. I lift up your
necks. I fasten what hasbeen cut from you in its
place. I lead you forth to driveaway thegod of Fevers
and all possibledeadly arts.
The common cold plagued theancient Egyptiansasit
still doesustoday, and their remedy, themilk of amother
who hasgiven birth to aboy, wasprobably aseffectiveas
anything wehavegot today . Moreover they had atried and
truespell to go with it
May you flow out, catarrh, son of catarrh, who breaks the
bones, who destroys the skull, who hacks in the marrow, who
causes the seven openings in the head to ache.
Fertility diagnosing test
Fertility wasdiagnosed by placing agarlic in theverginafor one
night. Thenext day if thewoman can feel or tastethegarlic in
her mouth then sheisfertile. Thisisbased on theconnection
between thegenital part and interior part of thebody. Such
connection would belost in caseof obstructed Fallopian tube. In
modern medicine, phenolphthalein injected in theuteruswould
appear in urinebased upon thesameprinciple. A test known to
Diagnosisof pregnancy and sex determination of
futurechild wasbased on thefact thepregnant
urinegerminatescerealsmorerapid then non-
pregnant one. If thechild wasamale, theurine
will germinatewheat, and if afemale, it would
germinatebarely. Thesametestshavebeen used
in Europeup till themiddleage.
Delivery wasperformed in thesquatting position, with the
woman supporting her armson kneewsand sitting on the
brick. Difficult labors
Wereaided by burning resin, or
Massaging theabdomen by saffron powder
and beer. Abortion wasdoneby introducing
Oil and fat in thevergina.
It wasperformed by theinsertion of crocodial
oil, gum acaciaor honey conspergeand natron
into thevergina. Gum acaciawhen dissolved
produceslactic acid, very effectiveknown
“To cause a woman to stop being pregnant, be it one, two or three
years: part of acacia, colocynth, dates, finely ground in a hin of
honey, fibers are moistened therewith, introduced into her virgina” .
• Herbs played a majo r part in Egyptian medicine. The plant
medicines mentio ned in the Ebers papyrus fo r instance include
o pium, cannabis, myrrh, frankincense, fennel, cassia, senna,
thyme, henna, juniper, alo e, linseed and casto r o il- tho ugh
so me o f the translatio ns are less than certain. Clo ves o f garlic
have been fo und in Egyptian burialsites, including the to mb o f
Tutankhamen and in the sacred undergro und temple o f the
bulls at Saqqara. Many herbs were steeped in wine, which was
then drunk as an o ral medicine
Garlic and Onion
Egyptiansthought garlic and onions aided endurance, and consumed largequantitiesof
them. Raw garlic wasroutinely given to asthmaticsand to thosesuffering with bronchial-
pulmonary complaints. Onionshelped against problemsof thedigestivesystem. (e.g.
Garlic wasan important healing agent then just asit still isto themodern Egyptian and
to most of thepeoplesin theMediterranean area: Fresh clovesarepeeled, mashed and
macerated in amixtureof vinegar and water. Thiscan beused to gargleand rinsethe
mouth, or taken internally to treat sorethroatsand toothache. Another way to takegarlic
both for prevention aswell astreatment isto macerateseveral clovesof mashed garlic in
oliveoil. Applied asan external liniment or taken internally it isbeneficial for bronchial
and lung complaintsincluding colds. A freshly peeled cloveof raw garlic wrapped in
muslin or cheesecloth and pinned to theundergarment ishoped to protect against
infectiousdiseasessuch ascoldsand influenza.
• Coriander, C. Sativum (e.g. pHearst 102, 124 )
wasconsidered to havecooling, stimulant,
carminativeand digestiveproperties. Both the
seedsand theplant wereused asaspicein
cooking to prevent and eliminateflatulence, they
werealso taken asateafor stomach and all kinds
of urinary complaintsincluding cystitis. Coriander
leaveswerecommonly added fresh to spicy foods
to moderatetheir irritating effects. It wasoneof
theherbsoffered to thegodsby theking, and
seedswerefound in thetomb of Tutankhamen
and in other ancient burial sites.
• Cumin, Cumin cyminum (e.g. pHearst 28, 55,
125 ) isan umbelliferousherb indigenousto
Egypt. Theseedswereconsidered to bea
stimulant and effectiveagainst flatulence. They
wereoften used together with coriander for
flavoring. Cumin powder mixed with somewheat
flour asabinder and alittlewater wasapplied to
relievethepain of any aching or arthritic joints.
Powdered cumin mixed with greaseor lard was
inserted asan anal suppository to disperseheat
from theanusand stop itching.
• It is used as an eye –lineralso had
therapeutic value. In a country where
Eye infection were endemic, the effects
Of its germicidal qualities were appreciated even
if the reasons forits effectiveness were not
At Saqqara there is the tomb of Ankh-Mahor, known as The Tomb of the Physician.
In one of the wall pictures two men are having their extremities treated variously
explained as manicure, massage or surgery. In the accompanying text the patient
implores the physician: Do not let it be painful. The answer was ironical: I do (it) so
you will praise it, (O) king! perhaps not in the best Egyptian bedside manner.
At any rate, people at least occasionally survived surgery. Bodies of amputees from
as early as the Old and Middle Kingdoms have been found which display signs of
healing. Prostheses which show signs of wear, have also been discovered. The reasons
for these amputations are unknown and none of the surviving medical texts mention
the possibility of, let alone reasons for amputation as a therapeutic treatment.
TheEdwin Smith Papyusshowsthesuturing of non-
infected woundswith aneedleand thread. Raw meat
wasapplied on thefirst day, subsequently replaced by
dressing of astringent herbs, honey and butter or bread.
Raw meat isknown to bean efficient way to bleeding.
Honey isapotent hygroscopic material (absorbswater)
and stimulatesthesecretion of whiteblood cells, the
natural first body defensemechanism. Theapplication
of sour or moldy bread waspracticed in European
Egyptiansbelieved that their bodieswererequired for
theafterlife, and so they practised mummificationto
preservethebodiesof thedead. Thisinvolved removing
all theinternal organs, except theheart, treating the
body with spices(embalming) and then wrapping it in
bandagesasamummy. Through themummification
processtheEgyptianslearnt something about themake
up of thebody (anatomy).