Ancient Egyptian Medicine

Ancient Egyptian medicine was arguably the most advanced of its time. Natural and supernatural remedies were used together by practitioners/priests in order to cure injury, illness, and disease. Evidence of different diagnoses and treatments have been found on numerous papyri, giving details of both natural and supernatural cures for different ailments. These texts were organized from sections of the body, or focused on one form of treatment. Some of the most known of these are the Edwin Smith Papyrus describing cases of surgical procedures, the Ebers Papyrus which contains multiple natural remedies along with incantations, and the Domotic Magical Papyrus of London and Leiden describing incantations and magical processes (which show similarities to Greek papyri).

From symptoms, a diagnoses was found in order to treat ailments with natural treatments. Depending on the diagnoses numerous remedies would have been used. Medications were herbal/plant, mineral, or animal based. Castor oil was a very popular remedy for many ailments of all types. Honey was also used often, especially for wounds as a natural antiseptic. Some remedies were used domestically as pesticides to ward off insects and animals. Cosmetic remedies were also used to rid wrinkles, etc.  Surgical procedures were not used often, only for broken bones, large wounds, circumcision, abscesses, and of course at death during the removal of organs for mummification. All surgical procedures also included medicines an most likely incantations as well.

Along with natural remedies, the supernatural was equally important. ‘Magic’ (tied more closely to religion) and medicine were effective together in order to heal, which is why practitioners/doctors were also priests. Incantations are extremely prominent and go hand in hand with treatments of all types, which is prominent especially in the Ebers Papyrus. Amulets were also used and worn for protection against illness.  Invocations gods such as Isis and other rituals are also noted to heal or ward off sickness, similar to ancient Greek practices.


 

References:

  • Bryan, Cyril P., and Heinrich Joachim. The Papyrus Ebers. London: Bles, 1930. The Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago. Web. 23 Oct. 2014. <http://oilib.uchicago.edu/books/bryan_the_papyrus_ebers_1930.pdf>.
  • Griffith, Francis Llewelyn, and Henry Francis Herbert Thompson. The Demotic Magical Papyrus of London and Leiden. London: Grevel, 1904. ETANA. ETANA. Web. 23 Oct. 2014. <http://www.etana.org/sites/default/files/coretexts/15139.pdf>.
  • Unknown. “The Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus.” Tour Egypt. Tour Egypt, n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2014. <http%3A%2F%2Fwww.touregypt.net%2Fedwinsmithsurgical.htm%23Index%20%20of%20Cases>.
  • Unknown. “Ancient Egyptian MedicineIn Sickness and in Health: Preventative and Curative Health Care.” Ancient Egypt: Medicine. Unkown, n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2014. <http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/timelines/topics/medicine.htm>.