The Evolution of Medicine in Ancient Egypt

In my research paper, I would like to answer the broad question, “what were medical practices like in Ancient Egypt?” As a STEM major, I think it would be cool to be working at an intersection between the archaeology of Ancient Egypt and my own life. I will break this question down into other categories such as: how doctors fit into the socioeconomic spectrum, how medicine intertwined with religion (and even magic), and treatments they developed for both chronic illnesses and injuries/infection. I’m sure I’ll have to do my best not to get hung up on the biology side, but I’m interested to see what there is with regard to archaeological evidence. Ideally, I would be able to look at each of these categories individually and break them down into subcategories by time period (probably Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms)

In my preliminary research I found that the first recorded King’s Physician was named Hesyre. He served Djoser, demonstrating that health was important to Pharoahs as early as the Old Kingdom. This sheds some light on where medical professionals may have fallen on the social ladder. On the other side of the coin though, I want to know if regular people had access to Health Care. Another aspect to consider is what the education system was with regard to the process of becoming a doctor. The archaeological record should be helpful in that regard by looking at trends in lifespan over the course of the Egyptian State. The role of physicians socially and even politically will then help me transition into the role of physicians in a religious context.

Because death was so central to the Egyptians, medical research was inhibited by respect for a person’s postmortem body. On the other hand, however, mummification was an extremely precise procedure when it came to the removal of certain organs and the chemistry of drying the body. That being said, without dissection, much of the internal workings of the human body were unknown. That contributed to mysticism surrounding medicine which probably explains why it was linked with magic. The Brooklyn Papyrus describes a group of priests who would treat venomous snake bites and scorpion stings. Other papyri will likely serve as documentation of the linkage between religion, magic, and medicine.

The article from the Ancient History Encyclopedia mentions three Papyri in particular which discuss specific diseases and treatments in detail. They are the London Medical Papyrus, a description of medical practices and spells dating to the 17th century BCE, the Edwin Smith Papyrus, a text with information about surgical procedures (also 17th-century), and the Ebers Papyrus, a 16th-century text discussing ailments of all kinds as well as their treatments. Those are all from the Middle Kingdom, which makes sense since the Middle Kingdom is known for an increase in the amount of literary artifacts.

Preliminary Sources:

Nunn, John F. Ancient Egyptian Medicine. British Museum Press, 2003.

Mark, Joshua J. “Ancient Egyptian Science & Technology.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, 9 Nov. 2016,–technology/.

Finlayson, James. “Ancient Egyptian Medicine.” The British Medical Journal, vol. 1, no. 1684, 1893, pp. 748–752. JSTOR, JSTOR,

2 thoughts on “The Evolution of Medicine in Ancient Egypt

  1. Wow! I really enjoy the amount of thought you’re already putting into this. I think it’s great that you’re merging your interests here in order to find a topic you’re genuinely interesting in spending time on.
    This kind of topic is also perfect for this assignment because it’s broad enough to meet the requirements of the assignment but also specific (and material) enough to be easily researchable. I haven’t even looked into it, but I’ll bet there’s a wealth of information on this topic.
    Here’s something that you might be interested to look into: I’ve seen in documentaries on Ancient Rome and the like how similar ancient medical practices can be to modern ones. It would be really cool if you could make comparisons or even draw parallels between Ancient Egyptian medical practices and what we still use today. After all, Egypt and Rome did have relations, and some of Egypt’s ideas may influenced Rome.

  2. I believe that your study is paramount to understanding how Egypt’s history of medical development contributed to the medical advancements we have made today with modern technology. It also provides key insights into the quality of life that ancient Egyptians led, based on their social and financial status. You also mentioned how medicine in their time coincided with religious beliefs and practices, as well as the use of magic. I’m curious to know if there was a balance between religion and magic in their medical practices, and what grade of their work was rooted in western-style medical procedures as opposed to religious or magic beliefs. Many ancient societies based their medical practices in their religious beliefs, but the Egyptians seemed to have a much more technological method of practicing medicine than many other societies, especially for their time.
    I too wonder what healthcare was like for the average Egyptian individual, and if they had available access to healthcare possibly based on their jobs or levels of incomes. It could have been possible that only the Pharaoh or high-ranking officials of the king’s had access to healthcare, as they may have been revered as the only individuals worthy of lengthening the life of. While a dark idea, it may be possible and depicts the power that the Pharaoh had in comparison to the average individual. However, I do hope that they had some form of medical practice available to the everyday man, as I’m sure there were countless injuries occurring constantly due to the amount of hard labor that thousands of individuals worked on daily.

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