Medicine in Ancient Egypt

ancient Egyptian traditional medicine

Ancient Egyptians used extremely skilled techniques to practice medicine. They have superior surgical and anatomical expertise. Additionally, they managed a wide range of illnesses, including as gastrointestinal, urinary, dental, and gynecological issues. They might make cancer and diabetes diagnoses. The range of therapies included several animal products, minerals, and other plants. Even now, some of these plants are still in use. Fortunately, they carved their life stories onto papyrus, stone, or clay to preserve them. Despite the fact that many of these records have been lost or destroyed, the ones that are still in existence serve as a vast repository of knowledge in a variety of scientific fields, including medicine. This review essay makes an effort to comprehend certain details regarding ancient Egyptian traditional medicine. Around 450 BCE, Herodotus, known as “The Father of History,” said about the Egyptians: “The practice of medicine is so divided among them, that each physician is a healer of one disease and no more.” There are many doctors everywhere in the nation, some of them specialize in treating hidden disorders as well as eye, tooth, and gut problems. Source

Medicine In Ancient Egypt

Anubis, supervisor of the mummification process. Source

“Swnw” is the term meaning doctor in ancient Egyptian. Hesy-Ra, who performed medicine in ancient Egypt. He served as King Djoser’s “Chief of Dentists and Physicians” in the 27th century BC. According to a stela honoring her in Akhethotep’s tomb, the lady Peseshet (c. 2400 BC) may have been the earliest known female physician. It has been interpreted to mean “Lady Overseer of the Lady Physicians” The discipline of medicine has several grades and specialities. Even their own specialists were engaged by royalty. There were head doctors, overseers, and inspectors of doctors. Ophthalmologists, gastroenterologists, proctologists, dentists, “doctors who supervise butchers,” and an undefined “inspector of liquids” are known ancient Egyptian professionals. Proctologists are known by the ancient Egyptian title neru phuyt, which means “shepherd of the anus” in English. Around 2200 BC, Irynachet attested to the latter title. Since the First Dynasty, institutions known as (Per Ankh) or Houses of Life have existed in ancient Egypt. These establishments may have served a medical purpose; they are occasionally mentioned in inscriptions alongside physicians like Peftauawyneit and Wedjahorresnet, who lived in the middle of the First Millennium BC. By the 19th Dynasty, its staff members had access to amenities including health insurance, pensions, and paid time off.


The ancient Egyptians possessed a thorough understanding of many medical specialties, including anatomy, surgery, and general medicine

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Medicine In Ancient Egypt
The ancient Egyptians had basic medical equipment, and they also believed that the gods controlled life and health.


Egyptians were familiar with some human anatomy. For instance, in the traditional mummification method, mummifiers could break the thin bone of the braincase with a long-hooked implement and remove the brain, but they more frequently made a hole in the back of the head so that the brain and other bodily fluids could drain from the foramen magnum. They also had a broad understanding that the bodily cavity houses the internal organs. Through a tiny incision in the left groin, the organs were removed. Although it is uncertain if this information was passed on to the practitioners, it does not appear that it had any effect on their medical views. Egyptian doctors were aware of the pulse’s existence and its relationship to the heart. Even a hazy understanding of the cardiovascular system was known to the Smith Papyrus’ author. He was unaware of blood circulation, nevertheless, and thought it irrelevant to differentiate between blood vessels, tendons, and nerves.

Medicine In Ancient Egypt

Ebers Papyrus is the first known written account of enemas, and enemas were often used to provide medicine. An Iri, the Shepherd of the Anus, was one of the various varieties of medical professionals. Many of their medical methods, including the surgical techniques described in the Edwin Smith papyrus, were successful. In order to keep healthy, doctors typically advised patients to wash and shave their bodies, especially the areas beneath their arms, to avoid infections. Additionally, they encouraged patients to watch what they ate and stay away from items like raw fish and other animals that were deemed unclean.

Medicine In Ancient Egypt

Knife & Leg Relief, Temple of Edfu. Source


The tomb of Qar contained the earliest metal (bronze or copper) surgical instruments ever found. As a kind of medical care for bodily injuries, surgery was often used. Treatable, contestable, and untreatable diseases were the three types of injuries recognized by Egyptian doctors. The surgeons would promptly correct treatable conditions. Patients whose conditions were thought to fall into this group were monitored to see whether they lived so that surgical attempts might be made to address the condition. Contestable illnesses were ones in which the sufferer may reasonably survive without treatment. Knives, hooks, drills, forceps, pincers, scales, spoons, saws, and an incense-burning vase were among the tools they utilized. It was also common to utilize prosthetics, such as fake toes and eyes, however most of the time they were only used for decoration. Missing body parts would be restored before burial, but it doesn’t seem like they would have been functional or even attachable before death.

Medicine In Ancient Egypt

Egyptian Woman Giving Birth. Source

The intensive use of surgery, mummification techniques, and autopsies as a religious activity gave Egyptians a profound awareness of organ function as well as a great knowledge of the anatomy of the human body. With the exception of the heart and brain, whose functions were reversed, the majority of major organs’ functions were correctly assumed. For instance, blood was correctly assumed to be a transpiration medium for vitality and waste, which is not dissimilar to its actual role in carrying oxygen and removing carbon dioxide.

Medicine In Ancient Egypt


Dentistry Even while dentistry may not have ever been well-known, it was a significant area with a history dating back to the early third millennium BC as a separate profession. Because the Egyptian diet contained a lot of abrasives from the sand left over from grinding grain and small pieces of rock used in the preparation of bread, their teeth were in bad shape. From 4000 BC to 1000 AD, archaeologists observed a continuous decline in the severity and frequency of worn teeth, which was likely caused by better grain grinding methods. All Egyptian relics have tooth sets that are in very bad condition. teeth problems can also be deadly, as was the case with Djedmaatesankh, a musician from Thebes, who passed away at the age of 35 as a result of severe teeth problems and a sizable infected cyst.

Cavities were uncommon if a person’s teeth managed to avoid becoming worn down owing to the scarcity of sweets. The only thing patients could expect for from dental therapy was the fast removal of an infected tooth. The proverb “There is no tooth that rots yet stays in place” is found in the Instruction of Ankhsheshonq. Although certain skeletons exhibit signs of forced tooth removal, there are no documents to support the expediting of this procedure and no instruments designed for tooth extraction have been discovered. Replacement teeth have been discovered, although it’s unclear if they’re more than just post-mortem accoutrements. Opium may have been used to treat severe pain.

Medicine In Ancient Egypt
The Edwin Smith Papyrus documents ancient Egyptian medicine, including the diagnosis and treatment of injuries.

The Medical Texts

Only a small number of ancient Egyptian manuscripts have survived to the present, despite the fact that there were undoubtedly many more available. These handful, however, reveal a great deal about how the Egyptians perceived illness and what they thought would help a patient’s symptoms or result in a cure. They bear the names of either the person who owned them or the organization that housed them. They all, in varying degrees, rely on sympathetic magic in addition to tactical skill. The Chester Beatty Medical Papyrus, which dates to around 1200 BCE, has prescriptions for cannabis for cancer patients and treats anorectal illness (issues involving the anus and rectum), predating Herodotus’ oldest known reference of the substance. The Berlin Medical Papyrus, sometimes called the Brugsch Papyrus and dating to the New Kingdom between 1570 and 1069 BCE, discusses fertility, contraception, and contains the oldest known pregnancy tests.

Medicine In Ancient Egypt
The Ebers Papyrus (c. 1550 BCE) from Ancient Egypt

The Ebers Papyrus, which dates to around 1550 BCE, addresses depression, heart illness, diabetes, diabetes-related cancer, and birth control. The earliest text about surgical methods is the Edwin Smith Papyrus, which dates to around 1600 BCE. The whole subject of the Demotic Magical Papyrus of London and Leiden (c. 3rd century CE) is magic and divination. The New Kingdom-era Hearst Medical Papyrus has remedies for digestion issues and urinary tract infections. The Kahun Gynaecological Papyrus (c. 1800 BCE) discusses themes related to conception, pregnancy, and contraception. Prescriptions are included in the London Medical Papyrus (c. 1782-1570 BCE), which covers pregnancy, burns, eye, skin, and other health disorders. Only these papyrii are known to have an exclusive concentration on medicine.

Medicine In Ancient Egypt
The treatment for asthma suggested in the Ebers papyrus is a mixture of herbs heated on a brick so that the patient could inhale their fumes

At some point or another, working physicians who often made house calls consulted all of these texts. For obvious reasons, the Egyptians referred to medicine as a “necessary art” Doctors were revered as priests of the Per-Ankh, the House of Life, a form of temple-attached library and school. However, the idea of the ‘house of life’ was also regarded as the specific medical expertise of the particular doctors.

Medicine In Ancient Egypt
prosthetic toe from ancient Egypt, now in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo


Surprisingly, the ancient Egyptians possessed a thorough understanding of many medical specialties, including anatomy, surgery, and general medicine; they were able to accurately diagnose and manage a variety of illnesses. Numerous medical papyri include mentions of hundreds of cases. At that time, a wide variety of sources, including plants, animals, and minerals, were used in the therapy. The medical pharaonic papyri are where we learned the majority of what we know about this wonderful medicine, and they are a fantastic resource for understanding and learning from such a great culture.


What medicinal herbs did ancient Egyptians use?

We are all aware with the herbs that were used extensively in Egyptian medicine, including opium, cannabis, myrrh, fennel, aloe, and thyme. Due to their medical benefits, garlic and onions were ingested in enormous amounts. It was also widely thought that garlic increased one’s strength and endurance.

Who made the first medicine in ancient Egypt?

Imhotep was revered by the Egyptians as the “inventor of healing” before his death, and 2000 years later he was raised to the status of a deity of medicine and healing.
The Edwin Smith Papyrus, an Egyptian medical treatise with almost 100 anatomical words and descriptions of 48 injuries and their treatment, is commonly credited to him as its creator.

How advanced was Egyptian medicine?

They have superior surgical and anatomical expertise. Additionally, they managed a wide range of illnesses, including as gastrointestinal, urinary, dental, and gynecological issues. They might make cancer and diabetes diagnoses. The range of therapies included several animal products, minerals, and other plants.

What ancient Egyptian medicine is still used today?

One of the first known medicines in human history may be found in the bark of the willow tree. Today, we refer to it as aspirin. The ancient Egyptians employed willow bark as a traditional painkiller more than 3,500 years ago.


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