Egyptian Medicine3000–500 BC The History of Medicine This icon indicates the slide contains activities created in Flash. These activities are not editable. For more detailed instructions, see the Getting Started presentation.
Egyptian society The Egyptian Empire was very wealthy because of its fertile soil, and had strong rulers who took over other lands. They built large cities and traded with distant countries such as China. The wealthier people were educated, and could afford doctors to treat their illnesses. They believed in cleanliness and followed a structured religion which dictated that they needed their bodies in an afterlife. What would you expect the state of medicine and health to be in Ancient Egypt?
Egyptian education The wealth of Egyptian society mean that a structured education system was developed. An important library was built at Alexandria. The library contained reference books which allowed people to study and learn about medicine.
Egyptians believed that their bodies were required for the afterlife, and so they practised mummification to preserve the bodies of the dead. This involved removing all the internal organs, except the heart, treating the body with spices (embalming) and then wrapping it in bandages as a mummy. What do you think Egyptians learnt from the mummification process?Who do you think carried out the procedure?
Through the mummification process the Egyptians learnt something about the make up of the body (anatomy). However, they did not dissect the body or try to find out how it worked. Why do you think this was?
Egyptian treatments Personal cleanliness was part of the Egyptian religion. The Greek historian, Herodotus, wrote in the 5th century BC: “…[the Egyptians] purge themselves … for they think that all diseases stem from the foods they eat … They wear newly washed linen clothing. They practise circumcision for the sake of cleanliness. Twice a day and every night they wash in cold water.” Can you explain how these actions helped prevent disease? Do you think the Egyptians knew why cleanliness was a good idea?
To drive away inflammation of the eyes, grind the stems of the juniper of Byblos, steep them in water, apply to the eyes of the sick person and he will be quickly cured. For diseases of the bladder: Bread in a rotten condition. The doctor must use it to fight the sickness… Herbal, animal and mineral treatments The Egyptians recorded on papyrus thousands of remedies made from plants, animals, minerals and other ingredients. These examples are from medical documents dated from around 1500 BC: Why might mouldy bread help cure infections?
Cure for cataracts: Mix brain-of-tortoise with honey. Place on the eye and say: There is a shouting in the southern sky in darkness, There is an uproar in the northern sky, The Hall of Pillars falls into the waters. The crew of the sun god bent their oars so that the heads at his side fall into the water, Who leads hither what he finds? I lead forth what I find. I lead forth your heads. I lift up your necks. I fasten what has been cut from you in its place. I lead you forth to drive away the god of Fevers and all possible deadly arts. What do these sources tell you about Egyptian medicines?
Egyptian surgical treatments Egyptian surgery included mending broken bones and removing cysts, but no major surgery was done. Egyptian religion required that the body stayed intact, meaning that embalmers extracted organs through small incisions and no dissections happened. Treatment for a broken nose from the Papyrus, 1550 BC: “…clean his nose with two plugs of linen and then insert two plugs soaked in grease into his nostrils. You should make him rest until the swelling has gone down, you should bandage his nose with stiff rolls of linen and treat him with lint every day until he recovers.” This remedy is more than 3,500 years old. How would you say it compares with modern day treatments?
Magical and religious treatments Egyptians, like prehistoric Britons and Aborigines, believed in the presence of spirits, and many wore charms or amulets to ward off the evil ones. They also believed that gods could both cause and cure disease. Temples were built where the sick could bathe in holy water or sleep overnight, in the hope that their god would send a cure.
Imhotep Imhotep was a personal doctor to the Pharaoh c. 2600 BC. 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.
Questions The Egyptians had many remedies for illnesses. They also relied on charms and worshipping gods. What does this tell us about the effectiveness of their remedies? The Egyptians’ medical knowledge was far superior to that of the ancient Britons or Aborigines, yet their life expectancy was only marginally better. Why might medical progress not result in improvement in health?